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February 14 2017

WSJ: Hurrah for Cabinet Secretaries Skeptical about Agencies They Head!

Charlotte Hays

Wall Street Journal columnist Bill McGurn has a good time this morning with some of the terms the Democrats have bandied about to smear Trump Cabinet nominees--Senator Chuck Schumer, for example, found long-time school choice supporter Betsy DeVos, now Secretary of Education, "the least qualified nominee in a historically unqualified cabinet." Senator Patsy Murray went for the superlative, finding businessman Andy Puzder "uniquely unqualified" for the labor post, while Rep. Nancy Pelosi found retired brain surgeon Ben Carson “disconcerting and disturbingly unqualified" to serve as HUD secretary.

The real problem in the eyes of Democrats: they are critical of the maze of powerful, unelected government bureaucrats who are domiciled in the agencies they have been tapped to run. Democrats were particularly appalled by former Texas governor Rick Perry, who once (not without wisdom) tossed out the possibility of abolishing the energy department he will now lead. McGurn hopes that Perry retains skepticism about the giant agency that wasted so much taxpayer money (remember Solyndra?) in the Obama years:  

Here’s hoping some of the old Mr. Perry remains in his unconverted heart. No one denies that the Energy Department has important responsibilities—primarily over our nuclear weapons. Even so, the question almost never asked is this: Does America need an entire cabinet agency for the job, and are we getting the proper bang for our taxpayer buck?

It’s a timely question, in a day when most federal cabinet agencies spend and regulate in ways fundamentally at odds with free people acting through their elected representatives. Then again, many of these agencies were designed this way, especially the more recent additions.

It helps to remember that the Environmental Protection Agency began life as Richard Nixon’s attempt to buy favor with the left. In a similar way, the Education Department was Jimmy Carter’s sop to the National Education Association (even the New York Times editorialized against its establishment as “unwise”). Labor began as part of the U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor in 1903 but 10 years later morphed into a separate department. Which illustrates another lamentable fact of cabinet agencies: Far from dying off, they often subdivide into more agencies that each become bigger than the parent.

Competence is not a requirement. One small example from the Education Department: a just-released federal analysis of a signature Obama initiative to improve failing public schools reports almost zero gain from the $7 billion spent. Yet we’re to believe that Mrs. DeVos is the unqualified one here?

. . .

Even with the best of reforms the United States will never again see a cabinet as pared down as Washington’s. But for believers in limited government, the most refreshing aspect of the Trump cabinet is that he’s included men and women whose primary qualification is a willingness to question whether we really need the federal behemoths they have been asked to lead.

By this standard, the current crop of Cabinet secretaries may be one of the most qualified in history. That is why they are feared.

And, by the way, the column has a great headline: "Donald Trump's Abolitionist Cabinet."

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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