HL 3 – Take Some Comfort from our Permanent Government

November 21, 2016

Home | Blog | HL 3 – Take Some Comfort from our Permanent Government

Now, as during previous national crises, people seek comfort in a variety of ways, including speculation about positive things that might result from what is otherwise perceived as a disaster. Some are pondering certain of Trump’s rumored appointees, that while not any liberal’s cup of tea have respectable track records and/or served in previous administrations not ending in Armageddon. A friend suggested that as part of Trump’s promised infrastructure push “he might build that urgently needed rail tunnel (between New York and New Jersey) that his former transition chief cancelled in a failed effort to pander to the voters that rejected him for Trump.

nj-tunnel-groundbreakingWell maybe, that will happen, but here’s some guaranteed reassurance, backed by a full refund of the amount you pay to read Hopelessly Liberal.  There is help coming from the permanent federal government.

There is a massive army of professionals, good and true, women and men, that currently serve the Obama administration and served Bush 43, Bill Clinton, Bush 41, Ronald Reagan and some – even earlier administrations. Currently, there are roughly 2.8 million federal employees that are not political appointees.  They serve, on average, 13.7 years.  So many, if not most, also served George W. Bush.  And hundreds of thousands of these civil servants go way way back.

They staff and uphold the laws administered by the alphabet and acronym soup departments and agencies, such as the SEC, DOJ, EPA, HHS, HUD, ICE, DOE, ETC.  People like me, who have interacted with federal agencies, while in the private sector and state or local government, know many professionals that steadfastly do their jobs, uphold the law and maintain core policy and competence that does not change very much despite the promises of each new POTUS to bring “change that you can believe in” or “drain the swamp.”  I’ve been counting on a few lifers at the FTC since the Carter administration.  When I do, I always receive competent and consistent assistance.  To be sure the President and his (yes still “his”) political appointees can change the emphasis and vigor of enforcement, but Title IX will still be there on January 21 as will thousands of others, including your favorite, federal law – that can be undercut but not repealed very easily, requiring a legislative majority bigger than will exist on January 3 or likely to exist after the 2018 midterm elections.

I experienced the stability provided by an analogous, though smaller, permanent government in a stint as senior advisor to New York’s governor.  We also came in with big plans and promises, proclaiming that “Today is the day when all that changes.”  And as we left 15 months later not much had changed and the same people running the place when we arrived were holding down the fort as we left.  My book about that painful experience was dedicated to them “the staff of the Second Floor, who schooled us when we arrived and continued their fine work after we departed.”

The much larger permanent federal government cannot prevent a nuclear war or the decimation of NATO, things I fear but do not really expect to happen.  However, there is an awful lot of positive the permanent government can be counted on for.  In our system of federalism further comfort comes from consideration of state and local government.  And that will be the subject of the next Hopelessly Liberal post.

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