New Office of Innovation

I find the executive order creating a new Office of American Innovation to be a smoke screen allowing for access to the president by his cronies through a new official channel. Ironically, the promise to reduce the size of government is ignored by adding yet another office to the already bloated bureaucracy with this action.

The first thing to understand is this new office is cover for giving his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, full access to the power of the presidency. The title “Senior Advisor to the President” skirts the laws requiring cabinet officers and other key positions to be reviewed by the Senate via the “advise and consent” provision. Nepotism is now fully operational with no apparent will by the Republican party to even raise an eyebrow.

I do not expect anything of significance to be available for the public to see, review, or comment on as a result of the work of this office. If anything, it will only produce closely held ideas on how to dismantle the government or seriously damage its effectiveness, that we will only see or become aware of after the fact. Talk about a shadow government – this creates a shadow presidency.

This looks a lot to me like POTUS 45 does not like or want the actual job of the president and is seeking ways to delegate all the “hard stuff” so he only has to do the schmoozing and golfing.

Official Title: Presidential Memorandum on The White House Office of American Innovation

Executive Order posted March 27, 2017.

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Dismantling the Executive Branch

Yesterday the president signed another executive order – this one about “Reorganizing the Executive Branch”. Just reading the order itself, without paying attention to context and influences on the president, one could easily conclude it is a good, prudent effort to streamline government operations. I will freely admit there is likely plenty of waste and redundancy in the executive branch that could be cleaned up, but I cannot ignore the context here.

A fairly brief order, it directs the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to gather ideas (for 180 days) and propose a reorganization plan (by another 180 days) to give to the president. It allows for the potential of drafting appropriate new legislation to accomplish the tasks proposed.

The order appears to me to be a very thinly disguised directive to propose an ambitious plan to effectively dismantle much of the Executive Branch of the federal government. I come to that conclusion not only from the language in the order itself, but also knowing the chief advisors – Bannon and Miller in particular – have the goal of destroying the federal government. Additional evidence for my conclusion can be found in the appointments to various cabinet positions. Many of them have publicly called for elimination or radically reducing the effectiveness of the very departments they are now charged with leading. I won’t go into detail here on these appointments, but this order clearly gives them the room to do just what they want.

Quoting from the order:

(e) In developing the proposed plan described in subsection (c) of this section, the Director shall consult with the head of each agency and, consistent with applicable law, with persons or entities outside the Federal Government with relevant expertise in organizational structure and management.

Sounds reasonable. But no mention of convening meetings that include more than one agency head (when one of the stated goals is to consolidate “duplicate” activities in different agencies) is a major red flag. And, again one has to read between the lines, but consulting with people outside the government with “expertise in organizational structure and management” very probably means POTUS 45’s hand picked cronies. I would not be surprised if ALEC* has a big hand in this as well.

If the Director of the OMB delivers the plan on the timeline stated, in about a year we will know how much of the executive branch of the federal government is intended to be left standing.

* American Legislative Exchange Council here exposed for what they are.

Official title of the order: Presidential Executive Order on a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch

Executive order posted March 13, 2017.

Providing an Order of Succession Within the Department of Justice

I find this order both routine and curiously interesting. It rescinds an order signed by President Obama less than a month previous (January 13, 2017.) As best I can tell, only two changes are made and they are in the U. S. States Attorneys listed in order of succession.

Obama’s order lists them in this order:

(a) United States Attorney for the District of Columbia;

(b) United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; and

(c) United States Attorney for the Central District of California.

POTUS 45 has the same one as (b) but replaces the other two as follows:

(a)  United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia;

(b)  United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; and

(c)  United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri.

Not knowing anything about these particular attorneys, I don’t know what to make of this. It may well be the two additions are for some reason more preferable to this administration.

In practical application, because several Justice Department officers would all have to be dead or incapacitated simultaneously, the invoking of this – or any succession order – is such a remote possibility, it is probably not worth getting worked up about it.

Update

In a news report by USA Today, I learned a bit more about this order. It turns out I was wrong about how unlikely the succession list would be needed.  In fact, currently all of the offices other than the newly appointed Attorney General are vacant. So the reason for the change of succession was POTUS 45’s decision upon firing the Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, to name Dana Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia to replace her. Thus the need to elevate him to the top spot behind the Attorney General.

In addition, one minor correction: The order was reportedly signed Thursday, so I changed my note below from ‘signed’ to ‘posted’ for accuracy.

 

Executive Order posted February 9, 2017.

Presidential Executive Order on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs

There is fundamentally only one point to this executive order and that is stated as:

“Sec. 2.  Regulatory Cap for Fiscal Year 2017.  (a)  Unless prohibited by law, whenever an executive department or agency (agency) publicly proposes for notice and comment or otherwise promulgates a new regulation, it shall identify at least two existing regulations to be repealed.”

The rest of the order is language that reiterates the two (or more) for one trade, establishes definitions, and determines how the order will be implemented.

While I certainly can support reduction of unnecessary regulation and limiting new regulations to those truly important and needed, the arbitrariness of this equation of two repealed for every one added is not only ridiculous, but ultimately not implementable.

Executive Order signed January 30, 2017.

Executive Order: ETHICS COMMITMENTS BY EXECUTIVE BRANCH APPOINTEES

Some in the news media were looking for the now expected ethics order and finally it appeared Sunday.

It consists of a pledge all newly appointed administration officials will sign. Two notable points are: 1) when an official leaves this administration, he/she may not become a lobbyist for 5 years, and 2) any official coming from being a lobbyist may not act on anything related to that lobbying effort for at least 2 years. It also includes the typical “no gifts” clause. Other sections of the lengthy order include definitions of terms used.

Somewhat alarming:

Sec. 3.  Waiver.  (a)  The President or his designee may grant to any person a waiver of any restrictions contained in the pledge signed by such person.

(b)  A waiver shall take effect when the certification is signed by the President or his designee.

(c)  A copy of the waiver certification shall be furnished to the person covered by the waiver and provided to the head of the agency in which that person is or was appointed to serve.

This is a major loophole that allows for this whole order to be moot anytime the president wants to negate it!

Because this wording seemed to be so odd, and because I have so little trust this president will not abuse this power, I decided to research the previous presidential orders on ethics, and found an interesting NPR article about the similarities between this order and previous Democratic presidents’ orders. There is more similarity to Clinton’s and Obama’s, and much less similarity to the two Bushes’ orders.

Even though there are great similarities, there are significant differences when it comes to the waiver clauses. For example, the waiver clause in Obama’s order was far more restrictive and referred to current and past government employees not newly hired ones. Here is the corresponding Executive Order 13490 of January 21, 2009 by President Obama.

George W. Bush: Memorandum on Standards of Official Conduct

Interestingly, his is not an official executive order, but just a memorandum to department and agency heads. It contains no pledge requirements and no waiver clause.

William J. Clinton Executive Order 12834—Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Appointees

The waiver clause requires a reason for each waiver. It also requires that waiver, including the reason for it, to be published in the Federal Register, an expectation not present in any of the three subsequent presidents’ orders.

George H. W. Bush Executive Order 12674—Principles of Ethical Conduct for Government Officers and Employees signed April 12, 1989.

I found it interesting that the date is substantially later than those by following presidents. His order also rescinds two previous orders – one by Reagan in 1986 and the other dating to 1965 – that are about financial disclosures for executive branch employees.

It appears that while this kind of ethics order has become more or less routine, the regularity of issuing it early in an administration did not begin until the 1990’s.

Would that ethical restrictions such as these also applied to the president.

Executive Order signed January 28,2017.

Presidential Memorandum – Organization of the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council

Over the past weekend, this memorandum was widely reported due to the highly controversial changes in the Principals Committee (PC) of the National Security Council apparatus. Many of the reports are not quite accurate – conflating the PC with the National Security Council (NSC) itself, when in fact they are different parts of the overall National Security structure that now includes a Homeland Security Council. In fairness, part of the confusion has to do with the fact that political appointees are now to attend all meetings of the NSC.

It took some research to learn about the overall structure that has evolved since its beginnings in the National Security Act of 1947 signed into law by President Harry Truman. Only a few cabinet members were statutory members of the NSC at its inception; others members of the NSC were to be named by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate. Some news reports have subsequently indicated POTUS 45 was not aware of the advise and consent clause.

Since 1947 various changes have been made to update that law, some by new legislation and some by executive actions. Most prominent is the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security and a then new Homeland Security Council (HSC).

Briefly stated: the Principles Committee (PC) now oversees the operations of the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council, each of which has unique membership. Some individuals and offices are designated as “invited to attend all meetings” while others are invited to attend only when issues pertaining to their office are on the agenda. In the current memorandum, the PC “…shall continue to serve as the Cabinet-level senior interagency forum for considering policy issues that affect the national security interests of the United States.”

Each president since 1947, early in his tenure, has issued a memorandum to establish the official membership as provided for by the law. Thus, it should be no surprise that POTUS 45 would issue such a memorandum. What is surprising and controversial is the shifting the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Director of National Intelligence from regular membership of PC membership to a lesser status and the removal completely of the Secretary of Energy and the U.S. Representative to the United Nations from any membership. Most alarming was the naming of two political advisors – Steve Bannon, Assistant to the President and Chief Strategist and Reince Priebus, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff – to the regular attending membership of the PC and NSC. All previous administrations studiously avoided mixing national security and politics by not having a chief political advisor in this role. Needless to say, this has sent Washington into a tizzy, and rightfully so.

So much has been written and reported about this order that I will provide no further comment other than to say Stephen Miller, Advisor to the President, appears to have been the author of the executive order. Over time we may learn he is the one writing the various presidential action documents after being given the general outlines by others. Whoever it is, I am not at all impressed.

In closing, I am going to add a strongly worded personal opinion (and that is why I have included ‘My Opinion’ as one of the categories for this post). In the George W. Bush presidency, the power of the office (or the ‘real president’) was Dick Cheney, it least until post 2006 election. In this presidency, the real president is emerging as Steve Bannon. I was hoping for what I thought was a best case scenario given all the bad options – one of his family members – to be the power behind this incompetent person, but that is not who is surfacing as having the most influence of and power over this president. Now that we know that, we need to be savvy in our resistance and act accordingly. We need to avoid being distracted by diversionary tactics and look for what is really happening or what is the longer term agenda not obvious in the immediate confusion.

Presidential Memorandum signed January 28, 2017

Finding Executive Action Documents

Since the inauguration it has been very difficult to find the full text of actions taken by the president. News reports of the signings almost never include the full text, and I am not willing to post anything here based solely on a reporter’s version of the action. Unfortunately, too many reporters (and their editors) are not well enough informed on the nuances of official presidential actions to be trust-worthy. Thus, no postings by me yet on items you might have seen or heard about in the news.

As of now, the White House website remains unchanged with zero documents available (other than the ‘propaganda’* documents posted when the site changed over). I am unimpressed, to say the least. Failure to get even a basic site operational by now is more than a little disconcerting. Obviously, I am going to have to rely on other sources to follow presidential actions. If events the past few days are any indication of what is to come, we might as well call Sean Spicer the Press Propaganda Secretary.

Although the Federal Register did publish its daily (weekdays) digital edition today, the most recent document from the “Executive Office of the President” on that site was dated January 17, 2017, so it may be a few days yet until the ones signed by POTUS 45 are available there.

Fortunately, this evening I discovered the three memoranda (some media reports erroneously called them ‘executive orders’) signed today were published by NPR.org. I have not yet taken time to read and review them, but plan to do that soon.

*my word, not theirs. They are listed under Issues.