The Pragmatic Case for Administrative Reform

The greatest dilemma America currently faces is the rise of unchecked concentrated power in a continent historically unaccustomed to it. While conservatives quibble over the cause – big government or big business – they lose sight of the interconnected nature of the two, seeking to undermine each other’s points within narrow functional fixedness. But the concentrated power we speak of is one that does not fit nicely into either of these categories, and only pre-modern terminology aptly conveys it. Consequently, only unorthodox solutions appear viable.

The Current Apparatus

America’s liberal regime, which grew in power after the Civil Rights Act,[1] has over the last 40 years transformed from the preference of the elites to a distinct aristocracy, populated largely by the sons and daughters of managerial professionals. James Burnham famously considered this The Managerial Revolution in his book of the same name.[2]

A key element to this revolution, which has enabled the success of the cultural Left, has been the centralization of these aforementioned “managers” in and around our nation’s capital – coddled neatly into our civil service as permanent bureaucrats within the administrative state. A superstructure has arisen to reinforce the manager’s Leftist cultural mores, visible to anyone who dares to pay even a little attention. Dissent from the mores, i.e., becoming an out-group, disqualify you from the web of civil society in which they have constructed. Penalties include becoming un-hirable, losing friends, and excommunication from cocktail parties.

The liberal regime exists primarily to reinforce the gatekeeping of this managerial class – even by changing the law if necessary, doing so through their unanimous population of the federal bureaucracy. In the 2016 election alone, federal workers gave a combined 1.85 million in contributions to the campaign of Hillary Clinton. During that same period, Trump received only $106,586 from this demographic.

Those running our state on a day-to-day basis have a defined culture reinforced through the elites occupying entertainment, media, big unions, and big business. This rule by the minority constitutes the advent of a genuinely un-American aristocracy reinforced by a compliant regime, occupied by the same people, in alignment with generally the same presuppositions.

The first order of a genuine American conservatism rooted in the common consciousness of the nation should be, through conservative legal reform, the disestablishment of this unholy alliance between the professional-managerial class (PMC) and the administrative state. This is achievable through many avenues, but we fear the “just cut it” and the “just take it over” approach lack the plausibility of implementation and are ultimately both doomed towards a similar roadblock.

Administrative Decentralization

One such plausible solution that satisfies localists and paleoconservatives alike is the process of administrative decentralization. By moving administration out of DC, the managerial monoculture can to a certain degree be curbed, coinciding with its benefits to federalism. A great feature of administrative decentralization is that it has already been tried and worked.

In 2019, the Trump Administration began the process of moving environmental review staff positions within the Department of Interior out west to their actual constituency.[3] This comes after the Administration began the process of relocating climate researchers from the Department of Agriculture to Kansas City in a newly built facility.[4] The greatest part of both – is that nobody from DC moved. In the case of the Department of Interior relocation, only 41 decided to move west out of 328 – a turnover rate of 87.5%.[5] These measures received bipartisan support as well. Both of Colorado’s Democratic Senators issued a letter to President Biden endorsing the Trump measure, asking the President to expand further towards a fully operational Department of Interior branch in Grand Junction.[6] Unfortunately for Senator Hickenlooper and Senator Bennet, the employable cohort is unlikely to be the stock they would prefer.

Annihilate and Replace Pendleton

Another step towards administrative capture would be a depreciation of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act through executive actions. Much like with administrative decentralization, President Trump made efforts in dismantling the power of the credential system through a trio of executive orders.[7] But we must go further. Cut benefits, make firing simple, and eliminate the barrier to entry. The original Pendleton Act only applies to 10% of federal jobs,[8] and reverting this to the original percentage should be a priority.

But we should not stop at merely deconstructing. In place of de-emphasizing entrance examinations and university degrees, new requisites should be established to prioritize community organizers and natural experts. This means more tradesmen in the Department of Labor, hunters in the Department of the Interior, and farmers in the Department of Agriculture. A reorientation of hiring focused on lessening the barrier to entry PMCs benefit from, will have immediate positive ramifications.

Nominate Stronger Judges

The current crop of judges is insufficient at reforming the administrative state, despite being selected specifically for this reason. This is an indictment of the conservative legal movement at large that Josh Hammer has done an excellent job at stressing,[9] and we need not repeat in great detail. Conservatives have a moral obligation to treat our providential constitution as much if not greater than our written one, and that means nominating a generation of jurists that believe in our distinctly Anglo-American common law tradition – preferably not career lawyers.


There exist proven and tried methods that will substantively lessen the power of our administrative regime. What we lack is a legislative branch willing to inherit the burden, and a hostile regime empowering it. If we are to accept the administrative state as inevitable due to these circumstances, then we should look for ways to make it less toxic. Taking it over should not be counter to disempowering predatory arms of it, or general reform for that matter. In this emerging frontier, let us approach as Hamilton did:

“A feeble executive implies a feeble execution of the government. A feeble execution is but another phrase for a bad execution; and a government ill executed, whatever may be its theory, must be, in practice, a bad government.”[10]


[1] Richard Aldous, ‘The Age of Entitlement’ Review: The Dividing Line, The Wall Street Journal, January 17 2020.

[2] James Burnham, The Managerial Revolution: What is Happening in the World. New York: John Day Co., 1941.

[3] (Trump administration to move environmental review staff to states).

[4] (USDA expects ‘significant delays’ in economic research reports).

[5] (Only 41 Bureau of Land Management employees moved west.).

[6] (Should BLM be closer to Western communities or Congress?).

[7] (Trump revamps civil service rules, makes it easier to fire bad federal employees).

[8] Reeves, Thomas C. (1975). Gentleman Boss: The Life of Chester A. Arthur, pp. 325–327.

[9] (Common Good Originalism: Our Tradition and Our Path Forward).

[10] Alexander Hamilton: Federalist No. 70, 1788.