Top-down change is coming for a sprawling web of federal agencies. New Cabinet members are expected to break the bureaucracies they lead, rather than adapt their ways.
Scott Pruitt, the new Environmental Protection Agency administrator, addressed its employees Wednesday, saying: “Those that we regulate ought to know what they can expect from us.” On Saturday he told the Conservative Political Action Conference that some Obama administration regulations will be “rolled back in a very aggressive way” as early as this week.
Like President Donald Trump, Pruitt has a history of contention with EPA. In Pruitt’s previous role as Oklahoma’s attorney general, he repeatedly sued the federal agency. Emails released last week showed Pruitt worked closely in that job with private oil and gas interests to combat what they condemned as overregulation.
Other top appointees appear just as bent on taming their agencies in ways long supported by Washington Republicans:
- Betsy DeVos, now in charge of the Education Department, is a well-known political foe and target of teacher unions. She is ready to lift restrictions on private, for-profit colleges.
- Rick Perry, the former Texas governor awaiting confirmation as secretary of energy, once called for the department’s elimination.
- Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary, spoke in confirmation hearings about a need to “unleash the potential for private investment in our nation’s infrastructure.”
- Tom Price, a Georgia Republican now heading Health and Human Services, stridently opposed the Affordable Care Act.
To help ensure that presidential authority reaches down the ranks, White House aides are reportedly controlling agency hires.
As for policy, the right-oriented Heritage Foundation, headed by former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), appears to influence the development of these agencies’ programs.
The group says on its website: “Paul Winfree, former director of Heritage’s Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, is serving as the White House’s director of budget policy and deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council.
“For a preview of what could come, it might be worth checking out the Heritage budget blueprint from February 2016 of which Winfree was the lead author,” the group’s posting says.
The Heritage budget proposal called for eliminating several Department of Energy offices as well as big cuts at the EPA and the departments of Interior, Labor, Transportation and State.
Trump’s first budget plan is expected in two weeks.