On Friday the Veterans Affairs posted a list of hundreds of VA employees fired or punished for misconduct since the Trump administration took over on Jan. 20. A good start, but not enough.
The VA, where vets died waiting for care, is a glaring example of what's wrong with the entire civil service. It's become a federal employee protection racket.
Workers in every part of the bureaucracy who commit serious wrongs like tax evasion, watching porn on the job or robbing a bank during nonwork hours, typically keep their jobs and even get bonuses. Back in 1883, Congress passed the Pendleton Act to replace patronage with civil service, so workers would be hired and paid based on merit. Not now. Federal workers get hefty salaries and benefits regardless of their work, with no risk of getting fired. One kind of corruption has been replaced with another.
Even worse, these bureaucrats churn out regulations that invade our lives and stifle economic growth, all the while thumbing their noses at the electorate. There's nothing civil about these servants.
President Trump warns that ever-expanding government is as big a threat to our way of life as terrorism. The "creep of government bureaucracy," he said in Warsaw last week, "drains the vitality and wealth of the people." Anyone tangled in government red tape while filing taxes or trying to get permits to build a house or open a business knows this firsthand. Bureaucracy smothers individual initiative and saps the human spirit.
Trump's moving ahead to meet this threat.
On Jan. 30, the new president ordered all federal departments to eliminate two regulations for every one that gets added. Since then, he's signed 15 laws rolling back Obama-era regulations that tried to meddle in people's livelihoods. For example, dictating how investors buy stocks, where ranchers graze cattle and how teachers are trained.
He's also appointed "task forces" to comb through and eliminate "costly and unnecessary regulations" at each agency.
On Monday, Trump won Senate confirmation for a hard-charging anti-bureaucrat, Neomi Rao, to lead the administration's battle against federal red tape.
Economic revival hinges on winning this battle. Federal regulations drag down growth by an estimated 0.8 percent a year, according to the American Enterprise Institute. With growth averaging only a puny 1.5 percent a year during Obama's tenure, who can afford such a huge bite out of the economy?
And there's more than dollars and cents at stake. Deregulation will protect our democracy. Right now, unelected bureaucrats try to call the shots, no matter who is president. Like Sally Yates, the Justice Department lifer whom Trump fired for refusing to enforce his travel ban. Federal office buildings are filled with Sally Yates wannabes, particularly in the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Trump's biggest challenge is defanging the bureaucrats in every agency who are determined to thwart his America First, free-market agenda. A staggering 95 percent of campaign donations from employees at 14 federal agencies went to Hillary Clinton last fall. And since Trump's inauguration, it's common for midlevel bureaucrats to talk of refusing to implement Trump administration policies. They glorify it as "civil disobedience." But who elected them? It's really insubordination.
Good luck firing these most of these insubordinates, or any federal employee for that matter. Last month, the president signed a bill making modest improvements in employee accountability in just one department, the VA. That's the most that could be passed while the Democratic Party has the votes in the U.S. Senate to block real civil service reform. Public sector unions fill the party's coffers and man the phone banks for Democratic candidates.
Even when faced with dead vets, Democratic lawmakers blocked real reform of the warped system that keeps bad VA employees on the job. If Trump can't reform the civil service, the best alternative is to curb the power these "servants" hold over our lives. And that's just what President Trump is doing.
Betsy McCaughey is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and a former lieutenant governor of New York State. Contact her at [email protected] To find out more about Betsy McCaughey and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.