To improve our agencies’ performance, we need to think about restructuring the federal bureaucracy itself.
I propose we do so by creating two positions within the executive branch that operate in tension with each other. The first would be the chief operating officer, charged with managing the administrative agencies. The second would be the chief auditor, charged with leading a watchdog agency that monitors the administrative state for effectiveness and abuses of authority. Both the president and Congress would oversee the balance of power between the two positions.
Much like that of a private firm, the chief operating officer (COO) of the regulatory state would direct the operations of the entire executive branch, including independent agencies like the FDA, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Reserve Board, and the Patent and Trademark Office. The COO’s charge would be to maximize operational effectiveness. He would have the authority to make decisions without the approval of the president.
Unlike presidents, who tend to enter the Oval Office without having supervised anything larger than a Senate staff, the COO should come into office with strong organizational-management experience — ideally based on having led a large, private-sector firm. This person should be familiar with the challenges of improving incentive systems, streamlining organizational processes, planning, budgeting, facilitating coordination among disparate units, articulating objectives, and aligning organizational efforts toward those objectives. He should have the authority to put this experience to work within the regulatory state.
To unravel the tangle of agencies that are the legacy of so many congressional bills, the COO should be empowered to re-organize, restructure, merge, or eliminate any existing agencies, refine their missions, and appoint their directors.
With a COO in charge of managing government agencies, the roles of Congress and the president would adjust accordingly. Congress would act more like a board of directors with respect to the agencies, and the president would act more like a board chairman. The COO would assume the responsibility of presenting a plan and budget to Congress for approval, while the president would have the authority to hire and fire the COO at will. In a spirit of conservative incrementalism, we could first apply the COO model to one functional domain, such as domestic infrastructure, before extending it to the others.
The second new position — the chief auditor (CA) — would lead a powerful audit agency that provides independent evaluations of agency performance.