GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy proposed a plan on Wednesday to halve the size of the federal administrative state in his first year in office — should he be elected.
Naysayers say it can’t be done.
Ramaswamy argues law and precedent are on his side.
‘One of the Most Aggressive Presidential Campaign Proposals’
During his speech, this week at the America First Policy Institute, the Ohio biotech entrepreneur detailed his plan for shutting down several government agencies and issuing mass layoffs in the federal bureaucracy
As The Star News Network first reported on Tuesday, Ramaswamy, in a new white paper, lays out his sweeping federal bureaucracy reorganization plan that takes a big bite out of an “unconstitutional, fourth branch of government that is choking American democracy, and it is called the administrative state.”
The plan calls for shutting down what Ramaswamy said he believes to be a corrupt-to-its-core Federal Bureau of Investigation, an indoctrinating Department of Education, an archaic Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and a constitutionally abusive Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, among others.
Ramaswamy said his plan would in the first year cut 50 percent of the administrative state workforce, which would amount to approximately 1 million jobs from the 2.2 million civil service employees. His ultimate plan is to reduce the federal civil service payroll by 75 percent.
Timothy Cama of E&E News, from German-owned Politico, called Ramaswamy’s plan “one of the most aggressive presidential campaign proposals to downsize federal government” in a crowded field of Republican presidential candidates insisting they’re all about limited government.
Ramaswamy’s plan, Cama writes, “relies on a novel interpretation of existing federal laws that usually protect civil servants from being removed without cause and reserve reorganizations of the executive branch for lawmakers.”
Cracking the Code
In fact, Ramaswamy relies on existing federal codes in defending against what surely would be a revolt by the powerful “fourth branch,” the government unions that federal employees fund, and the big-government liberals in Congress.
He points to former President Jimmy Carter-era Executive Reorganization Act. While most provisions of the act expired in 1980, portions are still in effect and are embodied in the U.S. code to this day.
The key remaining portion still with statutory authority (5 U.S. Code § 901 (d)) states, “The President shall from time to time examine the organization of all agencies and shall determine what changes therein are necessary to accomplish” several purposes. That includes reducing “the number of agencies by consolidating those having similar functions under a single head, and to abolish such agencies or functions thereof as may not be necessary for the efficient conduct of the Government…”
“This is not a suggestion, it’s a mandate to the U.S. president,” Ramaswamy said in his speech, adding that it “completely debunks” the assertion that the president must secure congressional permission on changes to the executive branch.
Carter, by no means a fiscal conservative, signed the Reorganization Act shortly into his term.
“As I have stated on many occasions, my administration is determined to reorganize and streamline the executive branch of our Government,” the 39th president wrote in a message at the time. “This is one of the ways in which I plan to fulfill my commitment to the American people to make government more responsive, efficient, and open. Reorganization authority provides one time-tested and efficient way to bring about these needed improvements.”
In the 1976 campaign, the Democrat described the federal government as “a horrible bureaucratic mess.”
It hasn’t gotten any better in the past 47 years. If elected, Carter promised to ask for “complete authorization to reorganize the Executive Branch of government, giving [him] as much authority as possible.” He pledged to “have a complete reorganization of the Executive Branch of government [and] make it efficient, economical, purposeful, simple, and manageable for a change.”
Instead, the big government liberal used his authority to create agencies, including the Office of Personnel Management, a Merit Systems Protection Board, and a Federal Labor Relations Authority, according to the Congressional Research Service. Carter established the Federal Emergency Management Agency, transferring functions and entities from other parts of the government. He wanted to create a Department of Natural Resources before reported opposition curtailed the plan.
The problem, naysayers say, is that the president cannot effect agency shutdowns and layoffs without the approval of Congress. During the Carter administration, for instance, one house could veto a reorganization plan. He still had to submit his plans to the legislative branch. He found a mostly compliant Congress.
A 1983 Supreme Court ruling — INS v. Chadha — found the legislative veto process allowing a plan to be rejected by a resolution of just one house was unconstitutional. Congress must consider, through an expedited procedure, a joint resolution.
The bottom line, according to many legal experts, is that Congress still has a major role to play in executive branch reorganizations.
“I think it’s not easy,” said Hans von Spakovsky, a constitutional law expert at the Heritage Foundation, a leading proponent of limited government.
While von Spakovsky said he agrees completely that the administrative state is “totally out of control” with “powerful bureaucrats unanswerable to voters,” the path to eliminating agencies in no small part runs through the legislative branch.
“Just from my experience it is extremely difficult to do that. These agencies are authorized by Congress. The money for them, the number of employees are authorized by Congress. The president can’t just override that,” he said.
Von Spakovsky said there are powers the executive has without congressional consent to limit and reduce the size and scope of government. The executive branch can issue a hiring freeze, for instance. President Ronald Reagan did as much during his first term, blocking the filling of federal positions when employees left or retired.
But the freezes only went so deep. When Reagan left office in 1989, the federal workforce was larger than it was when he took office eight years before, proving that even the most ardent warriors of limited government find it almost impossible to “starve the beast.”
“There were about 2.2 million federal employees when Reagan left office in 1989, compared to 2.1 million — an uptick of about 95,000 workers — when he entered the White House in 1981, according to data from the Office of Personnel Management,” E&E News reported in 2017.
Calvin Coolidge was the last president to truly cut the size of government. In 1923, when Coolidge took office following the death of President Warren G. Harding, the federal government spent $3.14 billion annually. When he left in 1928, the feds were spending $2.96 billion. A quaint figure compared to today’s $6.2 trillion federal budget, expected to tally a $2 trillion deficit alone for fiscal year 2023 alone.
Of course, Coolidge didn’t have a wall of federal worker laws to sift through. An array of civil service job protections make it much more challenging in the 21st century to ax federal employees these days.
‘Reduction in Force’
But Ramaswamy gets around the impediments of for-cause protections via a bend in the law’s language. “Under regulations prescribed by the Office of Personnel Management, an agency may take an action covered …[including removal] against an employee only for such cause as will promote the efficiency of the service,”5 U.S. Code § 7513 (a) states.
“It is important to note the U.S. President is not an agency, so an executive order eliminating a significant number of jobs does not constitute an agency removal,” Ramaswamy answers in his white paper.
The 38-year-old political outsider asserts “reduction in force” – a mass layoff of federal employees – is treated differently by the statute, and is not subject to for-cause limitations at all. Reductions in force are subject only to 60-day notice requirements and order-of-retention rules under federal 5 U.S. Code § 3302.
The statute gives the power to effectuate such reductions to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and the OPM rules give the power to effectuate reductions in force to individual administrative agency heads – not the President, Ramaswamy notes.
That’s why it’s critical a president appoint agency heads who are prepared to effectuate mass layoffs.
“[B]ut even if agency heads refuse to cooperate, the U.S. President can assume the power to effectuate reductions in force by overriding these OPM rules through the exercise of the aforementioned 5 U.S.C. 3302 statutory power to “prescribe rules governing the competitive service.”
U,S. Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI-06) says Ramaswamy’s proposal and others like it are “absolutely vital,” and he agrees it takes putting leaders in federal positions with “common sense” like former President Trump did to make a real difference in the war against the administrative state.
While president, Trump issued Schedule F, an executive order that reclassifies tens of thousands of the 2 million federal employees as at-will workers who could more easily be fired.
President Joe Biden did away with the executive order. Trump and others have vowed to bring it back.
Grothman agreed that the president does have power at his disposal to cut into the behemoth of federal bureaucracy.
“When you say the administrative state, part of what you are saying is what is the administrative code. I think you have a whole lot of flexibility there without waiting for congress,” the fiscal hawk said, adding that congress has to live up to its responsibility to cut funding for government agencies. Republicans in he House, he said, are trying to do just that in the budget, particularly with the FBI, but Grothman acknowledges the political realities making real reform subject to negotiation.
“I’m glad [Ramaswamy] is bringing it up,” Grothman said of the candidate’s sweeping plan to reduce the size of the federal workforce. “He’ll force the other Republican candidates to deal with it as well.”
But Ramaswamy isn’t interested in nibbling at the edges. He’s talking revolution, not incremental reform. And he says he’s ready to fight in the courts to see it through. His unilateral attack on the powerful administrative state — the heart of the swamp — would definitely be met with the full force of the big government left.
Ramaswamy sounds confident.
“We’ll take it to the Supreme Court, and I think we’ll win 6-3,” the presidential contender told Semafor, adding that he has “taken detailed advice from multiple legal academics who are at the bleeding edge of this.”
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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.
Photo “Vivek Ramaswamy” by Vivek Ramaswamy.