Return to Constitutional Government

By George P. Shultz, The Wall Street Journal, July 8, 2014, p. A 15

Let’s get back to governing in the way called for by the Constitution. In the executive branch, this means that the president governs through people who are confirmed by the Senate and can be called upon to testify by the House or the Senate at any time. They are accountable people.

Right now, the White House is full of unconfirmed and unaccountable people responsible for various subjects and, all too often, the cabinet officers work through them. The right way is for the president to regard his cabinet as part of his staff. That way, you have access to the career people—something unavailable to White House staff. I have had the privilege of leading four units of government and, believe me, when you work with career people, they will work with you and they have lots to offer. Among other things, management will improve, something that is sorely needed today. Of course, for this system to work, presidential slots must be filled, so the Senate should give nominees a prompt up or down vote.

Don’t you think it’s also about time Congress lived up to its constitutional duties derived from the power of the purse? Continuing resolutions are a total cop-out. The way to build a budget is to set a framework and then work from the bottom up: Hold hearings, understand what the departments and agencies are doing, and help set priorities. That way, the budget will be up-to-date, and such a process, which is in large part operational in character, will get everyone into more of a problem-solving mode. So, better budgeting will also reduce knee-jerk partisanship.

Our country’s prosperity and self-confidence will improve when we see an executive branch that can set sensible policies and execute them: management matters. And we will be better off if Congress does the hard work involved in executing the power of the purse.

Mr. Shultz is a former secretary of Labor, Treasury and State, and a former director of the Office of Management and Budget.