Trump Replaces Hiring Freeze With Reinvention Push

Trump Replaces Hiring Freeze With Reinvention Push
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One of Donald Trump's first acts as president was to freeze federal hiring, but he has decided to lift that directive in favor of a refined plan to try to resize the government to meet his agenda and campaign pledges.

The January prohibition on new hiring is replaced Wednesday with what Office of Management and Budget Direct Mick Mulvaney called a “smarter plan” that the administration hopes will complement Trump’s budget priorities and lead to a redrawing of the executive branch from the ground up. 

“The president the United States has asked all of us in the executive branch to start from scratch – a little blank piece of paper, and if you were going to rebuild the executive branch, what would it look like?” the director told reporters Tuesday evening, calling the project one of Trump’s goals in his first 100 days.

To accomplish those goals, Trump can use his executive authority to a limited degree but will need Congress’s backing to alter laws that define how federal departments are structured, their roles and missions, and the federal personnel positions authorized by law.

The budget director said the White House is months away from proposing a legislative overhaul to Congress, but will build recommendations into the fiscal year 2019 budget submission, following extensive public comment and input from lawmakers. 

“One of the reasons this is so difficult to do is that you just can’t wave a magic wand in the Oval Office and do these things,” Mulvaney told RealClearPolitics. “We’re hopeful to have congressional buy-in to get some of this accomplished,” he added, noting lawmakers are “as frustrated as every other citizen is about how poorly the government functions.”

The director said Trump may propose to “restructure” Congress’s authority, but “we’re not going to them and say, `Congress can’t do this anymore,’ so I don’t think we’ll be stepping on any toes.”

In a lengthy OMB memo distributed Wednesday to heads of departments and agencies, Mulvaney said supervisors are tasked to send the White House plans to “maximize employee performance” and adhere to Trump’s spending reductions, including “long-term workforce reductions,” by June 30. Those preliminary plans must be refined by September.

Mulvaney said OMB will not control individual hiring and firing decisions, but will oversee in practice this year whether spending and organizational goals meet the president’s expectations across the government.

Trump’s hiring freeze exempted military personnel, national security, and public safety. 

Because congressional committees and the power of the purse are organized around the federal bureaucracy’s jurisdictions, lawmakers tend to preserve their power and the status quo when presidents come to Capitol Hill with ideas for dramatic federal restructuring. Historically, Congress has worked more enthusiastically with presidents to add to the government and to consolidate some functions, such as homeland security responsibilities, rather than subtract. Even Trump has expanded West Wing operations with a new trade council, a strategic think tank-style team, and an office promoting “American innovation.”

Obama’s 2009 White House Council on Women and Girls, which the 44th president created by executive order, for instance, continues to exist as a West Wing focus on “women’s initiatives” in the Trump White House. The president did not do away with Obama’s specific invention.

“We think we can run the government more efficiently” than President Obama, the former South Carolina congressman said.

Nonetheless, Obama made his own attempt at winnowing government waste, jettisoning redundancies and overlap, and erasing regulatory overkill.

Mulvaney acknowledged that previous presidents, including Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, also attempted to trim the federal bureaucracy and restructure the executive branch, with mixed results.

Trump’s effort is pegged to his March 13 executive order that instructed agencies and departments to send OMB reinvention plans with the goal of achieving a federal government that is “more accountable, more efficient, and more effective.” 

In Trump’s proposed budget, to be released in expanded form next month, the government seeks to add funding for the Pentagon and the Veterans Administration, and downsize the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, for example. Congress will determine whether the president gets his wish.

And statutes and unions protect the hiring and firing of the federal work force, making the “you’re fired” decisions Trump made famous on TV’s “The Apprentice” less realistic across the bureaucracy.

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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