President Trump, who still has hundreds of senior level positions to fill at nearly every federal agency, told interviewers last week that “you don’t need all those jobs.”
But even if that’s the case, simply leaving posts vacant may not be the best way to accomplish what adviser Stephen Bannon referred to as “deconstructing the administrative state.”
Some 1,100 political positions require Senate confirmation, and so far Trump has nominated just a handful. None of the deputy secretaries or undersecretaries at the Department of State have been named, for instance.
At the Pentagon, the No. 3 job, undersecretary for policy, remains unfilled. At Homeland Security, two key posts overseeing Trump’s immigration crackdown — the directors of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, are held by acting directors. Trump has yet to name a FEMA director or TSA administrator.
Other high level posts at the Treasury, the Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services are likewise filled by acting heads or remain vacant.
Paul Light, professor of public service at NYU, calls this a “neckless government”; many agency heads are in place, but “you’re missing all those positions between the Cabinet secretaries, and the sort of day-to-day work of government. The result, Light says: “government is basically frozen.”
Maybe the president wants it that way.
After all, he told Fox News last week, he doesn’t want to fill “a lot of those jobs … (because) they’re unnecessary. It’s people, over people, over people. I say, what do all those people do? You don’t need all those jobs.”
Light agrees the federal leadership hierarchy “has been thickening, president after president, for the last 50 years.” But, he adds, Trump is making a mistake if he thinks that leaving many of these positions open “is going to enhance control of his government. It isn’t.”
And it is not “deconstructing the administrative state.”
Joseph Postell, assistant professor of political science at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, has written about that term. He says there is no clear definition of the administrative state. “It’s typically used to describe over-regulation, and sometimes it’s used to describe the rise of administrative agencies and the number of agencies that we have.”
It’s not just a fancy name for bureaucracy.
Postell says those who use the term — mostly conservatives — view the issue more as “a structural or constitutional problem that has to do with agencies being able to make law,” as opposed to where laws are supposed to be made, in Congress.
What Bannon means by the phrase “deconstructing the administrative state,” a term he used at the CPAC conference last month, is not clear.
But Postell says dismantling the administrative state will require acts of Congress and won’t be achieved simply by leaving important government posts unfilled.