Fixing Washington: On Improving Institutional Design in the United States

Fixing Washington: On Improving Institutional Design in the United States

Subroto Roy*

17 November 2016

President Trump has a unique chance to redesign the institutional framework of the United States Government for the better. His decisive victory is accompanied by a prospect of an amicable House and Senate that will approve a productive redesign, as has been always wished for in American history but only very spasmodically accomplished.

Original departments of the US Government were State and Treasury (both 1789), Defense (1949 from Army or War, 1789, Navy 1798, Air Force 1947); then Interior (1849), Agriculture (1862), Justice (1870), Commerce (1903), Labor (1913), Health Education Welfare (1953).

The Postmaster General remains the second highest paid public official after the President, an anachronism arising from the Post Office being older than the Republic though it was reorganised after 1971 into what would be called elsewhere in the world a “public sector enterprise”.

The vast presidential staff of the Executive Office including the Office of Management and Budget and the Council of Economic Advisers grew out of the results of the 1939 Brownlow committee.  President Obama’s Cabinet had the Vice President, State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, Education, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security.   Other Cabinet rank officers President Trump would inherit from President Obama are the White House Chief of Staff, Environment Protection head, Management & Budget head, Trade Representative, UN Ambassador, Council of Economic Advisers Chairman, and Small Business Administration head.

Now as a general rule, managing a process of public financial or other decision-making requires a coincidence of the people who have the best information with the people who have the authority to act. Decision-makers need to have relevant, reliable and timely information made available to them, and then they need to be considered accountable for the decisions made on that basis.

A few dozen PhD theses may argue how American decision-making at the highest levels in recent decades has at critical times become confused and counterproductive. A major reason may be because the span of control of the President of the United States has been rendered unmanageable, besides departmental overlaps, wastages, redundancies, failures of information reaching the right decision maker at the right time, and so on. That is only on the Government side, not to mention the President’s political functions with the Legislative side and as head of his party supporting its candidates during elections, besides innumerable other functions interacting with the citizenry.

My proposal in a nutshell is that President Trump have four, just four, principal or senior Cabinet officers, while dispersing downwards the bulk of what has accumulated since 1939 as the Executive Office.
The four principal Cabinet Officers would be for
— Foreign Affairs (Secretary of State)
— Home Affairs (an important new portfolio)
— Economy or Economic Affairs (Treasury Secretary though enhanced much in scope from Wall Street towards Main Street)

— National Security (Secretary of Defense, including all intelligence).

The Vice President and these four Cabinet officers would be the Principal Cabinet of the President, as well as the basis of the National Security Council and Office of Emergency Management, adding persons as they wished in different contingencies.

A larger Presidential Cabinet or Executive Council with other Cabinet officers would be dispersed like this:

President, Vice President
Foreign Affairs (Secretary of State)
— Foreign Service
— Foreign Commerce (Trade)
— UN Ambassador
Home Affairs (Secretary of Home Affairs)
— Attorney General/Justice Department (FBI)
— Interior
— Federalism (Union-State Relations)
— Housing & Urban Development
— Environment
Economic Affairs (Treasury Secretary)
— Banking (Federal Reserve)
— Budgets & Accounting
— Agriculture
— Domestic Commerce
— Energy
— Transportation
— Education, Science & Technology, Small Business
— Labor
— Health & Human Services
National Security (Secretary of Defense)
— Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard
— DIA, CIA, NSA, Homeland Security
— Veterans

This larger Cabinet or Executive Council could meet in whole or part as necessary.

My second proposal, in a nutshell, is that the new portfolio of Federalism falling under the Secretary of Home Affairs would see each of the 50 States being represented in the National Capital on the Executive side of government, besides their Legislative representation in Congress.

Washington DC by day is a town of foreign embassies and innumerable domestic lobbyists. It is a bewildering place not only for ordinary people from the 50 States who may be visiting as tourists but for their legislative representatives as well.

My suggestion since May 2016 has been that the United States create 50 new quasi-embassies in the Capital, one for each State, call them for sake of argument a Commission, so there would be a US-AZ Commission, a US-MN Commission, a US-TN Commission etc.   Existing bodies representing the State Government in the Capital would be amalgamated into these. Each would be headed by, say, a Commissioner appointed by the Secretary for Home Affairs and a Deputy Commissioner appointed by the State Governor and resident in Washington.

The constant conversation of those two appointees would represent the daily traffic along the Information/Decisions/Resource Transfers Highway between the Federal and the specific State Government. In a federal structure, information would usually travel upwards from the State Government to the Federal Government, Decisions and Resources traveling the other way after detours in the Congress.

The aim of these quasi-embassies would be to expedite traffic along these Information/Decisions/Resources Highways between the Federal Government and the 50 State Governments. Some matters would be common across States within the Federal ambit, while others would be territorially diverse and tailor-made for a given State.  A State’s legislators representing it in the House and Senate in Washington would be naturally deeply involved in seeing to the Commission for the State in the Capital working expeditiously.  The Secretary of Home Affairs would provide a single easy window for the State Government’s concerns to access the Cabinet. Existing State Government bodies in the Capital could be amalgamated into these, for example promoting tourism to the States, or providing services for people from the States visiting the Capital.

The balance of power in Washington, which has become skewed badly in favor of military and foreign policy, would find some ballast in favor of domestic policy as well thanks to these 50 new quasi-embassies of the States. The widespread disaffection towards the Federal Government and Washington of many ordinary people in the far-flung States may thus come to be reduced, besides traffic along the Information/Decisions/Resources Highways between Washington and the States flowing more easily.

In a great old and deep democracy like the United States, the locus of policy decision-making must be Congress and the State legislatures. Academics, civil servants, journalists, special interest groups, this or that business or industrial lobbyist or management consultant can all have their say — but consensus on the direction and nature of policy, if it is to be genuine, has to ultimately emerge out of the legislative process on the basis of reasonable, well-informed discussion and debate, given full relevant timely information. The proper source of policy decisions and initiatives is the President and his/her Cabinet, as well as Congress itself and the State Governments and local bodies — not this or that lobby or interest-group which may be vocal or powerful enough to be heard at a given time in Washington or some State capital.

My proposal outlined above will help the USA in its public decision-making in the 21st Century.

Dedication: this work is dedicated to the memory of Willis Coburn Armstrong  and Louise Schaffner Armstrong.

*Subroto Roy, PhD (Cantab.), BScEcon (London) is author of *Philosophy of Economics*, 1989, and the co-creator of *Foundations of India’s Political Economy* MS 1989, 1992, *Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy* 1993, *Margaret Thatcher’s Revolution* 2005, and other works. Between August 1992 and January 1994 he was a Washington consultant. In 1983 at a Cato Institute talk in Washington, the future President Elect Donald J Trump praised the talk, introduced himself briefly, and possibly said “Remember the name”!


Postscript 22 December 2016, from Twitter