You Can Tell The White House Which Agencies To Cut

by Lani Seelinger
Eric Thayer/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Ever thought that the CIA was kind of useless? Or that money spent running the Department of the Treasury would best be spent elsewhere? If so, then has the Trump administration got an opportunity for you! They've released a White House survey requesting ideas about eliminating federal agencies — up to and including the Office of the President.

Yes, that means exactly what you think it means. Literally anyone with an internet connection, including you, me, or any one of the nearly 63 million people who voted for Donald Trump, can find this survey and share his or her thoughts about which government agencies should be reformed or eliminated and why.

The survey refers back to an executive order "on a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch," only now it appears as though they haven't quite come up with that comprehensive plan yet. Despite the confident sounding title, the order actually only instructs the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, "to propose a plan to reorganize governmental functions and eliminate unnecessary agencies." Before doing that, though, the order also insists that he "[invite] the public to suggest improvements in the organization and functioning of the executive branch and [consider] the suggestions when formulating the proposed plan."

This is an interesting way of running a representative democracy. One of the key parts of that vaunted and oft-used system is it doesn't require each and every citizen to read up on the particulars of, say, commodity futures trading. I reckon that someone in the government has, though, and that's why we've got the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. With this survey, though, I could simply decide that I don't like the name of that commission, say that I want to eliminate it, and then give literally any reason for doing so.

Now, even if I were to do that, I don't think we'd be in great danger of the Trump administration taking my advice. But think about some of the programs that Trump has already threatened to gut, particularly in the arts and sciences. The idea to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, for example, has gotten a lot of coverage, so Trump supporters logging on to the survey might be more likely to recognize the name and then mark it as something to get rid of completely. If enough people were to do that, then the White House could then point to this survey data as justification for Congress to cut items like that out of the budget.

The major problem with a survey like this is that the average person on the street simply isn't supposed to be informed enough to make decisions — or even suggestions — like this. Putting a question like "Do you have any other ideas for reorganizing the Federal government?" onto an official White House survey reeks of both faux populism ("we're listening to you!") and a lack of expertise ("no but seriously, we don't know what to do").

I hope that no matter who writes in and what agencies they propose slashing out of existence without any proven expertise on the subject, the White House won't listen to any of it. I hope that it's just a ploy trying to show how connected to the voters they are. I don't know about you, but I'd rather that they'd never asked.