Project 2025 Lays Out A Plan For A Future Conservative President To Dismantle The Deep State

A coalition of conservative leaders and former political appointees has compiled a game plan for the next conservative president to restructure the federal government’s bureaucracy to make it more cost effective, high-performing and accountable to the people…

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FILLER

he greatest challenge confronting a conservative president is the existential need for aggressive use of the vast powers of the Executive Branch to return power; including power currently held by the Executive Branch, back to the American people. So writes Russ Vought, former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Donald Trump in the book “Mandate for Leadership,” compiled by the 2025 Presidential Transition Project. Copies of his report on the Executive Office of the President and the report on “Central Personnel Agencies” were provided exclusively for this article.

The Heritage Foundation helped to launch the 2025 Presidential Transition Project (also known as Project 2025) to avoid the pitfalls Trump faced in 2017. The incoming president struggled to keep his promises to the American people, facing stiff headwinds from a hostile federal bureaucracy Trump often referred to as the Deep State. The

The Heritage Foundation helped to launch the 2025 Presidential Transition Project (also known as Project 2025) to avoid the pitfalls Trump faced in 2017. The incoming president struggled to keep his promises to the American people, facing stiff headwinds from a hostile federal bureaucracy Trump often referred to as the Deep State. The

The Heritage Foundation helped to launch the 2025 Presidential Transition Project (also known as Project 2025) to avoid the pitfalls Trump faced in 2017. The incoming president struggled to keep his promises to the American people, facing stiff headwinds from a hostile federal bureaucracy Trump often referred to as the Deep State. The 2025 Presidential Transition Project aims to equip an incoming conservative president with a policy plan to rein in this bureaucracy.

While the Constitution makes it “abundantly clear” that the executive power of the U.S. government “is not vested in departments or agencies” but in the president himself, Vought warns that “a president today assumes office to find a sprawling federal bureaucracy that all too often is carrying out its own policy plans and preferences—or, worse yet, the policy plans and preferences of a radical, supposedly ‘woke’ faction of the country.”

Vought encourages changes be made to the Executive Office of the President of the United States; notably the elimination of the pro-abortion and pro-transgender Gender Policy Council. However, the bulk of his recommendations for combatting the Deep State appear in the report on “Central Personnel Agencies: Managing the Bureaucracy.” Paul Dans, former chief of staff at the Office of Personnel Management under Trump and director of Project 2025 at The Heritage Foundation co-wrote the report with Ronald Reagan-era OPM Director Donald Devine and Trump-era OPM staffer Dennis Dean Kirk, Project 2025’s associate director for personnel policy.

Dans, Devine and Kirk urge a future conservative president should reinstate many of Trump’s executive orders and issue new ones. A future president should speed up the time it takes to discipline and fire employees; restrict the power of public-sector unions; bring the salaries of federal employees more in line with private-sector workers; reassign entrenched federal employees to “Schedule F,” thereby making them at-will and easier to fire; and work to prevent members of the outgoing administration from “burrowing in.”

The Status Quo

Dans, Devine and Kirk trace the problem of unaccountable bureaucracy back to the progressive movement of the 20th century, which aimed to elevate professional and scientific bureaucrats. This had serious “unintended consequences,” such as making it difficult to reward good employees, difficult to analyze applicants and “almost impossible to fire all but the most incompetent civil servants.”

The authors warn Federal employees often win big bonuses, even amid scandal. For example, Veterans Administration executives who encouraged false reporting of waiting lists for hospital administration during the administration of Barack Obama nonetheless received “outstanding” ratings. Pay increases for government executives have become automatic rather than performance based.

To make matters worse, management cannot screen job applicants for basic qualifications such as intelligence.

Under President Jimmy Carter, the Department of Justice and OPM lawyers signed a legal consent decree eliminating all civil service IQ examinations, based on the claim that IQ tests discriminated on the basis of race. “Courts have ruled that even without evidence of overt, intentional discrimination, such results might suggest discrimination,” the authors note. Congress or a future administration will have to end the doctrine of disparate impact to resolve this problem. An entrenched bureaucracy also hampers the will of the people.

While both Republican and Democrat administrations have aimed to “infiltrate political appointees improperly into the high career civil service,” Democrat efforts have tended to succeed because “they require the cooperation of careerists, who generally lean heavily to the Left.”

The Project 2025 authors, who have extensive experience in government, warn that career staff reserve “excessive numbers of key policy positions as ‘career reserved’ to deny them” to political appointees. In practice, this means that Trump’s appointees could not direct federal policy because entrenched staff from Obama undermined the duly-elected president’s initiatives. Career staff also dominate personnel evaluation boards and lead training efforts that can undermine an administration’s goals.

A. Streamline The Firing Process

Firing bad government employees now requires a herculean effort. The 2025 Presidential Transition Project recommends restructuring the process of disciplining and terminating federal workers.

Trump signed an executive order in 2018 requiring agencies to speed up the process of correcting, disciplining or firing employees who underperform, but Joe Biden later overturned that order. The report encourages reinstating it.

When a private-sector employee faces termination, they often have a simple two-step process to appeal it, while federal employees facing termination have a cornucopia of alphabet-soup options available for appeal. They can appeal to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Merit Systems Protection Board, the Federal Labor Relations Authority or the Office of Special Counsel. Federal employees often “shop” for the friendliest venue.

The project report suggests a conservative president should streamline the process by making the Merit Systems Protection Board the exclusive reviewer of adverse employment actions

B. Curb Public Union Power

Public-sector unions are a large part of how the federal bureaucracy has become so entrenched. Even Democrat President Franklin D. Roosevelt considered federal government union representation incompatible with democracy, in part because their strikes amount to acts against the people. Yet President John F. Kennedy recognized federal union representation and President Jimmy Carter set public-sector bargaining in law as part of an agreement with Congress to pass the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, a reform that itself has been undermined.

Over time, federal agencies narrowed management rights, even though they still exist in law. A conservative president should reinstitute those rights.

Trump issued three executive orders to restrain union abuses: one encouraging agencies to renegotiate all collective bargaining agreements, another encouraging agencies to prevent union representatives from using official time for union activity and one more encouraging agencies to limit labor grievances and prioritize performance over seniority. Biden revoked all of these orders. The Project report urges a future president to reinstate them all.

C. Market-Based Pay & Improved Efficiency

According to a 2016 Heritage Foundation study, federal employees wages are 22% higher than the average wages for similar private-sector workers. With the value of employee benefits factored in, that ratio rises to between 30% and 40%. An American Enterprise Institute study found a 14% pay premium and a 61% total compensation premium for federal employees over that of the private sector. Federal employees also receive more vacation and paid sick leave, retire earlier (normally at age 55 after 30 years), enjoy richer pension annuities and receive automatic cost-of-living adjustments based on where they retire.

The Project 2025 report encourages moving “closer to a market model for federal pay and benefits.”

Republicans in the House of Representatives supported legislation to increase the weight of performance over time-of-service in the federal bureaucracy, but fierce opposition from unions prevented these efforts from advancing. The report encourages a conservative president to “insist that performance be made the priority.”

It also encourages a president to streamline the bureaucracy by acting on a Government Accountability Office report which detailed almost a hundred actions that the executive branch or Congress could take to improve efficiency and eliminate duplicate functions across the administration. Congress did not approve the Trump administration’s proposed consolidations.

D. Schedule F

The report warns a conservative president must counter the influence of leftist bureaucrats who have entrenched themselves within the government as career civil servants. The president, not career civil servants, has the duty to enforce the law, and therefore “career civil servants by themselves should not lead major policy changes and reforms.”

In October 2020, Trump created a new category of federal employee: Schedule F. His executive order directed agency heads to prepare a list of federal employees in “positions of a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character that are not normally subject to change as a result of a Presidential transition.” The order created exceptions from civil service rules when careerists hold such positions, allowing agency heads to transfer them and make them functionally at-will employees, much easier to fire.

The report encourages a future president to reestablish Trump’s Schedule F order. Biden reversed Trump’s Schedule F order.

The report also encourages a future president not to cut political appointees as a cost-cutting measure. It faults the Trump Administration for failing to remove political appointees leftover from the Obama Administration, instead relying on them and on career civil servants to run the government while Trump’s appointees struggled to receive Senate approval. This “led to a lack of agency control.”

As a result, the Trump Administration appointed fewer political appointees; in part due to “historically high partisan congressional obstructions” but also because some officials claimed they limited the number of political appointees “as a way to cut federal spending.”

Whatever the reasoning, this had the effect of permanently hampering the rollout of the new President’s agenda. Unfortunately in those early, critical years, much of the government relied on senior careerists and holdover Obama appointees to carry out the sensitive responsibilities that would otherwise be handled by the new president’s appointees.

The report recommends “a freeze on all top career-position hiring to prevent ‘burrowing-in’ by outgoing political appointees.”

Any conservative president elected in 2024 or 2028 will face immense challenges from the bureaucracy and this report presents a concise roadmap for combatting any Deep State efforts to block his or her agenda. ✪

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