The United States, Incorporated

“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…

…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. One might think of this agency as a bulked-up version of the existing Government Accountability Office.”

-Arnold Kling, “Designing a Better Regulatory State.” National Affairs. Winter 2022.

What could possibly go wrong?

Let’s abstract out most of the power of the President and Cabinet into one unelected position and give them a free hand to reorganize the government as they see fit. Further, let’s abstract out the oversight function on Congress to a single auditor. The President turns into a figurehead. Congress can pass bills, but it has no power to determine whether those bills are being implemented according to their intent.

Presumably, to extend the metaphor, citizens would become the equivalent of stockholders, but they never have the opportunity to sell their stock and buy another. They have the power to elect the board, who can pass legislation, but who are not accountable for the results. What happens when the federal government starts doing something people don’t like? They can vote someone in that will appoint another COO? Without any input on who this person is? They can elect someone who will pass different bills? What exactly will the President and Congress do?

If it made sense to run government in this way, wouldn’t these kinds of qualities already be important for running for President or being appointed to the cabinet? I’d imagine positions like Deputy Secretary are filled with people with years of experience in the federal agency they are part of. Would it make sense to replace these people with other people with broad “industry” experience?

Is the organization of government the same as organization of corporations? Is it even the same skill set?

Some obvious problems. What happens when the COO and Auditor positions collude? What happens if the COO position is so powerful a President is unable to fire her? For example, it’s a billionaire that paid to get the President elected and act as a figurehead and now the billionaire plans to run the country?

The least of your problems is the government gaming the auditor’s metrics. But, it’s also not an insignificant problem.

There are so many reasons the argument provided in this article is bad. As bad as “democracy” or “representative democracy” is, the hot mess of it is surely better than this idea.