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.
Today the NYTimes editors took Kansas Governor Sam Brown to task for his wrongheaded approach to taxation in his State as he is reportedly set to leave his state in the lurch as he leaves for a rumored Ambassadorship to Rome. The editors offered a description of the tax scheme and its impact:
Mr. Brownback, a Republican first elected on the Tea Party crest of 2010, used his office as a laboratory for conservative budget experimentation. His insistence that tax cuts create, not diminish, revenues has left the state facing a ballooning deficit plus a ruling by the state Supreme Court that Kansas schoolchildren have been unconstitutionally shortchanged in state aid for years, with the poorest minority children most deprived.
The court ruled this month that they would shut the state’s schools if funding wasn’t made equitable by June 30. It found reading test scores of nearly half of African-American students and more than one-third of Hispanic students were deficient under aid formulas favoring more affluent school districts.
Brownback’s solution to this deficit is not a tax increase to improve the funding deficiency cited by the court. His solution is to offer the students “choice”, a solution the NYTimes editors derided:
Mr. Brownback played no small role in the long-running school crisis by leading the Republican Legislature to limit school aid after enacting the largest tax cuts in state history, for upper-bracket business owners. Characteristically, the governor’s reaction to the court mandate was to further undermine schools by suggesting parents “be given the opportunity and resources to set their child up for success through other educational choices.”
But wait! Isn’t this the same editorial board that champions Eva Moskovitz’ Success Academy because ti gives parents “the opportunity… to set their child up for success through other educational choices”? Isn’t this the same editorial board that views charter schools as the best means to improve the failing schools in New York City?
My question to the NYTimes editors is this: Can’t you see that the underlying motive of the pro-charter school movement and Sam Brownback are identical? They BOTH want to diminish funding for schools while deregulating their operations so that privatizing profiteers can take them over. Maybe the results of Governor Brownback’s failed policies linking tax cuts to deregulated charters will help them connect the dots going forward.
Several media outlets, including The Hill, announced yesterday that President Trump issued a letter that rolled back Obama-era guidance that forbade student loan debt collectors from charging high fees to defaulted borrowers. This rollback was based on a technical argument that “…the initial guidance handed down by the Obama administration in 2015 should have been subjected to public comment before it was issued.” 7,000,000 people with loans through the Federal Family Education Loan Program that are held by guaranty agencies are affected by this decision. The last sentence of the article is chilling:
The amount owed in student loan debt has surpassed that of credit card debt — about $1.2 trillion.
So it is now conceivable that 7,000,000 voters are subject to fees that are as much as 16 percent of the loan’s principal and accrued interest should they fall behind in their loan payments for any reason. This means that when these borrowers are forced to choose between paying off credit cards or paying off student loans they might opt to defer the credit cards… or might skip a meal every day or so… or let their electricity be turned off. One thing is certain, they will be less able to buy goods and services, which will put a drag on the economy. And another certainty is that fewer students will plunge into debt making it increasingly difficult for our workforce to improve its skills.
And where are the voices of protest from the Department of Education? From the GOP? Or, for that matter, from the Democratic Party?
One hopes the Trump administration might seek public comment on this change… but it is unlikely to do so for they know that many of those who would protest it would be wearing those bright red hats that say “Make America Great Again”.