Happiness Through Chutzpah: The Norman Podhoretz Story

Real Clear Politics

Norman Podhoretz has made it. On Sunday, the pugnacious, proudly boastful and unquestionably brilliant writer and editor received an award named ­after one of a very few men, living or dead, whom he truly admires: the Theodor Herzl Prize, bestowed by the conservative Jewish Leadership Conference and named after the founder of Zionism.

Moving federal jobs out of Washington could work, if it’s done correctly

The Brookings Institute

By Alan Berube

The United States is pulling apart economically. Some regions continue to face vastly different economic outcomes, and there are troubling signs on the state of manufacturing in the Midwest that suggest further disparity. New work by my colleagues Mark Muro and Jacob Whiton shows an explicitly partisan tilt to this divergence, with congressional districts represented by Democrats experiencing rapid economic growth over the past decade, while Republican districts stagnate.

This divide is likely one reason for a new push in the Senate to stimulate job growth in less prosperous U.S. regions by relocating federal agencies from Washington to “the heartland.” While the proposal is misguided in several ways, it nonetheless raises useful questions about what role federal jobs might play in dispersing economic activity more widely.

The newest push to deconcentrate federal employment

Sponsored by Senators Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), the Helping Infrastructure Restore the Economy (HIRE) Act would require the federal government to relocate the headquarters of several executive branch agencies (if it does not otherwise abolish or merge them) to states that have “experienced substantial economic distress during the past 10 years.” The bill designates 10 specific agencies and their proposed destination states; not surprisingly, Missouri and Tennessee are among those eligible for agency relocations (see figure below).

Figure 1

One important backdrop for Hawley and Blackburn’s proposal is the recent relocation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS) to Kansas City. While the Trump administration heralded the move as a cost-saving measure and a chance to bring ERS employees closer to the “stakeholders” they study, the relocation order paralleled a White House proposal to drastically shrink the agency’s size, as well as the administration’s concerns that its own policy proposals were at odds with the service’s research findings. Ultimately, ERS was forced to delay or terminate hundreds of millions of dollars of research when 80% of its staff left the agency rather than relocate. Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, are trying to use the appropriations process to block the agency’s move. (This being Washington in 2019, the debate over the ERS move occasioned a Twitter war in which Senator Hawley featured prominently.)

Although it is two Republican senators who are co-sponsoring the HIRE Act, the idea of using federal employment to stimulate economically lagging regions isn’t an expressly partisan one. In West Virginia, the presence of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Advanced Training Center, the U.S. Coast Guard Operations Systems Center, and a mammoth IRS computing facility reflects not only proximity to the Washington, D.C. area, but also the powerful influence late Democratic Senator Robert C. Byrd wielded in locating federal jobs in his home state. More recently, progressives such as Vox’s Matthew Yglesias and Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang have embraced the potential of agency relocation to stimulate heartland economies. (Yang seems to have taken up Yglesias’s specific proposal to move the National Institutes of Health to Cleveland.)

Most federal employees don’t work in Washington

The number of federal civilian workers has been relatively stable since 1970, and has even fallen steadily as a share of the total U.S. workforce (in part due to a rise in federal contracting). But the federal government still employs a significant number of Americans—2.8 million people in all.

Most of those federal workers, however, do not live in the Greater Washington area. As of fiscal year 2017, about 280,000 nonseasonal, full-time federal workers lived in the Washington, D.C. metro area. That represented only 15% of all such workers nationwide. The other 85% are distributed around the country, with large numbers at agencies such as the Veterans Health Administration (328,000), the Internal Revenue Service (52,000), the Social Security Administration (49,000), and the Federal Aviation Administration (38,000) working outside the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. These individuals carry out their duties in regional field offices and project sites, with most ultimately reporting up to a headquarters in the capital. The notion that all federal employees are “creatures” of official Washington, or that, in Senator Hawley’s words, “Every year Americans’ hard-earned tax dollars fund federal agencies that are mainly located in the D.C. bubble,” misrepresents reality.

Relocation may be worth considering for some federal agencies

This doesn’t mean that the status quo isn’t worth examining. A large number of federal employees do work in and around the nation’s capital, which is an expensive place to do business. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, among 382 U.S. metropolitan areas, Greater Washington, D.C. registers the 10th-highest prices for goods and services. Employing a large workforce in the Washington area means the federal government bears higher-than-average costs for salaries, space, and supplies, as well as for contracts to companies that locate in the region to be near the agencies they service.

Many of these federal employees clearly do need to work near the seat of national government. Those workers who liaise routinely with the White House, other executive agencies, and Capitol Hill can do their jobs much more effectively in Washington, D.C. than elsewhere. Cabinet secretaries and their offices, government commissions that frequently report to Congress and the administration, and headquarters for geographically distributed agencies all, too, have strong arguments for being in Washington.

The case for other workers and agencies to continue to locate in Washington is not always as clear. As Yglesias notes, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) employs about 17,000 people in Bethesda, Md., just outside the District. Most of the agency’s professionals, who fund and conduct cutting-edge health research, have no day-to-day need to be near the corridors of power in the federal city. NIH is in Bethesda because in 1944, Congress provided funding to build a research hospital there. But the agency might just as easily have grown somewhere else. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for instance, employs about 8,000 workers in Atlanta. The agency is located there because its forerunner program focused on preventing the spread of malaria in the U.S. South. In 1947, the head of Coca-Cola organized a deal with Emory University to establish the CDC next to its campus, where it still operates today.

What agencies might be candidates for relocation out of the Washington area? Data from the Office of Personnel Management point to many nondefense-related agencies and subagencies that employ significant numbers of workers in the District of Columbia and its suburbs, but may not require regular access to those environs. Table 1 lists a sampling of such agencies, which are either independent or have a relatively autonomous relationship with their cabinet agency “parent” (many are located in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.), and currently have at least 1,000 employees in the Washington, D.C. area.

Table 1

Being thoughtful about relocation

To be sure, many of these agencies may possess strong rationales for retaining an address in Greater Washington. The broader point is that, especially in an age of enhanced government telecommunications and remote-work capacity, it is appropriate to examine what federal functions must be conducted in the nation’s capital.

At the same time, the administration and Congress should focus not only on the “push” (read: cost) factors for relocation, but also on the “pull” factors that may argue for relocating agencies in certain parts of the country. Those factors should go beyond local economic distress, into how the nature of the agency’s work aligns with existing industry clusters in potential destination regions. One reason Yglesias and Yang argue that NIH should move to Cleveland is that there are major institutions (e.g., the Cleveland Clinic) and biosciences companies already there whose presence would complement NIH’s. That thinking offers a sharp contrast to the HIRE Act, which would not only direct specific agencies to predetermined states (based on what factors, I’m not sure), but also require the executive branch to locate them away from big cities, and to consider only the state of local infrastructure—not industry alignment—in siting decisions.

Community size and industry alignment matter for economic development potential because people matter for agency success. Regions that don’t have—or can’t marshal—workers with the specific skills that agencies require would be poor candidates for relocation. For instance, 6,000 of NIH’s 17,000 Bethesda-based employees and 900 of the National Institute for Standards and Technology’s 2,400 Gaithersburg-based employees have doctoral degrees. Likewise, many Virginia-based Patent and Trademark Office employees and D.C.-based Securities and Exchange Commission employees are experts in their respective legal fields. The specialized knowledge such workers possess may be difficult to locate just anywhere. The supply of similar experts in potential relocation regions, and/or the ability of those regions to attract current agency experts, should be key considerations.

That’s all to say that there are smarter ways to approach relocation. Following an extensive independent review in 2004, the U.K. government undertook a “decentralization” of its employees away from expensive and prosperous Greater London to many of the country’s economically lagging regions over the past decade. Today, its Office for National Statistics sits in Wales, and much of the BBC is located in Greater Manchester. The review set a target and criteria for relocating 20,000 public-sector positions out of Greater London. Ultimately, the government moved more than 25,000 jobs over the succeeding decade. Subsequent research found that the relocated jobs had positive effects on local services employment. As the Centre for Cities observed in 2010, relocations should be based on sound analysis rather than marketing campaigns conducted by suitor cities (something for which U.S. cities are even more famous than their U.K. counterparts), and that public-sector relocations should be careful not to displace private-sector investment. The U.K.’s experiment with government relocation suggests that an independent commission and long-term timelines can help set the conditions for success.

In writing about economic development, Brookings Metro always stresses the importance of attracting and growing “good” jobs that build on community assets. In that respect, it’s right for our federal government to consider how, as a good-jobs employer, it might augment economic development in America’s struggling regions. Taking some of the politics out of the process, and adopting a thoughtful long-term vision, could help ensure that relocation ultimately benefits both a wider set of communities and the American public as a whole.

Thanks to Sarah Crump and Reniya Dinkins for research assistance, and Luisa Zottis for graphics assistance.


Is the Supreme Court's Fate in Elena Kagan's Hands?

Real Clear Politics

The Supreme Court of the United States performs its duties with a theatrical formalism. Every session opens with the Marshal of the Court, in the role of town crier, calling out “Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!” and “God save the United States and this Honorable Court!” Even when the nine Justices meet privately, once or twice a week, to discuss cases “in conference,” there is a rigid protocol.

Will impeachment matter in 2020? This week in impeachment

The Brookings Institute

By Elaine Kamarck

Trying to figure out how impeachment will impact the 2020 presidential election is an exercise likely to give you whiplash. No matter how you feel about the president and the process, you can find something that will delight you or depress you. And it may turn out that impeachment won’t matter at all.

At the beginning of the week, Democrats were horrified by polls showing that in six critical 2020 swing states, Trump was doing much better against the Democrats than expected—especially against Warren and Sanders. In addition, in these same six states my colleague Bill Galston wrote that opposition to impeachment and removal was, on average, 8 points more popular than support for it. Fear that impeachment could boomerang and hurt Democrats’ chances of beating Trump in the fall was the reason the House leadership held off taking action for most of last year. At the beginning of the week that fear was back again.

But that was only Monday. By Wednesday a different picture emerged. In three off-year elections—Kentucky, Mississippi and Virginia—Democrats had a very good night. In Kentucky, a state Trump carried by 30 points, the governor’s race remains too close to call with the Democratic candidate holding a small lead. In Mississippi, another solid Trump state, the Democratic candidate for governor lost by only 6 points. Four years earlier the Democratic nominee lost by 34 points. And in Virginia, Democrats picked up enough seats in their legislature to gain control of both houses, making Virginia a completely blue state for the first time in more than two decades. Election results from Kentucky and Virginia showed Democrats continuing their strength in the suburbs—the same places that helped them to victory in 2018.

So does impeachment help or hurt Donald Trump in 2020? Next week the House will begin public hearings. With the release of more testimony this week and the revisions Ambassador Sondland made to his earlier testimony, it is now very clear that there was a “quid pro quo” and that Trump himself was setting the terms. As the legal case got more serious the White House seemed to try to develop a coherent message strategy in place of the throw-spaghetti-at-the-wall strategy that Trump has been executing through his Twitter feed. The guts of that message may well be that Trump’s conduct was unorthodox, but not impeachable.

However, in spite of Washington’s obsession with impeachment, it looks like it was not much of an issue in any of the races this week. In Kentucky, the incumbent Republican Governor Matt Bevin was very unpopular, which may have been more important to the close outcome than the fact that he tried to tag Attorney General Andy Beshear with impeaching Trump. Beshear refused to take the bait. A reporter who covered the massive Des Moines Democratic dinner last weekend noted that only billionaire Tom Steyer mentioned impeachment; the remaining Democratic candidates talked about other things.

Impeachment has taken on enormous importance to the political class because it is an issue of constitutional and historical import. But in the end it may not matter to voters very much at all. Opinion about Trump has been fairly stable since he was elected—he is probably the most polarizing American president since the Civil War—so impeachment may simply play into people’s already hardened attitudes. In addition, other things might end up being more important in 2020. Demographic trends like the maturation of a generation of Latino voters, for instance, may start to have electoral consequences in 2020. There could be as many as six House seats in play in Texas next year. Or there may be other issues, more local in nature, that end up swaying voters. For instance, from October of 2018 to September of 2019 farm bankruptcies rose 24% and reached the highest level seen since 2011.[1] That may undercut Trump’s rural base.

The fact that public opinion on impeachment and opinion on Trump appears to be stuck in a holding pattern may simply be a reflection of a firmly polarized electorate. If, as appears to be the case, a trial in the Senate is wrapped up by early 2020, impeachment may be a distant memory by November.

[1] “Twenty-seven states saw a rise in bankruptcies compared to the previous year. The report also estimates that farm debt will rise to $416 billion by the end of 2019.” Farm Bankruptcies Rise in Over Half of States.



This week’s election and last year’s midterms bear good news for Democrats in 2020

The Brookings Institute

By William H. Frey

While national and statewide polling will continue at a furious pace as we head into the presidential election year, it is important to look at the actual votes in recent elections to gain a sense of which way the political winds are blowing. From this perspective, both Tuesday’s off-year election and the 2018 midterms indicate that Democrats are in a favorable position in their 2020 quest for the White House.

Tuesday’s election highlights

The marquee elections earlier this week were in Kentucky and Virginia. In Kentucky, Democrat Andy Beshear received 5,000 more votes than his Republican rival, incumbent governor Matt Bevin, in a state that Donald Trump won by nearly 600,000 votes in 2016. With high turnout for an off-year election, Beshear’s largest vote gains came from urban Louisville and Lexington as well as from suburban counties including Kenton and Campbell, which are just across the state line from Cincinnati.

Democratic candidates were defeated in the Bluegrass state’s down-ballot contests. But the fact that they succeeded in the gubernatorial race in this deep red territory is noteworthy, especially in light of the fact that Bevin tied his campaign to support for President Trump, who led a rally for the governor the day before the election.

Election Day in Virginia brought about the commonwealth’s first Democratic majority in both its House of Delegates and Senate which, along with the Democratic governor, provides the party with its first full control of government since 1994. Democrats gained six new delegates and two new senators, spurred by high turnout and support in the suburbs of northern Virginia (outside Washington, D.C.) and urban and suburban areas around Richmond and Hampton Roads. Over the past decade, these suburbs have become more racially diverse and highly educated—attributes that favor Democrats, particularly since President Trump became the Republican Party standard-bearer.

Democrats lost the other big race this week—the governorship of Mississippi—though Republican candidate Tate Reeves won by one of the smallest margins (6%) in recent state history over Democrat Jim Hood. Overall, in Kentucky, Virginia, as well as in the Philadelphia region, the higher turnout and strong suburban vote suggest that Democrats have continued their momentum since last year’s midterms.

A look back at the 2018 midterm elections

This week’s results show that voting trends revealed in last November’s midterms are holding steady. Donald Trump was not on the ballot in 2018, but in many ways the midterm results can be interpreted as a referendum on him. The tallied votes revealed significant changes in state and county voting patterns, demographic preferences, and voter turnout.

Democratic voting margins increased in states key to the 2020 election

The Democratic takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives was the key result from 2018’s midterms. But another way to examine the party’s gains is to compare House votes statewide with those from the 2016 presidential election. Map 1 depicts each state’s Democratic or Republican vote advantages based on 2018 House votes:

Map 1

It differs from the results of the 2016 presidential map, where Trump won based on support from states such as Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arizona. As Map 1 reveals, each of these states registered Democratic advantages in the 2018 House elections. If those results hold for 2020, the Democratic candidate could receive 296 Electoral College votes—enough to win the presidency.

In all but two states, House Democrat minus Republican (D-R) voting margins (percent voting Democrat minus percent voting Republican) showed more positive or less negative values than those for the 2016 presidential race—both in “red” states and in “blue” ones (download Table A). In Virginia, for example, the 2016 presidential D-R margin of 5.7 increased to 14 in the 2018 House election results. In Texas, the 2016 D-R margin of -9.4 decreased to just -3.5 in 2018.

More than four-fifths of 2018 voters resided in counties with rising Democratic support

Of course, 2018 Democratic and Republican vote advantages differ across counties. House votes for Republicans exceeded those for Democrats in more counties nationwide—many of them smaller-sized counties in exurban, small metropolitan, and rural areas. However, in a vast majority of counties—even those which Republicans won in 2018—more voters favored Democrats in 2018 than in 2016. This can be seen in Map 2, which depicts changes in D-R margins between the 2016 and 2018. In 2,445 out of 3,111 counties, regardless of whether the final midterm vote favored the Republican or Democratic candidate, there was a positive D-R margin shift between 2016 and 2018—meaning either a greater Democratic advantage or a smaller Republican one.

Map 2

At one extreme are counties in New England states—Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island—which voted Democratic in 2018. Most of those counties also showed strong 2016-2018 gains in their D-R margins (shown in Map 2). At the other extreme are counties in states such as Kentucky, Nebraska, and Oklahoma, which voted heavily Republican in 2018. Even so, as Map 2 indicates, most of those counties showed a greater D-R margin (meaning reduced Republican support overall) between 2016 and 2018.

In 2018, 83% of voters resided in counties that increased their D-R margins since 2016, including 26% that increased their D-R margins by more than 10, and 57% that increased their margins by 0 to 9.     Increased D-R margins were prominent among voters in counties that voted both Democratic and Republican in 2018.

Counties with sharply increased D-R margins tend to have “Republican-leaning” attributes, when compared with all counties: greater shares of noncollege whites and persons over age 45, and smaller shares of minorities and foreign-born persons. This occurs among both Democratic-voting and Republican-voting counties, suggesting there was a shift toward Democratic support for groups in counties that helped to elect Donald Trump in 2016.

Increased 2018 Democratic support occurred in the suburbs

Democrats have long done well in large urban core counties, while Republicans tended to be more popular in suburbs, small metropolitan areas, and rural communities. Figure 1 shows that this characterization weakened in 2018 House elections, presaging the suburban Democratic gains observed this week.

Figure 1

In both 2016 and 2018, urban core counties in large metropolitan areas exhibited strong positive D-R margins, while small metropolitan and outside-metropolitan-area counties showed negative (Republican-favorable) D-R margins. Yet in suburban counties in large metropolitan areas, there was a shift between the 2016 and 2018 elections from a negative to a positive D-R margin. Also, the D-R margin became more positive in large urban cores and less negative for counties outside large cores and suburbs.

As with the nation as a whole, most voters in each category resided in counties where D-R margins became more positive or less negative between the 2016 and 2018 elections. This is especially notable for large suburbs, where 87% of voters resided in counties with increased D-R margins.

The 2018 midterms showed greater Democratic support among white voters

Racial differences continue to represent a primary fault line in voting preferences, with whites overall favoring Republicans, and minorities—especially Black voters—favoring Democrats. When comparing the national vote for the 2018 House of Representatives with the 2016 presidential vote, the white Republican vote advantage diminished by half, from a D-R of -20 in 2016 to -10 in 2018. In contrast, the positive D-R margins favoring Democrats remained the same or increased for Black voters, Latino or Hispanic voters, and voters of other races.

Figure 2

Perhaps even more important for the 2020 election results will be the gender and education divides in white voting. As political analyst Ronald Brownstein has noted, white, college-educated women are a likely long-term Democratic-leaning voting bloc, in contrast to other white groups, especially white men without college educations. It was the latter group, in particular, that has been credited with providing strong support for Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

In contrast to that election, the 2018 exit polls show markedly reduced Republican support from white, non-college-educated men, and increased Democratic support from white, college-educated women, with their D-R voting margin rising to +20, up from +7 in 2016. The diminished support for Republicans among white men without college educations was especially apparent in 2018 senatorial and gubernatorial elections in the critical states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Figure 2

The 2018 midterm turnout surge favored Democratic-leaning groups

Again, paralleling this week’s elections, the turnout for the 2018 midterms was extraordinary. Census Bureau estimates show that 2018 turnout—53.4%—was the highest in midterm elections since it started collecting voter turnout numbers in 1978, and the first time since 1982 that it rose above 50%. A careful look at the data shows groups that voted Democrat last year also displayed some of the biggest increases in voter turnout. Young adults aged 18 to 29—the age group that voted most strongly Democratic—saw a rise in their turnout rate from 20% in 2014 to 36% in 2018. Of course, older voters aged 65 and above continued to display the highest turnout levels (66%), but the increase among young adults in 2018 served to narrow the young-old turnout gap.

Figure 4

All major race-ethnic groups had higher turnout in 2018, but the biggest gains accrued to Democrat-leaning Latino or Hispanic and Asian American voters—up 13% since 2014. And while whites overall exhibited higher turnout than other groups, both the turnout level and recent rise were highest for white college graduates—the white group with the highest Democratic preference.

Focusing further on young adults, census turnout data reveal that 18- to 29-year-olds of each major race group showed substantially higher turnout in 2018 than four years prior, more than doubling for young Latino or Hispanic and Asian American voters and nearly doubling for young whites. The latter is especially noteworthy because, unlike in the 2016 presidential race, young whites voted Democratic in last November’s House elections, joining their age group counterparts of other races.

Recent voting trends favor Democrats

Clearly, this week’s results for Kentucky governor and Virginia statehouse seats are positive signs for Democrats, especially when viewed on top of the heft and breadth of Democratic-leaning voting trends from the 2018 midterms. The latter strongly suggest movement toward increased Democratic or reduced Republican margins for large swaths of the country, across regions and especially in the suburbs. There appears to be reduced Republican support among white voters without college degrees—especially males—along with increased Democratic support among white, college-educated women. Moreover, both the 2018 midterms and this week’s off-year elections underscore the fact that turnout in 2020 is likely to be higher than in recent elections, rising especially among Democratic-leaning groups such as the young, minorities, and highly educated.

Of course, a lot can happen in the next year, especially with a still-undecided Democratic candidate and the potential impeachment and trial of President Trump. However, several underlying forces revealed in the 2018 and 2019 November elections suggest a swing toward Democrats is possible—assuming they are able to capitalize on it.


Accounting for regulatory reform under Executive Order 13771

The Brookings Institute

By Bridget Dooling, Mark Febrizio, Daniel Pérez

Executive Order (EO) 13771, known as the “regulatory two-for-one” EO, imposed new constraints on executive branch regulatory agencies, directing them to: (1) to cut two existing rules for each new rule issued and (2) offset any costs imposed by new rules while operating under a regulatory cost cap. The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), part of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), is responsible for implementing this EO and reporting on its progress. OMB has issued Regulatory Reform Reports for fiscal year (FY) 2017 and FY 2018. The fiscal year for 2019 ended recently on September 30, 2019. While we await the latest report, this article explains OMB’s current accounting methodology, gleaned from OMB’s guidance and other public documents, and highlights challenges of reporting agency performance in implementing EO 13771. It also contains our recommendations to improve the accuracy and accountability of both OMB’s annual reporting and individual agency actions.

The FY 2017 report was met with some skepticism, in part because of how it calculated its finding that executive regulatory agencies under the Trump administration[1] finalized 22 deregulatory actions for every one regulatory action, saving an estimated $8.1 billion in regulatory costs. To compute ratios the FY 2017 report compared total deregulatory actions to total significant regulatory actions. As others have noted, more types of actions count as deregulatory than as regulatory and not all actions are of comparable magnitude. While OIRA’s guidance implementing EO 13771 was fairly transparent about these definitional choices, and there are some good reasons for them, these choices nevertheless undercut the meaningfulness of the ratio. We discuss this more below.

OIRA made some improvements in its FY 2018 report. It presented ratios in two ways. The first way captures all deregulatory actions and all significant regulatory actions; defining “deregulatory” and “regulatory” the same way as in the FY 2017 report. The second way narrows the counts to those deregulatory and regulatory actions that were “significant” under EO 12866. This narrower approach is closer to an apples-to-apples comparison, which is more useful when trying to weigh the deregulatory and regulatory actions against each other. OIRA also added information to show which specific actions were “significant” under EO 12866, making the inputs into the counts more transparent. Nevertheless, these changes have not immunized these counts from continued criticism.

Scholars also critique the administration’s approach to reporting cost savings from implementation of EO 13771—namely for the choice to estimate the cost savings produced by deregulatory actions without also assessing the foregone benefits. This reporting choice, however, flows from EO 13771 itself, which only requires agencies to eliminate regulatory costs to offset the costs of new regulations. Regulatory impact analyses of individual regulations continue to assess both benefits and costs, as EO 12866 requires. EO 12866 also directs agencies to base all actions on a determination that their benefits justify their costs.[2] For the purposes of this article, we limit ourselves to analysis and recommendations for implementing EO 13771 based on its current provisions.

Our article proceeds as follows. Part I details the OIRA guidance to agencies on what “counts” as an EO 13771 regulatory or deregulatory action. Part II describes OIRA’s accounting methodology for estimating agency cost savings. Part III elaborates on analytical concerns that flow from the administration’s current approach for estimating “counts” and “cost savings” and offers several recommendations for improving the content of agency actions and OIRA’s annual reporting on EO 13771.


The Yes-Men have taken over the Trump administration

The Brookings Institute

By Thomas Wright

The debate on President Donald Trump’s foreign policy in his first two years in office revolved around the question of what mattered more: the policy or the tweets. Trump-administration officials, sympathetic conservatives, and a significant number of foreign government officials argued that the policy pursued by the administration was sound even though the president had a penchant for hyperbole and sensationalism. Yes, he questioned NATO, but the United States was sending more troops to the Baltics and it provided lethal assistance to Ukraine. Skeptics argued that the president was not aware of many of these policies and that his words mattered. Yes, his National Security Strategy was coherent, but he had not read it and never spoke about its contents. Over time, the skeptics said, he would impose his will on his administration. Then he would act in accordance with his visceral instincts and his daily whims.

Historians will undoubtedly weigh in on which of these two arguments was true in 2017 and 2018, but there is no dispute about the state of affairs in 2019 and looking ahead to 2020. The policy and the tweets are now fused. Trump grew frustrated with the so-called axis of adults, who sought to preserve a mainstream foreign policy. He replaced these officials with people who are too sycophantic or weak to stand up to him. In John Bolton, his erstwhile national security adviser, Trump thought he had a sycophant. But when Bolton pushed back, Trump forced him out, too. As one former administration official put it to Politico, this is not “an A Team or B Team”; what you’re “really getting down to [is] who’s left that will say ‘yes.’”

Examples are piling up that suggest the yes-men have taken over. When James Mattis was secretary of defense, he repeatedly stymied various cockamamie plans by the White House. For instance, in his new book, Guy Snodgrass, who served as a speechwriter and communications director to Mattis, reveals that Trump asked Mattis to “screw Amazon” out of a $10 billion contract for cloud computing. Mattis reportedly said, “We’re not going to do that. This will be done by the book—both legally and ethically.” By coincidence, perhaps, under Secretary of Defense Mark Esper the contract was awarded to Microsoft, not Amazon. Esper also “found” money for Trump’s border wall by raiding funds from a vital mission in Europe to deter Russia, and said that Europeans needed to do more to defend themselves.

Trump is now making policy on the fly, with little or no process or consultation. He decision to pull U.S. troops out of Kurdish-held regions in Syria and to green-light an invasion by Turkey was perhaps the most catastrophic foreign-policy move of his presidency to date. This decision gave ISIS a new lease on life, gave away any leverage the United States might have had in negotiations with the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and enhanced Russian influence in the Middle East. After outrage from Congress, Trump then backed punitive sanctions on Turkey for taking steps that he had personally endorsed.

The Syria decision is the rule, not the exception, as is the willingness of Trump’s Cabinet to go along with whatever he says, even when he reverses himself overnight. Recall his invitation to the Taliban to come to Camp David, two days before the 9/11 anniversary. The press reported that Vice President Mike Pence had opposed the decision, along with Bolton. Trump denounced the reports and Pence quickly retweeted him with the comment, “That’s Absolutely Right Mr. President. More Fake News! The Dishonest Media never contacted our office before running with this story and if they had, we would have told them I FULLY support your decision.”

As Trump has freed himself from the “adults,” he has also politicized and weaponized American foreign policy for his personal advantage: He empowered Rudy Giuliani to run a shadow foreign-policy operation to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate Joe Biden and his son. In so doing, he has tested the mettle of the men and women who serve him.

Eliot Cohen, a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and a contributing writer to this magazine, told me, “The government has the right to ask you to risk your life for your country; it does not have the right to ask you to sacrifice your character for it.” Trump has repeatedly asked his team to sacrifice their character. Some have failed and some have passed. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fired the ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, and seems to have instructed his employees to cooperate with Giuliani. He has publicly defended the unfounded conspiracy theories about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election. Gordon Sondland, a Republican donor who once saw Trump for what he was, so desperately craved high office that he did Giuliani’s bidding and then placed himself in legal jeopardy with his testimony in the House impeachment inquiry.

Others abided by Cohen’s advice and did not yield. Yovanovitch, William Taylor, Fiona Hill, Alexander Vindman, Tim Morrison, and Bolton all registered their concerns about Trump’s politicization of Ukraine policy while serving. The first five have testified to that effect. Bolton has yet to do so. Bolton is particularly interesting. I, and others, have criticized him on the substance of his foreign-policy views, but based on what we know, he behaved with honor when confronted with an abuse of power—a stark contrast with Pompeo. None of these people wanted to undermine the president and none would have if their disagreements had been confined to policy. It must particularly gall Republicans such as Bolton and Morrison to aid a Democratic-led impeachment process. The nonpartisan bureaucrats find themselves unwillingly thrust into the public eye. But democracy is built on such slivers of courage. And then there is the whistle-blower, who went one step further and actually reported the wrongdoing when he or she became aware of it.

Trump faces his moment of reckoning in the impeachment process and the trial that is likely to follow. However, with partisanship the dominant force in Washington, D.C, he is likely to be acquitted by the Senate. This raises the question of what Trump’s foreign policy will look like next year. What would a second term look like should he win reelection?

We know he is becoming more paranoid and distrustful of those who will not do his bidding. He called Taylor and Vindman Never Trumpers even though there is no evidence to that effect, and then called Never Trumpers in general “human scum,” a charge his press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, defended. Some Republicans hoped that over time Trump would relax his ban on those who signed Never Trump letters during the campaign, particularly for those signatories who recanted after he won the election. This now seems very unlikely. The ban will stay in effect and seems to be widening to anyone who has ever uttered or endorsed a critical word about the president.

The National Security Council is being downsized—ostensibly to improve efficiency but more likely because Trump distrusts the bureaucracy. Some of the jobs are being filled by relatively junior personnel with no background in the region they are responsible for. One former official, who spoke under the condition of anonymity in exchange for candor, expressed deep concern that the foreign-policy capacity of the U.S. government is being hollowed out from where it was a year ago—a time when alarm bells were already ringing about unfilled positions.

If Trump is reelected, he is unlikely to turn over a new leaf. He will feel completely vindicated and more confident in the superiority of his own judgment on foreign policy. The tumultuous events of the past month will become the norm, as crises grow in frequency and scale. As Senate Republicans serve as jurors in a trial to remove Trump from office, they will no doubt worry about splitting their party and losing the 2020 election. They should also worry about the consequences of winning. They can no longer take comfort in the expectation that Trump will be constrained by good advisers or that he will normalize over time. The American-led international order could survive four years of Trump if we’re lucky. On this trajectory, it cannot survive eight.