Donald Trump’s cabinet selections are a who’s who of the business world: ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of state, Goldman Sachs executive Steven Munchin for treasury secretary, billionaire investor Wilbur Ross for commerce secretary and Andy Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, for labor secretary.
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The selections have raised eyebrows among Washington insiders not accustomed to having business executives run the public sector. But some experts and former government officials say that a corporate-minded White House will create a federal government that is more efficient and cost-effective.
“The great advantage is you have a president who wants to get a lot done,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican and Trump supporter, told FoxBusiness.com. “Entrepreneurs are hard-charging, aggressive people. There will be much more action, inclined to cut through bureaucracy and red tape.”
The benefits, some say, of having a people from the private sector run the federal government: They know how to turn a huge profit and are more results-oriented – and they know how to operate a business efficiently and effectively.
“I think nominating a lot of these business executives shows what Donald Trump is trying to do – hold people accountable. These are people who have been accountable to their boards, to their shareholders, to their communities… And these people know how to do that,” said Recon Capital Partners' Kevin Kelly. “So we’re not going to have a bureaucratic race, we are going to have leaders in there who know how to run these type of organizations. And the government is the biggest corporation that needs to be run well. “
But while all this sounds great in theory, other experts say a rough road could lie ahead for such executives who are used to wielding power and not used to navigating seas of backlog and inefficiencies.
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“They’re used to telling someone to do something and having action. They are used to directing operations with a single phone call and it’s just not going to happen,” said Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University and author of 25 books on government reform. “You get the head of ExxonMobil who can move on a dime and he’s not going to be able to do that. He’s going to have to deal with the reality of a democratic process and that’s the way it is.”
For example, Light authored a study seeking to speed up the candidate vetting process because multiple agencies ask hundreds of duplicative questions in lengthy questionnaires. In the end, the U.S. government did not abide by his proposals to have a centralized candidate file.
“Congress and the Senate do not want to speed things up and the president (traditionally) does not want to speed things up,” he said, noting that when 9/11 happened, Pres. George W. Bush was still waiting for confirmation on some cabinet picks.
“I don’t have a problem appointing business people, but I think this cabinet is over-weighted on the business side,” Light said “The question is: do they really want to go through this process and divest their business conflicts of interest?”
The Trump administration, some say, will return the country to the one envisioned by the Founding Fathers. It was 224 years ago that the first cabinet members were sworn into George Washington’s administration – a farmer, two lawyers and a military officer. Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Edmund Randolph and Henry Knox, respectively, were tapped to lead a new nation that despised tyranny and excessive taxation.
“Washington, Jefferson, [Andrew] Jackson were all wealthy landowners,” Gingrich said. “Only in the modern era is actually being successful is a bad thing. Think of all of the politicians we appoint who have never run an organization. Like John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, [President] Barack Obama – go down the list. These (Trump cabinet picks) are folks who are used to winning, getting up early and getting adrenaline going that is needed.”
Chris Edwards, director of Tax Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, said a business-type atmosphere would be a positive thing for the White House.
A primary issue would be to revamp the government work force and hold them to the same quality standards as the private sector. This involves the ability to fire government workers for poor performance. Currently, the government firing rate is only one-sixth of the private sector, Edwards said.
President George W. Bush had attempted to bring in a pay scale tied to performance but he was unable to carry it out because of layers of bureaucracy, he said.
“They have no profit incentive – there is no incentive for federal workers to save money, do things at the lowest cost and have a great product,” Edwards said. “It used to be until 30 years ago you went into government and sacrificed and it’s public service. These days, people stay because they are overpaid and get gold plated pensions. It’s an incentive for federal bureaucrats to stay in there forever.”
Some even said having the federal government mimic the corporate world should be a model for the future.
“To have a business person in there, someone who has negotiated not only with other countries and other business entities but with his own employees to get the best deal for not only for those employees but for the shareholders – I think that’s a nice new touch,” said former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican. “I’d rather have that than a career politician – I’m sorry. People say ‘you need to have political experience.’ Why? Really?”