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Get creative to remake government

Budget director Mick Mulvaney, who proposed merging the

Budget director Mick Mulvaney, who proposed merging the Labor and Education departments, testifies before a House panel in April. Credit: AP / Manuel Balce Ceneta

For decades, administrations have decried our inefficient federal government and claimed reorganizing it would be a priority. This never turns out to be true because, as President Donald Trump pointed out recently in discussing his administration’s blueprint, such plans are “extraordinarily boring.”

This is not fake news!

But Trump is selling his gang short. Sure, when wonks who believe in government expound on organizational efficiency, it can be brutal. Listening to Vice President Al Gore’s earnest pitch in the 1990s was like watching corn grow.

But the Trump administration has an advantage in creating an exciting redesign of the bureaucracy: revolutionary goals. In the words of conservative guru Grover Norquist, these staffers want to “shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has worked for decades to undermine public education in favor of private and religious schools. Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt treats the environment as if it maxed out his credit cards and stole his wife, legalizing flavors of pollution with a frequency and ardor that are downright vindictive. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson fears that if you make public housing tolerable, it will become “a comfortable setting that would make somebody want to say: ‘I’ll just stay here. They will take care of me.’ ” Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to pursue maximum federal sentences in marijuana arrests even in states where the drug is legal, even when such sentences are shown to have the outsized racial consequences the Justice Department exists to address. And Mick Mulvaney, doing dual duty as director of the Office of Management and Budget and acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, just fired the 25-member board that advised him on consumer protections because it kept nagging him about consumer protections, when his main concern is coddling and swaddling banks and manufacturers with an affection most reserve for puppies.

The federal government is a mess, of course, but what the Trump administration wants to do, experts say, is shuffle departments so that it’s easier to cut social services. So some of the ideas that sound decent are actually a bit nefarious.

One of the biggest goals, for instance, is taking the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that helps feed 42 million Americans out of the Agriculture Department and putting it in a new mega-agency with the word “welfare” in its title. That sorta makes sense, right?

But the point of taking it out of the Agriculture Department, which also handles agricultural subsidies for the food mega-producers, is to make sure Republicans can slash food assistance in one spending bill while protecting the one that contains the yummy crop subsidies that keep their big donors plump.

It also could make sense to combine the Education and Labor departments, as Mulvaney proposes, so that education could be calibrated to employment. But since conservatives have tried to close the Education Department since 1980, the move has taken on a sinister tone. At some point they’ll say, “We’ll just make crop weeding a class. Then the kids can do it for free, and get full credit!”

In designing this future, Mulvaney and the gang missed a trick, though: Why not throw the prison system and the military into that labor-education department, too? That way when officials get rid of the education component, they’ll have all the destinations for us peasants under one roof. We’ll either be in the military, in prison or laboring away as ordered.

It will be so efficient!

Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.