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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Trump Needs to Take Public Administration 101

At the Los Angeles Times, Doyle McManus writes of Trump's "skinny budget" this week:
The proposal would shrink the budgets of the Coast Guard, which protects ports, and the Transportation Safety Administration, which protects air travel, to pay for the wall, which almost nobody thinks would do much to stop terrorists or drug smugglers. It would also make the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency less able to do their jobs, but no more efficient.
“It’s about as precise as civil war battlefield surgery,” said Paul C. Light, a government management expert at New York University. “If there’s a wound, you just amputate the whole leg.”

Even Republicans in Congress said they didn’t like it much. One GOP senator said the State Department cuts were “dead on arrival,” suggesting that, even more than other presidents’ budgets, this one is likely to be remembered only as a wish list — an unrealistic opening bid from a man who considers himself a wily negotiator. Congress, not the president, makes the real decisions on budgets and spending, and all of the programs Trump wants to slash are sacred to somebody on Capitol Hill.
But Trump took a second big action last week, even before releasing his budget plan: He signed an executive order calling for a major reorganizing of the federal bureaucracy. He asked agencies and the public to suggest programs that could be eliminated, slimmed down or combined. And he gave Mulvaney one year to produce a comprehensive plan.
If that sounds vague, it’s because it is. “It was basically a punt,” Light said.
The first problem with Trump’s order, Light said, is that federal agencies are unlikely to come up with creative plans to reorganize or downsize themselves. “The agencies have very little capacity to analyze themselves,” he said.
That’s why earlier efforts at reorganization often started with a president assembling an outside commission (Ronald Reagan did that in 1981) or a White House task force (Bill Clinton, in 1993). Trump hasn’t done that. And there doesn’t seem to be anyone on his staff who’s a natural reinventor, even though the president has appointed plenty of people from the private sector. Mulvaney is a former congressman with a fearsome reputation as a budget cutter, but not as a reformer. “You’ve got a bunch of real estate developers, investment bankers and members of Congress,” Light said. “They may be very smart people, but they are all from very flat organizations” — unlike the very un-flat bureaucracy