I haven’t feared the actions the Republican Party in the past even when I vehemently disagreed with the policies. But now things have changed. What troubles me the most, beyond expected policy changes I disagree with, is apparent steps to reduce the access to information from government agencies and therefore control the message even when obviously blatant misinformation.
This is coupled with decision-making that appears to be arbitrary in nature and not based on any form of data. Issuing a blanket order to freeze all federal hiring and cut all regulations by 75% are two examples of this. Reducing the size of the federal government workforce may be a budget-necessary action to take, but a freeze could potential cripple some agencies doing work the public count on taking place. And why remove 75% of all regulations. What exactly does that mean? Which regulations? Why those? Will the removal of these regulations or shortages in staff put individuals at risk? One must also consider that past across-the-board hiring freezes have actually cost more than they have saved in the long run.
Now, let’s couple this kind of decision-making with a reduction in transparency and distribution of information from public agencies. By limiting the ability of agencies to communicate with the public, except as controlled by the administration, we do two things: one, we limit access by the public to publicly funded knowledge and information; and two, we create the potential for misinformation to be disseminated. Even if it isn’t there is a perception of lack of transparency, and the public trust in information provided is eroded.
I’m not arguing that we don’t have too many regulations, nor am I arguing that every bureaucrat working in an office should have an unfiltered voice about the work of that agency. But I am arguing decisions about changes to policies affecting the operation of bureaucratic agencies are made thoughtfully, based on accurate information, and done in a transparent manner. What has been demonstrated so far by the Trump administration, I don’t believe, is not how functioning, thoughtful democracies work.
Let’s consider a hypothetical. The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for monitoring the safety of the food we consume. This requires actual individuals on the ground to do the work. If we arbitrarily freeze hiring freeze of federal employees is there necessary work related to food safety that simply will not get done? If we set an arbitrary goal to reduce regulations by 75% will there be an elimination of rules related to food safety that result in deaths from tainted food?
Now, let’s consider the department of education and education policy for example. I have worked in traditional public schools, private schools, public universities, and helped start and run a public charter school. In Minnesota public charter schools meet all of the same regulations regarding meeting standards, teacher qualifications, and state testing as any public school in Minnesota. Additionally, they cannot select students for enrollment based on any factors. The only thing they can limit is the number of students that can enroll. If more than that cap apply to the school, then all students are put into a lottery (except siblings of already enrolled students, and students of staff if the board has adopted such a policy).
If we put someone in charge of public education who appears to not have any knowledge of how public education works, is funded, or under what federal law it operates, we put public education at risk. If we arbitrarily remove 75% of the regulations around public education we run the risk of creating more situations like we have in Ohio and Indiana with public money funding private, for-profit corporations to operate public charter schools. This is unacceptable. If we freeze hiring in the department of education do we run the risk of having inadequate staffing to ensure that schools are following the remaining 25% of regulations that protect students and families from discrimination, exclusion, or plain old negligence that might harm the health and future prosperity of those children? I’ve worked in education long enough to have come across rules and regulations that I certainly wish might go away. I also know that there is usually a reason for the rules and regulations, and also know that one must carefully examine the unintended consequences of arbitrary decision making.
These are both examples of the danger of decision-making that is capricious and not done thoughtfully. Frankly it’s reckless, negligent, and dangerous. The appeal of Donald Trump is that “he says what he means.” Well what if what he means is illegal or simply doesn’t make any sense? If transparency has been eliminated, and truth has given way to truthiness or “alternative facts” then we now have compounded the reckless governing.
It is up the leaders of the Republican Party to balance the benefit of having complete control of the government to get all of their conservative agenda dreams met with the cost of eroding public trust, and thoughtful decision-making that is the result of a messy democracy. At some point in the future, their party will not be in control. They are setting dangerous precedents with their silence as leaders at this moment in time.