Why the success of the Trump presidency depends on civil service reform
Even though she never mentions the concept, former Reagan and Bush senior official Linda Chavez makes an excellent case that the success of the Trump presidency depends on sweeping civil service reform. The title of her article in the New York Post indicates her chosen focus: "Will Trump’s Cabinet picks be able to beat the bureaucracy?"
Drawing on her experience, she lays out all the reasons the answer to her question probably will be no. For example:
The normal relationships between employer and employees don’t exist. As the head of a department or agency, you pick very few of your own employees, and you have little or no authority to get rid of those employees you inherit. Worst of all, you can’t reward outstanding service. There’s no such thing as pay for performance. Nor is it even possible to promote the best hires, except within the constraints of federal civil service rules, and you can’t move employees easily from one job to another.
The word bureaucracy became a synonym for inefficiency and burdensome rules for a reason. Working within the bureaucracy requires a talent and patience that few CEOs, in my experience, possess. I’ve served on corporate boards for more than 25 years and worked closely with CEOs and others in the executive suite. What I’ve seen tells me that the businesspeople in the Cabinet are in for a rude awakening. (snip)
The greatest culture shock for these new Cabinet members who’ve never worked in government, however, will be how little authority they have to make major changes in their departments. Divisions within agencies often operate as fiefdoms, with their own ties to Congress and appropriations staffers who fund their work.
Worst of all, firing anyone in the federal government, even for cause, is a tedious process for which few have the stomach. And forget about getting rid of someone without an ironclad show of gross incompetence or malfeasance.
She’s right, and all of these points are well understood by scholars and students of bureaucracy. So if the Trump appointees are shocked, that would mean that in the course of their careers, those with executive backgrounds learned nothing via their interactions with the federal bureaucracy. Nobody gets very high in any significant company without running into the feds. I am certain that Rex Tillerson, to pick the most familiar example, has had extensive exposure to lots of bureaucrats, especially in the State Department. If he was unobservant of their ways (and the ways of bureaucrats in foreign ministries around the world), why has been such a success at dealing with them? Nobody claims that ExxonMobil is anything other than highly successful in developing energy resources in difficult diplomatic environments like Yemen or Russia.
That is why I recommended civil service reform the morning after the election.
Hat tip: Ed Lasky