Department of Education

Trump Plan to Merge Education, Labor Departments Is Fine, But Won't Amount to Much

Changing the name plates on the front of Washington's many brutalist office buildings won't inject more competition or motivation into those departments.


The Trump administration's sweeping plan to overhaul the structure of the federal government sets lofty goals and contains some worthwhile ideas, but it is not likely to achieve a significant shrinkage of the leviathan.

The proposal is admirable in its ambition. Most of the headlines have focused on the plan to merge the Departments of Education and Labor into a new cabinet-level office called the Department of Education and Workforce. But the plan would also consolidate public assistance programs into a renamed Department of Health and Public Welfare, would combine some duplicative food safety programs run by the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, and would seek to privatize the postal service and air traffic control services.

Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, called the plan the biggest reorganization of the federal government since Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, Politico reported.

"Today's Executive Branch is still aligned to the stove-piped organizational constructs of the 20th Century, which in many cases have grown inefficient and out-of-date," the administration's 130-page proposal states. "Consequently, the public and our workforce are frustrated with Government's ability to deliver its mission in an effective, efficient, and secure way."

Unfortunately, much of the inefficiency of—and resulting frustration with—government services results from them being, well, government services. Changing the name plates on the front of Washington D.C.'s many, many brutalist filing-cabinets full of bureaucrats won't inject more competition or motivation into those departments. Nor will it it guarantee a reduction in the scope of governmental power over the lives of individuals.

Moving programs from one department to another might help streamline the federal organizational chart, but it's not likely to save much money. "Eliminating a department while transferring its programs in essentially unchanged form to other departments or agencies would probably result in little or no budgetary savings," the Congressional Budget Office concluded in a review of departmental merger proposals in 2013, "because most of the costs incurred by departments are the costs of the programs themselves."

That doesn't mean that efforts to eliminate unnecessary or ineffective programs, reduce duplicative services, or streamline government agencies are not worthwhile. They are. But it's disappointing to see so much of the Trump administration's plan focused on shuffling government programs from one department to another, rather than seriously considering which functions could be abolished or privatized.

White House

Some of the proposals seem to amount to little more than conservative-friendly rebranding—like the idea of renaming the Department of Health and Human Services as the Department of Health and Public Welfare (though the administration also calls for bringing non-HHS public assistance programs, like food stamps, into the newly renamed department).

Others seem aimed only at reducing weird internal government contradictions. Mulvaney told Politico that one of his "favorite" examples of goofy government is the fact that a salmon swimming in the ocean is regulated by the Department of Commerce, while a salmon swimming up an American river is regulated by the Department of the Interior. Those examples are a dime a dozen. You may recall that President Barack Obama, in announcing a more limited government reorganization plan in 2013, complained about how pepperoni pizza is regulated differently than cheese pizza. But why should the federal government have to regulate salmon and pizza at all?

"It is disappointing that the opportunity was not taken to propose a wholesale reduction in the size of government," says Iain Murray, vice president for policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market think tank.

It's also hard to envision Congress doing much with this proposal before the November midterms. As The Wall Street Journal notes, lawmakers have typically been reluctant to embrace such ideas in the past. Even with the cancellation of the August recess, there's not much reason to expect Congress to engage in major policy debates before the election. Heck, Congress might not even pass a budget.

In the end, this proposal from the Trump administration is likely to end up on a shelf collecting dust beside previous government consolidation proposals from the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations. In fact, parts of the Trump plan—including the high-profile plan to merge the Departments of Education and Labor—seem to have been lifted from those previous, unsuccessful efforts. But even if the administration's reach exceeds its grasp, there are a few relatively light lifts that could and should be added to the congressional agenda.

Chief among those is the privatization of the air-traffic control system, something the Reason Foundation (which publishes this blog) has been advocating for a long time. As Reason's Director of Transportation Policy Bob Poole noted in a feature last year, the American air traffic control system is out-of-date and out-of-touch with developments in the rest of the world. Airlines, the air traffic controllers' union, business groups, and many professional transportation policy analysts agree that air traffic control should be spun-off from the Federal Aviation Authority. It's possible that Trump's grand plan for reorganizing the government could help undo the inertia that has so far blocked this relatively simple, cost-saving reform.

Maybe the best example of the gap between the ambition and the reality of the Trump administration's plan lies in the Education-Labor merger. The change would "allow the federal government to address the educational and skill needs of American students and workers in a coordinated way, eliminating duplication of effort between the two agencies and maximizing the effectiveness of skill-building efforts."

But at the same time, the proposal goes to lengths to emphasize the goal of eliminating "one-size-fits-all" government.

It's tough to square that circle. As long as the federal government is taking a central role in American education and labor, there will always be one-size-fits-all regulations that limit innovation and effectiveness. If the Trump administration wanted a truly revolutionary plan, it would acknowledge as much.

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  1. There’s no real reason, nor constitutional justification, for a federal department of labor or education.
    Abolish both.

    1. Sure, good luck with that.

      It’s not like I wouldn’t like to see that happen, but when all of the Democrats and most Republicans see a shitload of patronage and votes from keeping both of them alive, it ain’t likely to happen.

      1. Well, we can keep hoping….

        1. I’m making $80 an hour working from home. I was shocked when my neighbour told me she was averaging $120 but I see how it works now. I feel so much freedom now that I’m my own boss. This is what I do…

    2. There is good reason and constitutional justification for education to be an interstate compact – not a federal dept – like it was before. And it is also a good way to transition the costs over a relatively short time. Transfer the whole thing to an interstate compact with a 4 yr phaseout of federal funding. Whatever the states-in-compact still find valuable beyond that, they can keep and fund themselves.

    3. Merging them provides an opportunity to lay off staff. Trump has already said he’s going to try and make it easier to fire federal workers. It also gives him more flexibility to not replace retirees.

  2. The Trump administration’s sweeping plan to overhaul the structure of the federal government sets lofty goals and contains some worthwhile ideas, but it is not likely to achieve a significant shrinkage of the leviathan.

    Last time Trump tried to cut agencies and the federal budget the screamers started screaming. RINOs in Congress would not go along and Democrats certainly would not vote for it.

    I would say that Trump is trying to shift stuff around so things get lost and cut in the shuffle.

  3. One would think the merger would at least improve efficiency, such as government efficiency might be. But it’s Trump, not Obama doing this, so Reason is unimpressed.

    1. You mean like how merging the War Department and the Department of The Navy improved efficiency?

      1. We can meddle in more countries with less than half the personnel.

  4. Somebody’s going to make a lot of serious money on the project management to get this done.
    And many will suffer, although they likely deserve it. Re-orgs are never pleasant.

    1. This is a very good point. Short term will be painful and costly. If it’s intended for long-term downsizing, efficiency, etc then great. But the political climate being what it is, the next Democrat president may then push to reverse it just because. Which will have made this whole thing a boondoggle.

    2. I look forward to as many federal employees losing their jobs as possible.

    1. What kind of fire: .308, or .223?

      1. Nuke it from space. It’s the only way to be sure.

        1. Space Force!

          1. We need to give them a mission. Bombing our own Deep State with bunker busters seems like the appropriate one.

  5. They should call it “Department of Union Payoffs and Graft”

    1. Nice and succinct. Better than my idea…

      Department of Stuff we think we Invented but really just Make Worse – accurate but not catchy

    2. Better name than Department of Education and the Workforce. Horrible collectivist name.

  6. “”””” Department of Education and Workforce”””””

    Good, so we are going to put those kids to work?

    Does this include those kids separated from there illegal alien parents on the border?

    No more laying around sucking up tax dollars.

    1. I know of a few openings in the monocle polishing department.

  7. The U.S. needs a department of redundancy department.
    Wait – there are already several of these.
    Ok, forgettaboutit.

    1. We here at the Federal Department of Repetition don’t think that department would serve any purpose.

      We here at the Federal Department of Repetition don’t think that department would serve any purpose.

  8. Yeah.. I’m thrilled to see Trump make these aggressive moves to ‘simplify’ government.. I’m really looking forward to him merging NASA and The Dept Of The Interior .. Not to mention the White Hosue Banquet Staff being transferred to the US Marine Corps! MAGA! BeBest!

    1. “Muh overlords!”

  9. If merging them is just a “rest stop” on the road to dismantling them, I’m in.

    1. “Today, I am signing this bill to dismantle the costly and inefficient Workforce”

  10. Streamlining the government? By creating a Space Patrol? This is the same government math as cutting the budget by slowing the rate of increase.

    1. Starfleet has to start somewhere.

  11. Merge the swamp ! Merge the swamp !!

  12. “Today’s Executive Branch is still aligned to the stove-piped organizational constructs of the 20th Century, which in many cases have grown inefficient and out-of-date,” Rube Goldberg would be a more apt analogy.

    The department of Education needs to be eliminated, Period. In Spite of the billions spent, educational scores continue to decline and education has become the department of PC indoctrination. It has proven worse than fighting a war on drugs. . Billions spent, millions dead, problem worse than ever. Both sides have a vested interest in the status quo.

    We need to start all over with federal responsibilities, and just provide what the Constitution provides. But then, I’m still pulling for the Mets!

  13. Kill the abysmal Title IX?

    Don’t care what the hell else you do.

  14. The merge makes sense in that he feels 10 year olds should be pumping Trump (R) branded steaks and cologne. Education and work should be synonymous; kids shouldn’t be taught to think, just to work for the corporate elite.

    1. Poe

    2. I agree its a creepy name. I wonder what the rationale was to use The Workforce, rather than just keep the word Labor.

      1. I wonder what the rationale was to use The Workforce

        So that both parties can in future find reasons to grow the department and make it serve the interests of their crony elements..

      2. Department of Labor is so 1930’s technocratic collectivism, the “workforce” is that but so much hipper.

        1. Plus it looks better after a hashtag, so there’s that.

  15. Government inefficiency on display in the fact it took a 130 page report to discuss it.

    1. Just wait until the printer toner tariffs kick in!

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  17. I assume the reason why we regulate pizzas is that, before such regulations, there were many examples of sellers using spoiled meat, cheese, etc., and we were finding that the free market was not efficiently working (ie, preventing these cases of food poisoning).

    I’d be perfectly happy if we could do away with, essentially, all regulation and we could trust that large companies, small companies, mom & pop-owned businesses, etc. all behaved ethically and acted in their customers’ best interests. But they do not. Or, at least, enough do not that we end up needing regulations. Including ones that, on their face, seem odd…like treating pizza with only cheese on top differently in some way(s) than we treat pizza with dead animal bits on top.

    1. A facebook/insta/reddit post that spreads does far more in this regard.

    2. I’d sooner trust the BBB to tell me which businesses are out of compliance than the government.
      The BBB can be replaced, should it move to a pay for play scheme. Angie’s List is sitting in the sidelines waiting to supplant it.

      The only thing the BBB needs is some protection against someone usurping its name and symbols to run a credentials mill.

  18. Actually this shows me the Trump admin is being really smart.

    Something like 1/3rd of the Federal workforce is due to retire in the next ten years. By merging the departments the admin can eliminate many soon to be retired positions when their current holder leaves them. This is particularly true of now redundant management level positions. And these are the expensive SES, GS-14s and GS-15s.

  19. The real question is when will the Departments of Education or Labor merge with reality?

  20. Merging Liberty-busting agencies only solidifies their power over us. Amazing how their is no appetite for abolishing these unconstitutional bureaucracies.

  21. I’d rather he double all services, and arrange for the covered to pick the agency they want to operate under.
    Maybe a hemp grower thinks the FDA would be more amenable to his position than would the DEA.
    Maybe a K-12 school, or a state, would decide to select DoL jurisdiction over their kids rather than DoE.

    However, I do hope he does something about the ATF, BATFE, whatever, nonsense. Split off the A and T to either the Department of Agriculture or the DEA, and move the F and E to the Marshals, or even the FBI.

    1. There’s no real way to move the letters around. You’re still gonna end up with a box full of Q’s, X’s and Z’s.

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