The Agenda


Last May, Ron Klain, the former chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden and to Vice President Al Gore, proposed a reorganization of the cabinet:


Specifically, we should collapse the 17 Cabinet departments to just seven. These would be the original four — State, Defense, Treasury and Justice (which would absorb Homeland Security) — plus new departments of Natural Resources (absorbing Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, parts of the Energy and Agriculture departments, and Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration); Human Resources (Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Veterans Affairs); and Economic Development (Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, the United States Trade Representative and the rest of Energy and Agriculture).

The plan, admittedly, has its roots in an idea that President Richard Nixon proposed in 1971. While it was rejected then, the case for action is even more compelling now: In the 40 years that have elapsed, five more departments have been added.

In the short term, any reorganization would cost money before it produced savings, and create chaos in the agencies before things settled down. But there would be substantial long- term advantages if the president and the Congress met the challenge.

On similar grounds, Arnold Kling has also proposed a reorganization, though of a somewhat broader scope:


Today, there are 15 cabinet agencies, which is already too many. However, in addition to the cabinet departments, there are another 69 independent agencies and government corporations, 69 boards, commissions, and committees, and 4 quasi-official agencies.

Add all this together and the total number of executive entities is 157. I cannot think of any corporation in which the CEO has so many direct reports. This number ought to be fewer than ten. …



One approach to implementing a re-org would be to map every existing entity to one of the eight departments proposed here. However, it would be interesting to try another approach. Have the head of each of the eight departments choose existing organizational entities (sub-units of the current 157 departments, boards, and so on) the way team captains on a playground choose their teams. The department heads would make their choices based on the functions that they are supposed to perform. My guess is that under this approach many existing entities would not be picked at all. If so, then this would suggest that those entities can be phased out altogether.

I quite like Kling’s proposal, and I particularly like the names he has chosen for the new mega-departments (e.g., the Department of Financial Operations, the Department of Economic Opportunity, etc.). Many will object to the notion that, for example, intelligence functions should be centralized. Perhaps decentralization and competition across agencies has some value. UCLA’s Amy Zegart, a leading expert on the fragmented U.S. intelligence community, seems to suggest otherwise.

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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