Anyone who has worked for a large organization has seen them. They're the old hands, the keepers of the keys, and you're likely to find them neither at the very top nor at the very bottom but dispersed throughout all the strata in between. They are the "institutional memory." Collectively they're the irreplaceable repository of the facts, concepts, experiences and knowledge essential to the proper functioning of the organization. If all goes well they groom their successors, pass along their knowledge, so that there's a continuum. Yet, if they're taken down suddenly, it can create disorder, even chaos.
Donald Trump may be about to inflict chaos on the U.S. federal government. Today he'll send a "slash and burn" budget proposal to Congress that may inflict lasting damage on the functioning of the bureaucracy.
The budget would cut the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 31 per cent, the State Department by 28 per cent and Health and Human Services by 17.9 per cent. Funding to several smaller government agencies that have long been targets of conservatives - like the Legal Services Corporation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts - would be axed entirely.
The most significant cuts would be at the EPA, which the Trump administration has accused of overreach. The president wants to trim $US2.6 billion from the agency's budget, in part by cutting about 3,200 positions, about a fifth of the department's work force.
If enacted, the proposal would cut the agency's budget to its lowest level in 40 years, adjusted for inflation. That would mean eliminating funding for climate change research, closing state environmental programs and ending regional projects like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which has bipartisan support.
Mr Trump would also cut funding to the United Nations for its climate change efforts, and curb contributions to its peacekeeping efforts. Contributions to the World Bank would be cut by $US650 million, and economic and development assistance would be "refocused" to countries of greatest strategic interest to the United States.
Mr Trump's team also proposed a wide array of cuts to public education, Amtrak and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, including eliminating the $US3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which funds popular programs like Meals on Wheels, housing assistance and other community assistance efforts.
Guns, Not Butter.
Besides the military, the Department of Homeland Security would also receive an infusion of cash. An additional $US2.8 billion would go largely to pay for a wall along the border with Mexico and the hiring of 500 Border Patrol Agents and 1,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers next year. The budget also calls for the hiring of 20 lawyers in the Justice Department who would work to obtain land along the border for the wall.
The Exodus is Already Well Underway
In several federal departments, the Old Hands have been taking their leave since Trump was inaugurated. The Washington Post reported on an exodus from the State Department just a week after Trump was sworn in.
A demoralized public service is not going to attract A-List talent. There's too much uncertainty, too much of a learning curve in a chaotic administration. When you see that the best and the brightest have bailed out en masse that's a pretty big disincentive.