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White House Official Hopes the Shutdown Will Put an End to Government Waste

It’s been the top story in the news now for over three weeks, so we all know that the government shutdown ostensibly has everything to do with funding for a border wall. Both sides have staked their claims – and revealed stubbornness that would make a toddler blush – in their efforts to get their way in the matter.

But is there another, less obvious, motive for keeping the government ground to a halt? Is there something else that could carry ramifications that are as important as (or even bigger than) border security?

On Monday, the Daily Caller featured an op-ed by an anonymous “senior Trump official” who expressed his or her desire that the shutdown will put an end to government waste. Now, the whole concept of the anonymous op-ed should give us pause. I take it with a grain of salt, and I hope you do too. However, the Daily Caller stands by its vetting of this nameless author, and the ideas that this person expresses are worth considering.

After acknowledging some of the notions that we all know are true – yes, people are suffering by not getting paid and yes, this thing has gone on awfully long – the author establishes an idea that’s almost like a Pareto Principle of government work.

On an average day, roughly 15 percent of the employees around me are exceptional patriots serving their country. I wish I could give competitive salaries to them and no one else. But 80 percent feel no pressure to produce results. If they don’t feel like doing what they are told, they don’t.

Why would they? We can’t fire them. They avoid attention, plan their weekend, schedule vacation, their second job, their next position — some do this in the same position for more than a decade.

This is one of those notions that we all consider from time to time; in fact, the trope of the wastrel government employee is almost a comic stereotype except for the fact that it’s too often true.

The author asserts that deliberate attempts to thwart the Trump agenda comprise some of what goes on in government. Of course there’s a little woe-is-us in that thought, because Donald Trump isn’t the first Republican president to face resistance from within the federal workforce. (I’m sure Democrats have seen it too, albeit to a lesser extent.)

This anonymous White House official – whoever he or she may be – sees the shutdown as an opportunity to shake up the status quo of a bloated bureaucracy.

Due to the lack of funding, many federal agencies are now operating more effectively from the top down on a fraction of their workforce, with only select essential personnel serving national security tasks. One might think this is how government should function, but bureaucracies operate from the bottom up — a collective of self-generated ideas. Ideas become initiatives, formalize into offices, they seek funds from Congress and become bureaus or sub-agencies, and maybe one day grow to be their own independent agency, like ours. The nature of a big administrative bureaucracy is to grow to serve itself. I watch it and fight it daily. 

I can’t help but agree with this author and others who have stated that the government shutdown has some good qualities, because when the government is doing as little as possible, it stays out of our business. But can the Trump administration really use this shutdown as an opportunity not only to send a message to the nation about the importance of border security and do something about big government?

I’m just not sure. But the author ends his or her op-ed with a dangerous idea that keeps popping up throughout the Trump era:

President Trump does not need Congress to address the border emergency, and yes, it is an emergency.

Sigh. So many dangerous precedents can happen with that thought in mind.

The gung-ho-for-Trump elements in our society want the president to subvert the Constitution, wave a magic wand, and build a border wall quickly like it’s a piece of furniture from IKEA. Do they also want him to slash the size of government by signing some sort of executive order decreeing that agencies will now magically be smaller? While the shutdown is a terrific object lesson and gives us something to work toward in terms of shrinking bureaucracy, to quote the ad from a few years ago, “That’s not how any of this works.”

I bristle at the idea of this imperial presidency that so many Trumpites pine for so wholeheartedly. We have processes in place that have served our country so well for hundreds of years, and we need to stick with them.

At the end of the day, I hope that we end this shutdown with full funding for better border security. But Trump must do it the right way and not set precedents for future presidents to declare emergencies at will and cross the Constitution headlong. And the GOP can’t get any points across by moving the goalposts and suddenly adding more demands – like one to slash the size of government, no matter how desperately we need to do so.

Shrinking bureaucracy at the federal level is an admirable fight, but it’s another battle for another day. Let’s not muddy the waters of what this shutdown is about by piling more causes on top of it. Let’s make smaller government an objective after we’ve secured the border.

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