Why it’s so damn hard to cut government


President Obama signs the Every Student Succeeds Act in Dec. 2015

Trump thinks he’s going to reduce the size of government. Good luck.

After the country had gotten along quite well without a cabinet-level Department of Education for more than 200 years, Democratic President Jimmy Carter established one in 1979.

When the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which amended the No Child Left Behind law, was enacted on December 10, 2015, a key objective was to cut back on the bureaucratic bloat in the Department of Education.

To accomplish that, the law included provisions eliminating 49 ineffective or duplicative federal education programs, required that the Secretary of Education identify the number of full-time equivalent positions associated with the eliminated programs and required the Secretary to reduce those positions by an equal amount.

But, as usual, the bureaucracy knew how to protect itself.

When ESSA became law, the Department of Education had about 4,400 employees and an annual budget of $68 billion.

Given the size and complexity of the Department, and the scope of ESSA, you’d think ESSA would have led to substantial personnel cutbacks. Ha!

The Department calculated that ESSA didn’t reauthorize only six programs – Advanced Placement, Elementary and Secondary School Counseling, Mathematics and Science Partnerships, Physical Education Program, School improvement Grants and Transition to Teaching, for a total of 15.5 FTEs.

That’s right, the massive changes wrought by the passage of ESSA led to the elimination of just 15.5 of the department’s 4400 FTE positions.

At that rate, it will take at least 283 years to eliminate the department, the goal of many hard-core conservatives since the department was created. I’d guess the department is safe.