Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
Here’s a novel idea! It’s surprising that it hasn’t already come up!
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump introduced what would become an iconic slogan that caught America’s imagination: “Drain the Swamp.” In short, “let’s get to the bottom of the Washington, D.C. cesspool, clean it up, get rid of the corruption, and throw out the benefactors.”
However, “draining the swamp” turned out to be a more daunting task than first imagined. As he left office in January 2021, the Trump camp admitted that the “swamp” was much deeper than originally thought. It proved to be dense and “octopus-like.” Encompassing to the point that even associates who were initially seen as friends and allies were captives to its “tentacles.”
Trump admitted to having visited Washington D.C. a mere 17 times before becoming president. As he now concludes, “I didn’t know that many people there then. I do now.”
It’s a rough duty when so many people who are expected to be loyal allies and party members have their own circles of influence, friends, pundits, and influence peddlers. The president needed party men, such as Reince Priebus to aid in navigation. Unfortunately, Priebus had his own agenda. Ditto for then-House Speaker Paul Ryan.
The advantage held by a Priebus or a Ryan came down to relationships held within the bureaucracy. There was much discussion about the scores of unelected bureaucrats such as Andrew McCabe and Peter Strzok who wielded a lot of influence. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of these “behind the scenes” types who make pivotal decisions that impact Americans daily.
I recall Kentucky 6th District Congressman Andy Barr’s revelation when entering Washington for the first time: “I didn’t realize how much influence these people wielded. It’s like they run things automatically.”
Problematic is when these unelected officials begin issuing mandates that reflect partisanship. Does anyone recall the greeting that President Trump received in Washington during the 2019 World Series? For those who don’t remember, it was a chorus of “boos!” Two weeks later, while in Tuscaloosa AL, attending the Alabama-LSU football game, it was rousing cheers accompanied by a standing ovation!
Alabama is a “deep red” state. Washington D.C. is a blue stronghold. The difference is Alabama, like Massachusetts, is a state and reflects those people who live in that state. Washington D.C. is supposed to be all of us. It isn’t! In fact, the D.C. bureaucracy represents the core Democrat constituency.
We might also add the fact that six of the most affluent counties in the U.S. surround Washington, D.C. Perhaps it is time that we consider “sharing the hegemony!”
Almost two years ago, Senators Josh Hawley and Marsha Blackburn introduced a plan that would “decentralize” some of the federal bureaucracy. It amounted to relocating certain federal agencies to different cities across the land. It went something like this:
- Health and Human Services to Indianapolis
- HUD to Detroit
- Labor to Charleston, WV
- Agriculture to Kansas City
- Energy to Denver
- Interior to Alburquerque
- Commerce to Dallas
- Environmental Protection to Hot Springs National Park, AR
The remaining agencies would remain in Washington. The Education Department, a “gift” from the Carter administration, would be abolished.
Yet even with some decentralization, the most glaring problem still needs to be addressed: There are many entrenched members of the bureaucracy, who have unjustified influence, to the extent that they override elected leaders on key policy decisions made. A prime example was the late Colin Powell’s stonewalling a request for Russia to join NATO. Both former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush approved the idea.
Such action by then-Secretary of State Powell should be a concern for all Americans. While he might have been respected, he was not elected! The State Department initially blocked Richard Nixon’s meeting with Mao in 1972. Only by resorting to “backchannels” did the historical, and pivotal, summit take place!
Term limiting bureaucrats to eight years might draw criticism in elite circles. But an argument can be made for implementation. The next question would be “how” and “by whom?” Would it require congressional action?” An executive order?
The next question would be “who” in the bureaucracy would be term-limited? Certainly not a librarian at the LOC! Or a groundskeeper who tended to the Lincoln Memorial! The military is not considered part of the apparatus!
Those who were term-limited would be treated like retiring members of Congress, receiving pensions and benefits for life. The action would not be punitive in nature! It would be about “giving more Americans a chance to serve their country.” It would simultaneously present an opportunity to “downsize” what has become a severely bloated government.
There would be pushback from Democrats. After all, they hold most of these key posts. Republicans who work in the bureaucracy tend to be of the “neo-con” variety. For “Constitutionalist Republicans,” turnover creates an opportunity to replace Democrats and neo-cons with public servants holding no connections or obligations to the swamp.
This is, perhaps, the most important element of term limiting key bureaucrats. When a bureaucrat departs, previous relationships and accompanying obligations are often altered or even nullified. The end result could reduce, impede, even eliminate extortion attempts including but not limited to “honey potting.”
Another controversial, yet practical innovation might come with the preclusion of federal employees from unionization. It can only be imagined how much pushback would come from Democrats! Still, such an initiative would make the implementation of term limiting more manageable.
Both ideas certainly merit high-level discussion.
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