A new book out Tuesday lifts the curtain on what the modern administrative state has become: a bureaucratic leviathan undermining representative systems of government — and it needs to be reined in.
After a long career in civil service that includes stints under the last two Republican presidents, former Trump Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has written a screed against the burgeoning administrative state from his firsthand experience as a Beltway insider. The book, titled You Report to Me: Accountability for the Failing Administrative State, is both an expose of the swamp-style tactics leveraged to stifle the agenda of democratically elected leaders and a guide to confront the weaponization of the federal bureaucracy.
In a Monday interview with The Federalist, Bernhardt pointed to the “lionization” of “the resistance” within federal agencies following the triumphant 2016 election of President Donald Trump as an inflection point in the administrative state subverting the will of American voters.
“My concern over time is that if you have 2.2 million people in the civil service, and 1 percent of them is actively resisting,” Bernhardt said, “that’s one thing.” He continued:
But if it’s 10 percent of them, it’s a different thing. If it’s 20 percent of them, it’s something else. And if it’s more than that, what does that mean for representative democracy and government? Because at the end of the day, in my mind the entire point of us having an election system is so that the American people can express a view and have it mean something.
While primarily drawn from his time at the Department of the Interior, the book examines how employees across federal agencies have learned to manipulate bureaucratic processes to hamper White House priorities that run counter to their ideologies. From turning in products rendered unusable to outright delaying the completion of projects deemed important by the elected administration, employees exploit protections as federal bureaucrats to “resist” presidential directives.
In one chapter, Bernhardt pulls extensively from a report by the America First Policy Institute, where he serves as chairman of the Center for American Freedom, titled, “Tales from the Swamp.” The 2021 paper documents episodes of resistance throughout the four years of the Trump administration.
A plurality of examples Bernhardt cites involve the Department of Justice, the same agency that sought to frame Trump and his 2016 campaign as engaged in Russian collusion. The FBI investigation known as Crossfire Hurricane culminated in the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who ultimately exonerated the president. Bernhardt made no reference to the Russia-collusion hoax but shed light on a litany of other abuses by DOJ officials who successfully subverted the will of voters by thwarting White House initiatives. The cross-agency examples illustrate the extent to which unelected ideologues are able to hijack democracy to substitute presidential policy with their own agendas.
Axios published a report last summer that unveiled Trump’s plans for a complete overhaul of the entire federal bureaucracy in a potential second term, starting with the Department of Justice. Bernhardt’s book offers not just a warrant but a mandate for bureaucratic reform to be a top priority for the next Republican president.
“The election involves the change of, let’s say, 3,500 people,” Bernhardt told The Federalist. “There’s 2.2 million that don’t change, and you have to figure out, ‘How am I going to have these folks help me drive change forward?'”
Trump, he added, “started very late,” with “Schedule F” for federal employees not proposed until the last year of his administration.
The delay not only gave the president’s antagonists years of experience in hampering administrative priorities but also gave former Trump officials a lesson in urgency. Last week, the Heritage Foundation announced the hiring of former White House Personnel Director John McEntee to preemptively staff the next administration. Bernhardt wrote about the importance of administrative staff moving on the president’s agenda from day one.
“A presidential term is 1,461 days,” Bernhardt reported. “In the absence of a second term, everything that is not accomplished by day 1,461 is probably never going to be done.”
In his interview with The Federalist, Bernhardt finished with a warning for the next administration. “The resistance to the next Republican president’s policies will be 10 times worse from the standpoint of the career civil service, the [nongovernmental organizations], and the radical left,” Bernhardt said.
The prophetic note makes Bernhardt’s book a must-read for anyone wishing to understand the true scale of the administrative state, especially for those hoping for a political appointment.