Last week, we published an op-ed, “Here are Five things President Trump can't change,” in The Hill discussing long-established and irrevocable rules of how D.C. works that Trump and his team need to factor into their thought process to advance the administration’s agenda. This includes ingrained rules of governance such as the inter-Congressional rivalries, the Senate filibuster, bureaucracy’s permanence, and impact of the financial markets on policymaking. While the Trump administration has certainly demonstrated its willpower and determination to deliver on its agenda, below are a few additional Washington realities that President Trump has to incorporate into his decision-making.
President Trump is going to push the limits of executive authority. While Trump is empowered to act unilaterally in some respects, regulations that have been finalized through a notice-and-comment period cannot be overturned and rewritten overnight. His ability to bulldoze Obama-era regulations is moderated by detailed legal procedures that establish how regulations are developed and altered. In following the law, the president’s goal of undoing two regulations for each new one could triple the length of his rulemaking process.
Inspectors General (IG)
IGs technically can be removed by the president, but that rarely happens. In reality, IGs report to Congress and are significantly independent from the agencies they oversee. The IGs take their responsibility to ferret out fraud, waste, and abuse very seriously and they are unlikely to be intimidated by the new administration. IGs are part of the fabric of Washington, and the administration needs to gear up for oversight from a number of different perspectives.
President Trump already has expressed frustration with the pace of cabinet-level confirmations. There are hundreds more nominees that need to be chosen by the White House and then confirmed by the Senate. President Trump’s subcabinet nominees will face tough questions from senators of both parties regarding early actions by the new administration, especially from those seeking concessions that are often specific to narrow constituent interests. While the public is highly focused on the first 100 days from a legislative and policy perspective, the administration’s top priority must be actually staffing the administration. Otherwise, we will continue to see mistakes in execution such as those that have plagued the early days of the administration.
Democratic State Attorneys General (AG)
State AGs have proven to be an active legal and political voice both on issues of national significance and less-known regulatory issues. Democratic AGs have indicated that they will engage as President Trump seeks to roll back environmental, health care, and consumer protection. Democratic AGs have already been successful in halting enforcement of President Trump’s immigration executive order. This legal scrutiny may prove equally or even more potent and distracting than the activity of their Republican peers during the Obama administration.
President Trump has successfully engaged and influenced major defense contractors via Twitter, but his ability to sway negotiations will be somewhat tempered by what he may deem “technicalities,” but are in fact, entrenched and complex rules, procedures, and regulations. Particularly given the president’s stated goal of increasing military spending, the administration should give both contracting officials in government and potential contractors comfort that they can depend upon the traditional process to conduct business.