President Trump is Learning That He Needs Federal Agencies

The author says that despite his efforts to trim government, President Trump may find federal agencies to be an unlikely ally in promoting his policies.

After a bruising battle over healthcare that ended in a defeat, President Trump is most likely to turn to unlikely allies in promoting his policies: Federal agencies.

With Congress failing to vote on repealing The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and replacing it with The American Health Care Act of 2017 (H.R. 1628), the new administration still has the opportunity to place its stamp on healthcare law by make regulatory changes through the leadership of HHS Secretary Tom Price.

This places President Trump in an interesting situation. On one hand, the new administration’s disdain for the Federal bureaucracy has been widely reported.

As recently as mid-March, the President promised: “We are proposing a budget that will shrink the bloated federal bureaucracy—and I mean bloated—while protecting our national security.”

But President Trump is learning what other Presidents have learned before him. The same bureaucracy that he currently reviles may become his strongest weapon as voting blocks of Democrats and Republicans prove unwilling to follow his lead.

While he may be unable to persuade Congress to pass his legislation, and the Federal courts may throw up roadblocks, such as blocking changes to immigration policy, his strongest lever is the use of Federal rules and regulations to support the administration’s agenda as evidenced by Friday’s other news: the government’s approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Priorities among Federal agencies may be shifting, as witnessed by plans to downsize the Environmental Protection Agency while increasing the size of the Border Patrol and ICE, but the President is learning that Federal agencies will be key to moving forward his policy agenda.

President Trump’s Executive Order to “reorganize governmental functions and eliminate unnecessary agencies” will no doubt result in plans to eliminate some agencies and functions, but the final reorganization plan, if it survives Congress, will more likely re-prioritize the Federal government rather than meaningfully reduce it.

The first evidence is President Trump’s own budget blueprint, which shifts spending without making a meaningful cut in the Federal deficit.

In a time of political divisions, the so-called administrative branch of government is President Trump’s strongest and most reliable supporter to advance his plans.

As a result, the Federal government may look different in 2020 than it did in 2016, but there is no indication that it will be significantly less important.

About the Author

Michael Wald is a public affairs consultant and writer based in the Atlanta area. He specializes in topics related to government and labor issues. Prior to his retirement from the U.S. Department of Labor, he served as the agency’s Southeast Regional Director of Public Affairs and Southeast Regional Economist.