President Trump’s Decision to Create “Office of Government Innovation” Echoes Earlier Presidential Initiatives to Run-Government-Like-A-Business
Diane Ravitch’s posts yesterday included one on the topic of President Trump’s decision to create a new Office Of American Innovation (OAI) and name his son-in-law Jared Kushner to head the organization. Here’s a quote from Mr. Trump’s announcement:
“As a former leader in the private sector, I am proud to officially announce the White House Office of American Innovation, which will develop innovative solutions to many problems our country faces,” President Trump said. “One of the primary reasons I ran for President was the need for new thinking and real change, and I know the Office and its team will help us meet those challenges.”
The fact that this announcement came on the heels of many articles decrying his decision to leave many key science and technology positions unfilled is ironic. But the biggest irony from my perspective is that it echoed the pledge of a previous President, who pledged to
…”reinvent government” (declaring that) “Our goal is to make the entire federal government less expensive and more efficient, and to change the culture of our national bureaucracy away from complacency and entitlement toward initiative and empowerment.”
To accomplish this end he appointed his Vice President to lead a National Performance Review modeled on the kind of consulting done in the business world that had the lofty goal of streamlining the government in the name of business-like efficiency. The NPR report offered a series of recommendations in six months time:
The National Performance Review (NPR), which was later renamed the National Partnership for Reinventing Government (report) contained 384 recommendations for improving bureaucracy’s performance across the entire federal government The report was the product of months’ worth of consultation of various government departments and meetings within (the President’s) bureaucracy, which narrowed down 2,000 pages of proposals to the final report.
NPR promised to save the federal government about $108 billion: $40.4 billion from a ‘smaller bureaucracy,’ $36.4 billion from program changes and $22.5 billion from streamlining contracting processes Each of the recommendations would fall into three categories: whether it required legislative action, presidential action, or internal bureaucratic reform. Major branches of bureaucracy that were targeted were the US Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, the Agency for International Development (AID), Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Labor, and Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The first-year status report of the NPR claimed that, pending Congressional action, likely savings would amount to about $12.2 billion in (the first year).
The quotes above come from a Wikipedia entry describing Bill Clinton’s efforts to “Reinvent Government” when he took office in 1993. Four years after launching this initiative, Vice President Gore issued a progress report on reinvention:
In a September 1996 pamphlet, Gore wrote that the federal government had reduced its workforce by nearly 24,000 as of January 1996, and that thirteen of the fourteen departments had reduced the size of their workforce In addition, thousands of field offices that were considered ‘obsolete’ closed. In September 1997, Gore reported that 2.8 million people left the welfare rolls between 1993 and 1997.
The metrics cited above are telling. They reflect the “Third Way” thinking of the neoliberal movement, a “lite” version of the anti-tax and anti-government movements successfully launched by Reagan-ites in the 1980s. This anti-tax and anti-government mentality was amplified by Newt Gingrich in his Contract for America, served as the basis for the Tea Party movement, and activated the base of Trump voters. In the meantime, the neoliberalism of President Clinton became the basis for the DNC’s platforms, platforms that avoided calling for higher taxes or bigger government. Platforms that were friendly to the “reform” movement in public education, a movement that at its root was pro-business, anti-union, and anti-democratic.
Mr. Trump’s OAI is unlikely to find any innovative solutions. It is more likely to recommend more privatization which will ultimately lead to the demise of “government roads”, “government water”, “government lands”, and… yes… “government schools”. Here’s hoping that the Democratic party recommends a stronger government, one that funds roads, infra-structure, and… yes… schools.