As the Trump administration puts people in place, federal agencies are changing in predictable ways.
Last week, the state senate’s Committee on Intergovernmental Affairs held a couple of days of meetings with federal agencies in Washington, D.C. Senators Warren and Markey also took the time to share valuable thoughts with the committee. I am not a member of the committee, but I went along at my own expense to sit in.
In each agency meeting, there were several career officials and a Trump administration appointee, to whom the career officials showed deference. I was most interested to hear what the political appointees had to say and to understand how management directions are changing.
Overall, what I heard was unsurprising. While Donald Trump’s personal ideology may be hard to define, the folks that he is bringing in at the political levels in agencies seem to be traditional Republicans – having a core faith that lowering taxes and reducing regulation will grow the economy and create jobs.
Their proposed elimination of the state and local tax deduction resonates with this faith. Eliminating the “SALT” deduction would mean that high income taxpayers in higher tax blue states like New York and New Jersey will lose a deduction on the federal income tax which will in turn put more pressure on the high tax states to lower taxes.
If an infrastructure bill moves forward, we should expect them to propose expansion of the role of private companies in building and managing infrastructure.
They distrust the public education system. We should expect the department of education to use its discretionary money to further alternatives to public schools – parochial schools, charter schools, online schools. To my question of whether this might undermine public schools financially, their quick answer was that overall federal education funding accounts for only 8% of school budgets. In truth, if federal money follows students out of public schools, then other money will also move and financially weaker school districts may be destabilized.
We should otherwise expect the Department of Education to give less direction and regulate more lightly. As an example, take the recent loosening of guidance on campus sexual assault.
I heard some bald statements about apprenticeships as an alternative to higher education: why should a kid get a degree in hieroglyphics . . . they need to know how to turn a wrench, not how to think . . . unless they are in higher management.
Apprenticeships, of course, can complement higher education and I do support new models for vocational training. Yet, what I heard seemed to be a strong preference for industry-led training as opposed to government or university led training, a preference broadly consistent with an anti-government and anti-institutional perspective.
While mid-level Republican political people are happily moving into agencies and pursuing their traditional agenda, the times are politically challenging for congressional Republicans. It is hard for them to straddle the concerns of their mainstream high-donor financial base and the anti-establishment passions of their primary electorate.
No one can predict how the big legislative issues will develop, much less how the rest of the world will respond to the President’s behavior. But the Trump election is changing federal agencies in predictable ways.