10. Shrink the Cabinet

A Plan to Renew the Promise of American Life, Plank 10

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Plank 10. Shrink the cabinet.


Specific Recommendations

10.1. Reduce the number of cabinet departments from fifteen to no more than, say, eight.

10.2. Reorganize the executive branch to place all federal agencies, boards, commissions, and government-sponsored enterprises under a cabinet secretary who reports directly to the president.


Explanation

The federal establishment has become too big and unwieldy. The cabinet table has become overcrowded. During George Washington’s administrations, there were just four department heads: State, Treasury, War, and Justice. Today there are fifteen. More than eighty additional agencies have been created over the centuries, many not fully accountable to the elected branches. The massive growth of the federal establishment has created inefficiencies and driven up costs. The federal workforce has exploded, creating a permanent constituency for big government. There were 700,000 federal civilian employees in 1940. Today there are 2,700,000. If one includes military personnel and state and local employees, the total number of government workers in the United States (22 million) is greater than the number of workers employed in manufacturing (12.3 million). Clearly, there is bloat.

To address these problems, the federal establishment should be thoroughly reorganized to meet four objectives: 1) conform to the Constitution, 2) shrink the cabinet, 2) prune the organizational chart, 3) make every agency accountable.

Reorganization should reflect the principles of unity, utility, and accountability:

  1. Unity. As a constitutional matter, every agency must be housed under one of the three branches. No exceptions. (More on this in the next plank.)
  2. Utility. Every agency must be useful and non-duplicative—or dismantled. No exceptions.
  3. Accountability. Every agency must be accountable. It should have to prove its worth to justify its budget. Every agency, including boards and commissions, should have a single chief who is answerable to a cabinet secretary who reports directly to the president. No exceptions.

Note: The word “dismantled” here can mean either “eliminated,” “taken apart,” or “phased out,” as circumstances warrant.

Proposed Reorganization

Using the foregoing principles, I have come up with my own proposal for reorganizing the executive branch, as follows.

I. Cabinet Agencies

Reduce the number of cabinet departments from fifteen to eight.

Eliminate all unconstitutional functions and sub-agencies.

Retain six departments:*

  1. State
  2. Treasury
  3. Defense
  4. Justice
  5. Interior
  6. Commerce

Create two new departments:

  1. Foreign Intelligence (to house all non-military intelligence activities)
  2. Administration (to house centralized personnel and procurement functions)

Eliminate nine remaining departments and transfer their functions to others, as seems most appropriate, with Commerce serving as the default destination:

  1. Agriculture
  2. Labor
  3. Housing and Urban Development
  4. Transportation
  5. Health and Human Services
  6. Energy (transfer national security functions to Defense)
  7. Education
  8. Veterans (transfer to Defense as a new operating division headed by a veteran)
  9. Homeland Security

II. Non-Cabinet Agencies

Eliminate, privatize, or bring under departmental control about fifty non-cabinet agencies, boards, commissions, and government-sponsored enterprises. Spare no agency. Make the Federal Reserve part of the Treasury Department.**

The New, Smaller Cabinet***

The current cabinet, in order of presidential succession:****

  1. Secretary of State
  2. Secretary of the Treasury
  3. Secretary of Defense
  4. Attorney General (Department of Justice)
  5. Secretary of the Interior
  6. Secretary of Agriculture
  7. Secretary of Commerce
  8. Secretary of Labor
  9. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
  10. Secretary of Transportation
  11. Secretary of Health and Human Services
  12. Secretary of Energy
  13. Secretary of Education
  14. Secretary of Veterans
  15. Secretary of Homeland Security

The proposed cabinet, in order of presidential succession:

  1. Secretary of State
  2. Secretary of the Treasury
  3. Secretary of Defense
  4. Attorney General
  5. Secretary of the Interior
  6. Secretary of Commerce
  7. Secretary of Foreign Intelligence
  8. Secretary of Administration

* In this article, I list existing cabinet agencies in order of their creation.

** The Fed should be made part of the Treasury Department, in keeping with the principles of this plank and the independent agencies plank. And as explained in the sound money plank, we need to withdraw from this most powerful of “independent” agencies the power to manipulate the world economy through the control of U.S. interest rates. Interest rates are the market price of money and should be set by markets, not central planners. However, I am not opposed, personally, to retaining a reduced Fed, answerable to Treasury, and operating under the constraints of a constitutional bimetallic standard, that would continue to serve as a credit clearinghouse to smooth out regional credit crunches and a lender of last resort to soften the jolt of a national panic.

*** The cabinet also includes the vice president and other executive-branch officers granted cabinet rank by the president.

**** A note on presidential succession. Under a proper reading of the Constitution, only executive-branch officers may be included by Congress in the presidential line of succession. Unfortunately, Congress, in the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, inserted the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president pro tempore of the Senate into the list, between the vice president and the department heads. This provision creates the potential for a constitutional crisis in which two rival claimants to the presidency, one from the legislative branch, the other from the executive, vie for recognition. The Supreme Court would doubtless be drawn into the fray, as it was in the Florida recount crisis of 2000. Congress should fix this error pronto, by removing the speaker and president pro tem from the list.


Constitutional Amendments

This plank does not require any constitutional amendments.


Benefits

Will make the federal establishment smaller and more accountable and more constitutionally appropriate.

Will reduce federal spending by eliminating unnecessary departments, agencies, boards, commissions, and government-sponsored enterprises.


Summary

Plank 9     Contents     Plank 11

Revised: March 30, 2016.

Published: June 21, 2013.

Author: Dean Clancy.

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