Bannon’s prophetic prediction playing out before our eyes at USDA
In the early days of the Trump administration, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon declared that the President’s cabinet picks are well suited to implement a complete “deconstruction of the administrative state.” The quote by Bannon is relatively well known. Unfortunately, large swaths of the American people do not understand that that deconstruction is not only alive and well, but proceeding with lightning speed—with no end in sight.
To put it in more simpler terms, the administration is on track to weaken regulatory agencies and other bureaucratic entities, faster and more extreme than any previous Republican administration had ever tried to do. And it’s not like George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan didn’t try mightily to achieve this end. After all, less and smaller government is one of the main objectives of most Republicans as it is. But the ‘deconstruction’ from this administration is breathtaking in scope.
Let’s take, for example, what has been happening at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in recent weeks. Secretary Sonny Perdue announced in June his plan to relocate two agencies within the department; the Economic Research Service (ERS), and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), to Kansas City, Missouri. Reasons given for the relocation were that it would bring the research agencies closer to major farming regions, improve customer service, and save taxpayers millions of dollars. However, Democratic members of Congress and employees at ERS and NIFA suspect that politics is the real reason for the change.
Most of the employees at the two agencies believe the relocation is nothing more than a back door attempt to shrink the agency and clamp down on research that doesn’t align with Trump administration priorities.
Employees at ERS, who research areas such as climate change, nutrition, and the farm economy, and those at NIFA, who arrange federal grants for agricultural research institutions, had been given only 30 days to decide whether to relocate. The fear was that the short notice would contribute to a disruption of operations and drive out many experienced researchers. And true enough, according to the Washington Post, about two-thirds of the nearly 400 employees refused the assignment and will lose their jobs.
The loss of these veteran ERS employees who did not relocate is “extremely concerning for those who create policy, rely on sound market and industry research, and who collaborate with USDA ERS to address field-based questions that arise,” said Dawn Thilmany, an Associate department head at Colorado State University’s College of Agriculture Sciences.
It seems as though the administration’s overall skepticism regarding climate change could be one of the deciding factors in what’s going on here. USDA scientists are some of the leading experts in the field of climate science as it relates to farmers and food systems. Politico reported back in June that the department had largely stopped promoting its own climate science findings, much to the chagrin of members of Congress. And Secretary Perdue himself is a long-time climate change denier. When asked in an interview by CNN what he thought caused climate change, Perdue said, “I think it’s weather patterns, frankly.”
But perhaps even more troubling is the administration’s callous disregard for people who lose their jobs in government. When people quit or are forced out, it’s not looked at as a negative. It’s, in fact, a welcome occurrence.
None other than White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney accentuated this point a few days ago. He delivered a keynote speech at the Republican Party’s Silver Elephant Gala in South Carolina. Mulvaney could barely contain his excitement. “You’ve heard about ‘drain the swamp.’ What you probably haven’t heard is what we are actually doing. Maybe you don’t know this, but the USDA just tried to move, or did move, two offices out of Washington, D.C.,” he said.
He continued: “Yes, you can applaud that one. That’s what we’ve been talking about doing. Guess what happened? More than half the people quit. By simply saying to people. ‘You know what, we’re going to take you outside the bubble, outside the Beltway, outside this liberal haven of Washington, D.C., and move you out in the real part of the country,’ and they quit—what a wonderful way to sort of streamline government, and do what we haven’t been able to do for a long time.”
But J. David Cox Sr., President of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents the two agencies, confirmed the concerns of union members. “The decision to transfer hundreds of USDA jobs from D.C. isn’t about helping federal employees do their jobs better or delivering better services to the American taxpayer,” Cox said. “Their goal is to drive out hard-working and dedicated civil servants and silence parts of the agencies’ research that the administration views as inconvenient.”
The somewhat good news in all of this, however, is the fact that the move may not happen because of a common occurrence: Trump administration incompetence. Democrats in Congress had requested an Inspector General report on the move, and it found that the USDA did not go through the proper procedure in acquiring funds from Congress. Also, legal challenges from the union may soon follow, which could delay the move indefinitely.
Thus, we shall wait and see. But let’s be crystal clear: this administration is on a clear path to blowing up the administrative state as we know it. Draining the swamp, as Trump bragged he would do during the campaign, is not playing out the way he promised. On the contrary, he’s filling departments with people who do not believe in government to begin with—or filling them with people who hold opposite views from what the department’s goals are supposed to be.
Perdue, for instance, comes from the same line of thinking as Trump when it pertains to the environment. To them, climate change is a hoax. Recently, for instance, they reversed an Obama-era policy that banned the use of harmful pesticides known to pose a threat to bee populations. The bottom line is that corporate lobbyists and oligarchs rule the day in this administration. The less qualified people you have in government, the more likely you are to jettison regulations across the board. It’s music to the ears for of corporations, which allows them to operate without adequate accountability or oversight.
Unfortunately, these are the kinds of stories that fly under the radar in Trump’s America. While there are excellent journalists out there shedding light on the swamp ‘filling’ of this administration, it’s the salacious and ridiculous blather from Trump himself that gets most of the attention. While he tweets, golfs and holds campaign rallies for his rabid base of supporters, he and his crew are systematically going about destroying the administrative state and democracy itself.
Over the next 15 months, we can never lose sight of what he’s doing. Because what he says doesn’t mean a damn thing.