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How to Reform the Executive Branch

It was my privilege this week to host a panel discussion here at the Competitive Enterprise Institute on the White House project on executive reorganization.

My distinguished colleague Iain Murray, CEI’s Vice President for Strategy, was kind enough to join me, as was the Heritage Foundation’s Diane Katz and the Cato Institute’s Chris Edwards.

President Trump’s March 13th executive order “Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch” (E.O. 13781) set in motion a process that could yield dramatic changes to how Article II agencies and departments are structured and the duties they carry out. At the same time, the Office of Management and Budget is pursuing parallel regulatory reform efforts that will hopefully complement this streamlining and downsizing project.

In order to bolster these efforts, CEI published Shrinking Government Bureaucracy: Ideas for Reform and Reinvention in August. Our recommendations for improvement covered agencies from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Commerce to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Labor Relations Board. One of our consistent themes is that the structure of the federal government should, at the very least, look like it was designed on purpose. As CEI President Kent Lassman wrote in Shrinking Government Bureaucracy’s introduction:

The federal government’s multitudes of offices, boards, commissions, and agencies are not at all organized and surely not suited to the task of responsible government. A description of executive branch growth from a similar government exercise in 1937 remains relevant:

The Executive Branch of the Government of the United States has thus grown up without a plan or design like barns, shacks, silos, tool sheds, and garages of an old farm. To look at it now, no one would ever recognize the structure which the founding fathers erected a century and a half ago to be the Government of the United States.

Neither clarity nor efficiency in government has improved in the past eight decades. In fact, one could say today’s executive branch looks less like a barn and more like the metaphorical manure piled inside. It is long past time for to claim a shovel and start digging.

Fortunately, there’s a lot of smart analysis around town that can provide guidance to this clean-up process. In addition to CEI’s Shrinking Government Bureaucracy, the Heritage Foundation published Blueprint for Reorganization: An Analysis of Federal Departments and Agencies in June and A Model for Executive Reorganization earlier this month. Diane Katz’s “10 Areas of Life Under the Most Government Control” and Red Tape Receding: Trump and the High-Water Mark of Regulation are also good reads. Chris Edwards’ recent congressional testimony “Trump Administration Efforts to Reform and Cut the Government” and his 2015 Cato Institute study Why the Federal Government Fails are also excellent sources.