Former Trump adviser, and now-former Breitbart editor, Steve Bannon was wrong about a great many things. His importance was undoubtedly overstated, and no one exaggerated his power more than Bannon himself. But Bannon was absolutely right about one thing: the need to deconstruct the administrative state.
At RealClearPolicy, Claremont Institute’s John Marini says of the administrative state, “[C]entralized bureaucracy has displaced the Founding Fathers’ vision of a constitutional republic.”
Marini is right. Our founders believed that in a republic the dominant realm would be civil society, which Yuval Levin describes as “the space between the individual and the state – the space occupied by families, communities, civic and religious institutions, and the private economy.” Today, however, an unelected class of bureaucrats, minders and regulators that comprise the administrative state is increasingly dominating American life and crowding out civil society.
In Mapping the Swamp, A Study of the Administrative State, leading transparency group OpenTheBooks.com provides a treasure trove of data and a compelling visual that illustrates the breadth and scope of the administrative state. As its interactive map tool shows, the administrative state fills the entire map of the United States. One can search zip codes across the country and find guardians of the administrative state deployed across the land.
A few highlights from the report:
- Nearly 30,000 federal employees out-earn every governor of the 50 states with salaries exceeding $190,000.
- The number of federal employees making $200,000 or more has skyrocketed by 165 percent during the past six years.
- The federal government disclosed 1.97 million employees across 122 independent agencies and departments. In FY2016, these 2 million workers received $136 billion in compensation. To put this in perspective, just the compensation for the employees of the administrative state exceeded the Gross Domestic Products (GDPs) of nearly two-thirds of the countries on earth.
- The administrative state employs 35,000 lawyers but fewer than 12,000 of them are at the Department of Justice.
While the cost of the federal workforce is a fair way to measure the size and scope of the administrative state, federal workers are not the problem per se. The real problem is Congress. Even during the Obama administration, the problem in Washington wasn’t executive over-reach but congressional under-reach.
The fact is writing precise and clear legislative language and doing the oversight necessary to understand and rein in the administrative state is excruciatingly hard and tedious work. To many members, the work isn’t worth the pay-off. It’s simply easier to focus on issues that generate more media interest and fundraising dollars in the short term. Congress outsources their legislative responsibilities to unelected experts and technocrats they happily overpay while they duplicitously complain about overspending.
Of course, federal employees can be lazy too. But for every federal employee who spends all day shopping on Amazon or watching Netflix there are others who work hard and are frustrated their creative initiative is thwarted by institutional inertia they can’t fix from within. In many cases, these employees could make more money elsewhere. The same can’t always be said of members of Congress.
In the final analysis, OpenTheBooks.com’s report shows the way to have less administrative state is for voters to ask more of the people they elect.