What came first — the USDA-regulated chicken or the FDA-regulated egg? OMB director Mick Mulvaney wants to end that question entirely by eliminating silly overlaps in government. The White House rolled out its long-awaited government reform program, which headlines a consolidation of the Departments of Labor and Education into one Cabinet-level office. However, the vision goes beyond the long-demanded elimination of the Department of Education:
The White House on Thursday announced a proposed overhaul of the federal government that would merge the Labor and Education departments, consolidate a slew of social safety net programs under a renamed health agency and reorganize federal food safety functions.
Labor and education programs would be merged into a new Department of Education and the Workforce, according to a plan released by the White House. The Department of Health and Human Services would be renamed the Department of Health and Public Welfare, to “better capture the nature of its programs,” which would house nutrition assistance programs, the White House said. …
“This effort, along with the recent executive orders on federal unions, are the biggest pieces so far of our plan to drain the swamp,” Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget who has led the 14-month reorganization effort, said in a statement.
There’s more to this than the Labor-Education consolidation and food-safety program realignment. It also includes privatization of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the shifting of all environmental clean-up projects to the EPA’s Superfund program, restructuring of the US Postal Service and the Tennessee Valley Authority, and more. It’s the most ambitious reform effort in at least a generation, although perhaps the failure of that effort in the 1990s when it was backed by Al Gore is a harbinger of things to come.
Mulvaney succinctly explained the philosophy of the reform effort and the need for it in a video released this morning by OMB. After poking a little fun at himself for the length, Mulvaney explained the ridiculous red tape involved in figuring out regulatory jurisdictions. Beside the chicken-egg quandry, there’s also a weird divergence on pizza:
Mulvaney pointed to the fact that there are currently more than 40 job training programs spread across 16 different cabinet agencies — just one of a list of examples he cited.
“If it’s cheese pizza, it’s FDA, but you put pepperoni on it and it becomes a USDA product. I mean, come on?” he said. “An open-faced roast beef sandwich is USDA, a closed-faced roast beef sandwich is FDA. Not making this up. You can’t make this kind of stuff up. This would only happen in the government.”
Mulvaney punctuated his examples by declaring, “This. Is. Stupid.” But how likely is it to change? Politico declares it dead on arrival in Congress:
Much of Mulvaney’s ambitious plan is likely to die a swift death in Congress, which currently lacks the bandwidth and bipartisan geniality required to push complex reforms.
Rep. Gerry Connelly (D-Va.), the No. 2 Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, declared the plan a “wish list for anti-government ideologues.”
“Like every other plan rolled out by this Administration, this is a blueprint for failure that would create dysfunction and chaos in the federal government,” he said.
Dysfunction and chaos in the federal government? Heaven forfend! It is worth asking, however, whether this administration can competently manage such a massive effort with so many moving parts. They haven’t done well at anticipating problems in smaller efforts, such as the adoption of the zero-tolerance immigration enforcement policy. The idea is good, and Mulvaney is proving himself competent, but this kind of realignment will take a level of excellence across the entire Cabinet that frankly has yet to be displayed in any consistent manner.
Bear in mind too that Mulvaney doesn’t see this as a method for dramatic reductions in government spending. He predicts that they will gain some savings by reducing inefficiencies, and a few billion dollars here and there will add up to real money, but it’s not the kind of dramatic reduction in federal government conservatives have desired, either. Making government more efficient and less Byzantine is still a worthy goal, of course, assuming Congress ever plays along with it. If nothing else, it makes for a pretty good midterm-election issue for Republicans and the Trump administration, which is likely to be all the value this ever has.