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Federal employees: the unconstitutional fourth branch of government?

Whatever the merits or outcome of the most recent battle, Trump/GOP Congress vs. FBI, it is merely the latest skirmish in a long war. It is a conflict that pits elected officials against career federal employees, entrenched, unaccountable, and generally un-fireable.

The most notable early such fight came when Andrew Jackson, the nation’s seventh president, took on the Second Bank of the United States and its cadre of unelected and powerful officials, grown fat on the money of American taxpayers. Jackson won that battle.

The bureaucracy Old Hickory whipped in 1833 was a drop in a bucket compared to the behemoth that exists today.

Rulers, ranging from kings who ruled by “divine right” to those elected by popular vote, have always had problems making sure the hired help was following orders, not giving them. The sheer number of employees of the U.S. government has grown to such enormous size that is has been called the “unconstitutional fourth branch of government.”

In 1940 the executive department of the federal government had 699-thousand civilian federal employees on the payroll. Two-hundred-fifty-six-thousand of them worked for the U.S. Army or U.S. Navy. All the other departments — State, Treasury, Justice, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor — lumped together had a total of 343-thousand civilian employees.

Today the federal government has an estimated 2.1-million civilian employees. During the eight Obama years, 130-thousand civilians were added to the federal payroll. That’s not nearly all the picture. In addition, it is reliably estimated that the federal government employs an additional 3.7-million individuals as contract employees, an increase of 1.4-million workers on the federal payroll since 1999. Much of the increase in contract workers occurred during the eight years of the George W. Bush presidency. Thus, the executive department of the U.S. government pays the wages of about 4.8-million federal workers, direct employees and contract workers.

All those who work for the executive department, employees and contract workers, answer, theoretically at least, to the President of United States. FDR in 1940 oversaw 10 cabinet level departments. Today Trump has responsibility for the work of 15 such departments. That’s a lot of hired help to supervise, especially considering that nearly all of them are civil service employees, untouchable, un-fireable except in rare and extreme circumstances.

Another major change, unlike the situation in 1940, is that about one-third of all federal employees are now organized into labor unions.

Some may recall that President Ronald Reagan fired 11,345 union-organized air traffic controllers in August, 1981. He made it stick. As far as I can determine, no president in the intervening 37 years has successfully disciplined any of the millions of executive department workers who supposedly work for him.

Will Trump be able to assert his authority over the 113,500-employee Department of Justice, which includes 35,000 who work for the FBI?

He has little to lose. His own political base seems to back him. And he will offend very few who don’t already dislike him.

Federal employees donated a total of two million dollars to the 2016 presidential election; 95% of that money ($1.9 million) went to Hillary Clinton.  DOJ employees contributed $286,797 (97%) to Clinton’s campaign and $8756 (3%) to Trump.

The point of this “Rant” is not to support either side in the battle of Trump/Republican Congress vs. FBI/DOJ/Democrat Congress over the infamous “memos.” We’ll see how that plays out.

I am by no means Donald Trump’s biggest fan, but this is gonna be fun to watch.

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