(City Journal) -- The 2016 election shocked voters, political commentators, and policymakers, but the administrative state—the vast network of agencies and bureaucratic personnel that operates largely unchecked, making policy decisions that affect millions of Americans— chugged along with uninterrupted purpose. A recent, low-profile move by the Trump administration could begin untangling some of it, though. Last week, Trump signed a trio of executive orders that would streamline the Byzantine dismissal procedures for federal employees who don’t perform in their jobs. The orders also rein in the immense power of federal-employee unions by curtailing the practice of “union time,” which forces taxpayers to pay even for the time public employees spend on union activities, and revise collective bargaining rules.
Not surprisingly, the moves were greeted with hostility in some quarters. J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the largest federal-workers’ union, called the executive orders “a denial of democracy.” He’s got it backwards: the professional civil service today numbers 2.8 million bureaucrats, many wielding the kind of rulemaking power that the Founders granted only to the elected members of Congress. These civil “servants” are neither universally competent nor nonpartisan, and, protected by a century’s worth of job protections, they keep their positions, no matter who American voters put in the Oval Office.
The government doesn’t even consider incompetence grounds for dismissal. It frequently takes a year or more to fire an employee, even for criminal acts. The system allows employees to defend themselves in proceedings that resemble civil trials.
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