Trump to Propose Merger of Education, Labor and Consolidation of Welfare Programs [UPDATED]
The Administration is going to unveil a plan for a major reorganization of government agencies today.
The Hill (“White House to recommend combining Education, Labor Departments: report“):
The proposed merger, which is expected to be unveiled Thursday morning, would mark a significant step toward the Trump administration’s goal of decreasing the federal workforce.
The Education Department, which has already shrunk under the Trump administration, employs around 3,900 people, making it one of the smallest federal agencies. The Labor Department employs roughly 15,000 workers, according to the newspaper.
Officials for the White House and Labor Department declined to comment to the Journal, and the paper could not immediately reach the Education Department for comment.
Lawmakers would have to approve the reorganization, but have demonstrated reluctance for such measures before.
The merger would be part of a broader effort to reshuffle the federal government.
The above is based on the original reporting of the WSJ, which is behind a paywall. Nosing around a bit, I found a POLITICO story (“Trump seeks to reorganize the federal government“) from earlier in the month that I missed at the time:
The Trump administration is preparing to release a sweeping plan for reorganizing the federal government that includes a major consolidation of welfare programs — and a renaming of the Health and Human Services Department.
The report, set to be released in the coming weeks by the White House Office of Management and Budget, seeks to move safety-net programs, including food stamps, into HHS, two sources with knowledge of the plan told POLITICO. The plan would also propose changing the name of the sprawling department, while separately seeking cuts at the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department.
The $70 billion food stamp program, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is run by the Agriculture Department and makes up the vast majority of the department’s budget. The program helps more than 40 million low-income Americans buy groceries each month.
“You have low-income assistance in a bunch of different shops without one point of oversight and without a whole lot of communication,” said one of the people with knowledge of the plan. “Why not have one federal agency responsible for execution?”
The report, which is expected to recommend big changes at many federal agencies, is almost complete and is expected to be introduced this month, according to one administration official. Sources in and outside the government have been told the rollout will happen in late June. The plan is still being finalized and some of the details could change, but one of the people familiar with the report said the proposal to reorganize HHS has widespread buy-in at OMB.
OMB spokesman Jacob Wood declined to comment on the plan.
The biggest changes outlined by the White House are unlikely to be implemented because moving multibillion-dollar programs and renaming federal departments generally requires congressional action. But the plan, like the president’s annual budget, demonstrates the administration’s thinking on a range of domestic policy issues. It also offers a strong political selling point for the Trump White House as it tries to burnish an image of an administration dedicated to conservative principles and smaller government.
“The administration already put a lot of stuff out in this year’s budget related to cuts, but that was the easy stuff,” the administration official said. “This [report] is the harder stuff.”
White House officials have been working on their bid to reorganize the government for months — all while keeping an unusually tight lid on the plan. The effort stems from an executive order President Donald Trump signed in March of last year directing OMB to come up with a plan to overhaul the government to make it more efficient. Only recently have some of the ideas begun to circulate outside OMB.
The plan appears to draw, at least in part, from recommendations made last year by The Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank that has deeply influenced Trump’s agenda in his first year and a half in office.
Heritage recommended that all nutrition functions at USDA — including food stamps, nutrition education and school meal programs that serve some 30 million children each day — be transferred to HHS.
“[T]he USDA has veered off of its mission by working extensively on issues unrelated to agriculture. This is mostly due to the nutrition programs,” Heritage wrote in last year’s report about reorganizing the government. “By moving this welfare function to HHS, the USDA will be better able to work on agricultural issues impacting all Americans.”
While I would have to see the actual plan to form a strong opinion, the basic concept strikes me as a good one. With the exception of the post-9/11 creation of the Department of Homeland Security, merging a lot of functions that were scattered throughout the government into a single agency, we really haven’t had a significant reorganization of the federal government since the Carter Administration.
Offhand, merging all of our social welfare programs into a single agency makes a lot of sense. Democrats will naturally be skeptical of doing this under a Republican Administration—let alone that of Donald Trump—but it could certainly be done in a way that brings efficiency and clarity to the mission and actually improves services to the needy.
While I’ve long thought we should merge our various economic agencies (Treasury, Commerce, and Labor) I can’t offhand come up with a rationale for merging Education and Labor. But it’s possible that a good one will be proffered.
Beyond the merits, I’m incredibly skeptical about the timing. Not so much that this will be seen as an attempt to distract from Trump’s various scandals—pretty much anything he does is subject to that charge—but because this really should have been done a year ago. A normal administration comes to office with policy ideas that have been essentially crafted into legislative proposals. That allows them to get some wins during the “honeymoon” period in the first few months after they’ve been sworn in. To be sure, the “honeymoon” has been short to nonexistent in recent presidencies, certainly to include this one. But it’s exceedingly difficult to get anything controversial passed in election years and we’re now just a few weeks from midterms that could put the Democrats in control of the Congress. It’s just about inconceivable, then, that they’ll give Trump a win at this juncture.
UPDATE: The plan has been announced and WaPo (“Exactly what Trump’s new plan says about merging the Education and Labor departments“) has details. BLUF, the prospects are even grimmer than I portrayed originally:
The Trump administration Thursday issued its plan to reorganize the federal government, which includes merging the Education and Labor departments.
Such a merger is not likely to be approved by Congress: Democrats oppose it, and enough Republicans are expected be against the proposal that it will be doomed — if it ever gets to a vote. But the proposal reflects long-standing Republican opposition to the existence of the Education Department.
A key Republican voice in the Senate is Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who heads the Senate education committee and was education secretary under President George H.W. Bush. This was his underwhelming reaction to the Trump proposal: “I think it’s always wise to look for greater efficiency in how our government operates and I will study the proposal carefully.”
Teacher union leaders and Democrats in Congress blasted the idea. Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, the country’s largest union, called a proposed merger of Education and Labor “radical” and said in a statement that the Trump administration’s proposals are “at best ill-conceived and poorly timed and at worst are an attempt to distract the American public from the humanitarian crisis [President Trump] created along the U.S.-Mexico border.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said that “in any normal administration,” it would make sense to combine some “core functions” of the two departments.
“But there is nothing normal about this administration, so we’re extremely skeptical of the motivations here given how hostile Betsy DeVos and President Trump have been to public education, workers and unions,” she said in a statement, referring to Trump’s education secretary. “It seems like this move is just cover for continuing their agenda to go after public schools, gut civil rights and equity protections, provide support for predatory student loan companies and prey on workers.”
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee and who has worked well on some initiatives with Alexander, called the plan “unrealistic, unhelpful and futile.
“Democrats and Republicans in Congress have rejected President Trump’s proposals to drastically gut investments in education, health care, and workers — and he should expect the same result for this latest attempt to make government work worse for the people it serves,” she said in a statement.
The piece then embeds the proposal for the merged “Department of Education and the Workforce,” including the org chart. Thus far, nothing is on the White House website.