Draining the Swamp one Appointee at a Time? Trump’s Management Style at the Federal Level
It’s been said before, and it will no doubt be said again, but Donald Trump is not your typical American Head of State.
From a completely atypical – and ultimately tentatively successful – approach with North Korea to the use of tariffs that go against mass conventional economic wisdom, Trump has proven willing to approach problems and solutions with a distinctly ‘Trumpian’ approach.
An approach that has, in all honesty, worked out well for him and his agenda in the aggregate with a booming economy and respectable foreign policy record thus far under the eccentric President’s belt. Eccentricity after all isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
But one place Trump has been applying his trademark confrontational managerial style that only seems to be noticed one leftist-scarring appointee at a time is the federal bureaucracy; the dreaded ‘Swamp.’ His most recent appointee, David Malpass to the World Bank presidency epitomizes the ‘Trumpian’ approach as Politico reports,
“President Donald Trump is expected to tap Treasury Department official David Malpass as the U.S. pick to lead the World Bank, according to senior administration officials, a clear sign the administration wants to rein in the international financial institution.
Malpass, Treasury’s undersecretary for international affairs, has said global organizations like the World Bank “have grown larger and more intrusive” and “the challenge of refocusing them has become urgent and more difficult.”
The U.S. has historically been allowed to choose the head of the World Bank as its creation and validity have historically hinged on US endorsement. Nominating someone who has been so openly critical of the bank could intensify resistance to this from growing economic competitors and some even say result in Trump’s rejection.
Before joining the administration, Malpass was an economic adviser to Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. He previously served as chief economist at Bear Stearns, where National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow was his mentor.
He was also a deputy assistant Treasury secretary under President Ronald Reagan and deputy assistant secretary of State under President George H.W. Bush. He’s historically been very critical of global financial institutions like the World Bank and IMF and their economic practices. However more recently he has reportedly been a key catalyst in US-China trade negotiations; something that likely put him in Trump’s crosshairs.
A Desire for ‘Doers’
Trump’s selection, the most recent in a long string of controversial yet effective appointees, epitomizes the ideal Trump manager; a person who has an opinion on issues and gets things done about it. While some argue appointing critics of organizations to lead them is simply sabotage in disguise the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
Think about customer reviews on products, the most prominent opinions are either those that are extremely positive or extremely negative. This is because the only people who are *motivated* to post a review on anything are those who love it, and those who hate it.
While Malpass by no means ‘hates’ the World Bank – again he’s been instrumental in helping them broker deals – he is a vocal critic. Malpass sees deep seated economic problems with some aspects of the organization and thus is *motivated* to do things about it, hence his instrumentality. David Malpass is a ‘Trumpian’ manager.
This is by no means limited to recent appointees. The position of EPA chief has been a hotbed of controversy with Trump consistently appointing vocal deregulators to the bureaucracies most powerful position.
We saw this first with Scott Pruitt, whose appointment met immediate resistance from the left. Upon finally being graced with Pruitt’s resignation last year the left traded a nightmare for a fever dream with his replacement, Andrew Wheeler.
As per the New York Times, Wheeler has come under scrutiny for his years spent as a powerful energy lobbyist. He has represented an electric utility, a uranium producer, and, most significantly, a coal magnate who paid Mr. Wheeler’s former lobbying firm more than $2.7 million over eight years.
“U.S. President Donald Trump’s new pick to run the Environmental Protection Agency told lawmakers on Wednesday he does not believe climate change is a major crisis, and would continue to undo Obama-era emission limits if confirmed.
Trump nominated EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler last week to run the agency permanently, seeking a strong advocate for his pro-fossil fuels agenda – a choice that cheered business interests and drawn scorn from environmentalists.”
Of course, perhaps arguably an even more prominent sample of President Trump’s go-to managerial mold for ‘swamp draining’ is Secretary of Education Betsy Devos who has faced hysterical resistance from detractors ever since her appointment came along with a stated desire to retool the public education system towards emulating more successful private sector models; something considered threatening by some actors like tenured public teachers and their unions.
Whether appointing a slew of critics to head organizations they’re motivated to genuinely work on will be enough to drain ‘the Swamp’ of America’s massive bureaucratic blob in the end is up for debate. But one thing is certain, President Trump wants to do it his own way.
Editor’s note: I’ve seen this many times with CEO’s and effective leaders. Putting a critic in charge of sluggish organization – and challenging them to fix it – means that the critic turned leader must make good on his critiques, that deadwood in that organization will be removed and that everyone in that organization must hustle to prove themselves once again. It can revitalize and re-focus an organization.
In the political environment, motives can be questioned, so its a bit more difficult, but the technique still works (possibly even better…).
It doesn’t always work though. I recall the assignment of CIA critic Jame Woolsey as CIA Director was not the best choice. This technique must be used with some discretion.