I consider myself a distruptor who shakes things up and seeks to embrace positive change. Donald Trump represents the most cataclysmic change I’ve seen in my three-plus decades in Washington, DC. While there are ample concerns, I am excited, entertained and even somewhat euphoric about it — and I’m a Democrat!
The president’s shoot-from-the-hip style is, by and large, as refreshing as it is robust. He appears to start and finish his days consuming news — a well-established constitutional — and tweeting his approval or disapproval of one thing or another. It is interesting and unusual — at times even alarming — that the incoming leader of the free world shares with us what amounts to a steady stream of consciousness. His social-media hipster communication sometimes drives, but more often amplifies his personal involvement with major deals, from airplane government contract deals with Boeing or Lockheed Martin to where U.S. automakers produce vehicles and the repeal of Obamacare. We now have a disruptive Dealmaker-in-Chief.
Trump may tout his knowledge of the “art of the deal,” but if he wants to accomplish anything during his presidency, he needs to do these three things:
1) Recognize that there’s a lot of anxiety out there. It’s unsettling, even scary to deviate from what you know. That’s particularly true in the Belly of the Beast (DC) where lives are dominated by policies, procedures, rules and regulations. Most things are done in a fairly forthright fashion, much of it based on written constraints that discourage, penalize and punish out-of-the box thinking. For the millions of federal career professionals, new administrations create opportunities as well as potential pitfalls. On one hand, those who disagreed with the prior administration may come forward to the incoming presidential transition team and explain why they disagree with what has been going on and offer to be of assistance. They might be rewarded with a good “plum” job (plum jobs, about 8,000 of them, are political jobs, usually with higher pay). Most federal employees, however, view this time as potentially problematic, burrow in and keep their heads low. Outta sight, outta mind, keeps your job just fine.
The anti-establishment, outsider and outspoken nature of the president is extremely threatening to the mainstay of the federal workforce, the majority of whom are civilian workers supporting their own families with their federal paychecks. While arguably a bloated bureaucracy in need of a restricted diet, it remains the braintrust and workhorse of government services ranging from Social Security and Medicare reimbursement to veterans benefits, food safety, medical research and epidemic control. Mr. Trump should want to calm some anxieties, while keeping true to his demeanor and daily disruptive management and manipulative media style.
2) Learn how deals get done in Washington. President Trump has said he will rip up hundreds of job-killing regulations, a phrase that evokes applause from many quarters, but perhaps the least from those who best know the history and rationale for the set of regulations they have spent careers monitoring. Since neither he nor his spokespeople have provided any meat on the bone as to which regulations he is talking about, we are still asking “Which regulations? Where’s the beef?”
Even if Mr. Trump does come up with a list of regulations to be gutted, there are only a handful of ways in which that could be accomplished. Most would require instituting the Government in the Sunshine Act where public comment is afforded to citizens. Such transparency is good in that it ensures nefarious private backroom deals aren’t cut. That law and others that some might consider “pesky policies and procedures” actually serve as a cleaning agents for what can be messy circumstances. They protect citizens. Mr. Trump will need to ensure that as he goes about his disrupting business in an expedient fashion, and that he doesn’t violate any of these important laws implemented to ensure that government conducts business with integrity, fairness and openness.
3) Resolve conflicts between his businesses and his new job as president. These conflicts pose a serious threat to Trump’s legacy. Because of his striking success in business, Mr. Trump will soon become the most conflict-laden president in U.S. history. He did shift responsibility for running the Trump businesses to his two sons, instituted a new compliance officer and took other important steps. That said, it is incumbent upon him, his staff and family to ensure that he does something even more serious, significant (and soon) to create confidence and clarity that ensures his work (and that of others in his administration—cabinet officials and relatives included) will never go near any matter that has even the potential to be viewed as assisting any of Mr. Trump’s businesses. There should be an abundance of caution in this regard. The appearance of impropriety or conflict is damaging to Mr. Trump and the work that he will be doing for the country. His is an unprecedented challenge and no number of jobs retained in the U.S. can mask the maleficent swamp odors of corruption and self-inurement scandals.
The president should establish (as CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin has suggested) what is called a monitor. The monitor — in the form of an independent, nonpartisan overseer, a person beyond reproach — should have access to all of the myriad Trump organization dealings, including meetings with government officials, deals and pending deals, account statements, etcetera. At least twice a year, the monitor should produce a detailed and digestible report that is available to Congress, the media and the public at large. Here again, transparency is key. It would further demonstrate his ability to put the nation before his business interests. It would go a long way toward addressing what will be persisting questions of conflicts and ethical balancing acts to rest by creating a greater sense of confidence, clarity and accountability.
We start this year with enormous opportunities and an equal amount of trepidation. The economy has been gaining increased steam. We have a new administration about to begin, a time when we hope the nation can heal election-year wounds and come together. Let’s hope that the president and his team take full advantage of this disruptive dealmaker modus operandi and confront the immediate challenges before them. If they do so, he will defy the oddsmakers, disarm adversaries, and garner cooperation from key components of his federal workforce. It will benefit Mr. Trump, his new administration and the country as a whole.