Jared Kushner takes on the intractable federal bureaucracy
According to the Washington Post, President Trump will announce today that his son-in-law Jared Kushner will be the point man on reforming the federal bureaucracy, a huge and potentially strategic role.
Ashley Parker and Phillip Rucker write:
President Trump plans to unveil a new White House office on Monday with sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and fulfill key campaign promises – such as reforming care for veterans and fighting opioid addiction – by harvesting ideas from the business world and, potentially, privatizing some government functions.
The White House Office of American Innovation, to be led by Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, will operate as its own nimble power center within the West Wing and will report directly to Trump. Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington, float above the daily political grind and create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements.
"All Americans, regardless of their political views, can recognize that government stagnation has hindered our ability to properly function, often creating widespread congestion and leading to cost overruns and delays," Trump said in a statement to The Washington Post. "I promised the American people I would produce results, and apply my 'ahead of schedule, under budget' mentality to the government."
The teams of outsiders to come in and make suggestions are all well and good. But federal bureaucracies are constrained by massive rulebooks that include employee rights unheard of in the private sector. The range of improvement possible within the existing bureaucratic strictures is limited. And those improvements may be resisted or sabotaged by interested parties, procedurally, judicially, and politically.
I am relatively certain that genuine reform would require legislation that would be fought every step of the way by the Democrats. In my dreams, such legislation would succeed in a timely way. But for that to happen, the enormous clout of the government employee unions in the Democratic Party has to be counterbalanced in at least some constituencies.
The only real way to make government operate more efficiently quickly is outsourcing. Bypass the sclerotic maze of the federal bureaucracy entirely and contract out work to private vendors. Trump and Kushner have identified where it can be done most effectively:
The innovation office has a particular focus on technology and data, and it is working with such titans as Apple chief executive Tim Cook, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff and Tesla founder and chief executive Elon Musk. The group has already hosted sessions with more than 100 such leaders and government officials.
"There is a need to figure out what policies are adding friction to the system without accompanying it with significant benefits," said Stephen A. Schwarzman, chief executive of the investment firm Blackstone Group. "It's easy for the private sector to at least see where the friction is, and to do that very quickly and succinctly."
The tech titans understand very well the possibilities and opportunities of restructuring federal data management along the lines already provided to private corporations. And they have enough clout that their support for federal legislation is probably necessary for true reform and could entice some bipartisan support.
And this is business, so the blue tinge to the tech community is not an obstacle:
Some of the executives involved have criticized some of Trump's policies, such as his travel ban, but said they are eager to help the administration address chronic problems.
An ongoing information technology crisis has screwed up the federal government for decades. The federal government's ineffective squandering of resources on information technology became visible to the public when Obamacare's website turned out to be a miserable, hyper-expensive disaster, as did many state-run exchanges. Government bureaucracies, hampered by inflexible procurement rules, do a terrible job of managing information technology and have been bungling it forever. The Federal Aviation Agency's botched I.T. update is the stuff of legend, with the GAO auditors declaring:
FAA did not recognize the technical complexity of the effort, realistically estimate the resources required, adequately oversee its contractors' activities, or effectively control system requirements.
The Post informs us:
Kushner takes projects and decisions directly to the president for sign-off, though Trump also directly suggests areas of personal interest.
I take this to mean that he would be the point man in putting together what the president might call a "big, beautiful deal" to dismantle one particularly ineffective part of the federal bureaucracy: its information technology operations.
It's an ambitious attempt to co-opt a Democrat constituency, and it could happen. Look at the industrial unions. It's certainly a deal that might require a lot of art, as well as a trusted, shrewd point man.