Last Friday, President Obama asked Congress for the power to consolidate government agencies, saying he’d start by rolling Commerce and five lesser departments into a single business and trade department.
That evening, on Fox’s The Five, Dana Perino wondered if it might actually be a good idea – who wouldn’t be happy with fewer government departments? She challenged her co-hosts to name the secretary of commerce (presumably to illustrate that he wouldn’t be missed).
No one knew the name, but Greg Gutfeld observed that “secretary” sounded like a demeaning title. He was, in fact, borrowing a line from the 80s sitcom Yes Minister, Margaret Thatcher’s favorite program. If Gutfeld had known his Yes Minister a little better, he could have told everyone why conservatives might be suspicious of Obama’s new plan.
The show’s leading civil servant Sir Humphrey gleefully explains that amalgamating departments means you get to keep all the existing staff, and then add an extra layer of coordinating management at the top. The whole really is more than the sum of parts.
Obama did not promise his plan will shrink government – he used “leaner” four times in his speech, but “cuts” not at all. And then he praised the tireless industry of federal employees.
It is a smart political move, and Republicans would look bad trying to block the quest for “leaner and smarter” government. Once again, Yes Minister has a handy answer.
The GOP should allow Obama to embark on his project, but require that he set failure standards. Something like this: President Obama’s project to consolidate the business and trade departments will have failed if it takes longer than six months to implement, reduces staff by less than 10 percent, or exceeds the budget already allocated to these departments.
Then Obama will have a chance to have one of his “big ideas” formally validated. And the voters will know if he succeeded in reducing the size of government, or if he failed.