Author Profile 2009:
DONALD J. DEVINE (Shadyside, Maryland)

WHY THIS Q&A: I always wanted to sit down with this political-science refugee who modernized the Civil Service during the first Reagan Administration. Devine's 1991 book Reagan's Terrible Swift Sword nailed it to the wall: "Government is neither business administration nor campaign management, although it borrows from each... The major thesis of this book is that government is political; and in order for it to be managed effectively, it must be organized and administered according to political principles."

WHAT TO LISTEN FOR: Devine takes this discussion to some surprising places. His portrait of Woodrow Wilson will make you almost (but not quite) forget FDR and LBJ. Devine's use of the word "Progressive" is standard in meaning but pejorative in intent -- Progressives wanted the government to be less political while doing more, which Devine judges to be a double mistake. He does not see the new President as a doctrinaire leftist and urges hostile conservatives to read Obama's first book. And Devine's family-centered take on the 43rd President is so startling I won't spoil it here...

For a conventional bio of Donald Devine, see

His most recent book is In Defense of the West: American Values Under Seige (University Press of America, 2004, 178 pages)

Blue text during the Q&A indicates a clarifying insert. When one of those inserts is made part of a response, adding brackets to the blue "ink" is to confirm that those words were added rather than spoken.

PART ONE: Political Management plus Bureaucratic Focus

FRANK GREGORSKY: Thanks for blocking out a good chunk of time today [on Friday, January 16, 2009]. I'm here to delve into your unique perspective on Political Management. You served President Ronald Reagan in a way that saved billions for us taxpayers while reinforcing the better federal employees. Yet you come out of the University and, while respecting theory, wrote a semi-memoir that is so full of political reality as to scramble the pro-business notions of the right and the pro-bureaucracy tendencies of the left. What took place back there in your formative years?

DONALD J. DEVINE: I was a conservative in the University, and you couldn't get hired as a philosophical conservative. So I specialized in methodology and epistemology -- that's what I taught at the University of Maryland. That's how I got in, that's how I got tenure -- and that's how I got the first book.

GREGORSKY: The Political Culture of the United States.

DEVINE: Actually, it was The Attentive Public [Rand McNally & Company, 1970, ASIN B0010WA764]. Aaron Wildavsky published it, and he was a great political scientist. It's one of the first books that made use of a great amount of data. I took all the polls that had been published and analyzed them. The theme is that the "attentive" public is the real "public" in a democracy -- the ones who pay attention, which is a relative [concept] -- I put it at 25%.

GREGORSKY: And the reaction to that first book?

DEVINE: The Attentive Public received excellent academic reviews, as did the second one on the culture. Very few people understood Terrible Swift Sword, however, at least in a positive way. Later on, in fact for many years, in the Public Administration textbooks, they would use me as the Bad Guy -- you know, "this is the wrong way to run government."

GREGORSKY: Drew Lewis [Transportation Secretary from 1981 to ‘85] is another classic hands-on government administrator who had also run for office. Your Swift Sword cites Reagan's first GSA chief, Gerald Carmen, in a similar vein. But I didn't notice anyone like you, or Lewis or Carmen, in the upper ranks during the past eight years. General Petraeus performed brilliantly in Iraq after 2006, but he comes out of a whole different tradition. You are the only one who has been able to provide some theory; manage the nuts & bolts of policy change to deliver on reform; and discuss governance as a philosophical conservative.

DEVINE: Well, I hate to throw off your thesis [laughter] -- but Karl Rove does think that way. Now whether he did it is arguable. He certainly didn't do it the way I would have done it. But [many of the Bush people] did have a very strong sense of political management. Unfortunately, it was not based on any set of ideas.

GREGORSKY: You mean they managed the [center-right] coalition [for electoral gain] as opposed to managing the government?

DEVINE: No, they managed the government by getting political people who would follow the Bush line -- which might seem to be what I'm saying. The difference was the absence of a coherent philosophy. What they did was enormously pragmatic in terms of any "cohesion" it brought.


DEVINE: Having political control can be used badly. An extreme case of that is what the Soviets did by having the political officer as the second in command of every unit. And that's why so many people turn against Political Management, because it can be very bad. Or good -- it all depends on what political ideal the team is organized around.

GREGORSKY: And what is the opposite of Political Management?

DEVINE: Neutral Bureaucracy -- but that's also a political direction, because it's the theme [that traditional public-administration theorists] use to unite their bureaucracy.

GREGORSKY: "Let's all unite around neutrality, especially if it means we get to ignore the agenda of the incoming elected bosses."

DEVINE: Right. "Neutrality" is a political concept too. It also happens to be a myth -- there is no such thing as a "neutral" bureaucracy.

GREGORSKY: But you can have a neutral police force; or a neutral water works. I mean, there are groups of public employees that are narrowly focused and the resulting professionalism is impressive. Look at how the Coast Guard thrived during Katrina -- "our mission is water rescues." Bingo.

DEVINE: [Pause] Every bureaucracy has some motivating idea. The political scientist James Q. Wilson is the major author of the concept that bureaucracies work when they narrow their mission and make it very specific and clear. When they mix goals, bureaucracies go wrong. Wilson cited Gifford Pinchot, Theodore Roosevelt's Secretary of the Interior. Pinchot had one motivating idea.

GREGORSKY: Conservation. [Strictly speaking, "conservation" was the cause while "forest-management" became the profession. "Under Pinchot's guidance, the number of national forests increased from 32 in 1898 to 149 in 1910" -- from the website. Unlike modern environmentalists, Pinchot tried to get into Congress and eventually served two terms as Governor of Pennsylvania. His landmark book is The Fight for Conservation.]

DEVINE: As long as Interior was motivated by the idea of conservation, and wasn't distracted by anything else, it was a great institution. Later they got confused by throwing in making money [off of the public lands], and after that came "environment." With three missions, they must screw up.

Bureaucracies always have some kind of theme. At best, they'll have the simple theme or mission, and they'll make it work. And then the "political" job is to decide whether doing that is what you should be doing [given where the country now finds itself].

Passage from Swift Sword, page 78: "Political leadership is today complicated further by the size and diversity of modern government. Not only is power shared by the legislative, executive and judicial branches, but the executive branch itself is divided into countless agencies with different interests. There are four million military and civilian employees distributed into interest-protected enclaves, united only by their stake in a career system with relatively uniform benefits. To manage the four million, the President is given less than three thousand political appointees (and an additional thirteen hundred members of commissions with very limited power). Somehow he must rally the relative few to lead the four million, while Congress, the courts, the states, foreign affairs, organized interests and media all pull in different directions." 

GREGORSKY: Sticking with management, I think the worst decision by [outgoing President] Bush is something the Left never even discusses -- creating the Department of Homeland Security. The reason we were given [in June 2002] for unifying 22 agencies into one super monster was "the computer systems can't talk to each other and the staffs aren't sharing information, which leads to terrorist attacks." So we violate everything we know about focus and dedication -- not to mention career incentives -- and about how to measure what an agency does. Just so the computer data will be pooled?!? What logic was there in doing what Bush did?

DEVINE: Because we still think the way Max Weber [pronounced Vay-ber, with a mild emphasis on the first syllable] told us to think about organizations -- that all information goes from the bottom up to the top [slight laugh], and it increases in knowledge as it gets to the top.

GREGORSKY: He really believed that?

DEVINE: I guess [laughter] -- certainly American Public Administration did. What we got is Weber through Woodrow Wilson setting up the American Society for Public Administration -- and then they refined it [pause] probably much more dogmatically than Weber [meant it].

Max Weber (1984)GREGORSKY: When you open the entry on Max Weber, you find a German academic and author "who founded or co-founded a number of now separate academic disciplines, including the modern study of sociology, public administration and organizational theory. He was also a polyglot who in his lifetime mastered four foreign languages and became a major scholar of religion as well, writing on the ancient religions of Judaism, India and China." One major work was Politics as a Vocation, and in it "he defined the state as an entity which claims a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force, a definition that became pivotal to the study of modern Western political science... His analysis of bureaucracy in his Economy and Society is still central to the modern study of organizations.” And yet, in 30 years of reading political books and hanging around with conservative thinkers, no one ever told me to read anything by this fascinating character. Does his work have any influence on U.S. conservatives today?

DEVINE: I don't know.

GREGORSKY: Where do you think he was coming from, with his body of thought?

DEVINE: He said a lot of intelligent things. His book on The Protestant Ethic is probably wrong, but it's a good solid book.

GREGORSKY: In some ways Weber seems like a Peter Drucker 50 years earlier.

DEVINE: Yeah, he was. And he had enormous influence on the beginnings of American public administration -- although, again, he was much more subtle than it turned out to be.

PART TWO: Who Was that Un-Masked Man?

GREGORSKY: I don't want to "bash" Bush, but I hope we can be clinical about what we should learn from the past three, four, five years. This man who displays not a trace of introspection, hugs people after their house or farm has been blown away, and cheerfully admits to "doing a lot of crying" -- a great connector but a terrible articulator? Who do you think George W. Bush was, especially as President, and "how" did he think?

DEVINE: Bush is a strong personality. Not consistent or deep, but strong. In terms of policy, I'd say Bush is almost a classic Progressive -- not only with [the hyper-ambitious] foreign policy, but on domestic policy too. I was deputy campaign manager for Steve Forbes [during 1998-2000] and my main job was following what Bush said. Early in the campaign, when it was dangerous to talk this way among Republicans, Bush said I am not a small-government conservative; I'm an EFFICIENT-government conservative. That told you exactly what he was going to be [in office].

GREGORSKY: Yes and no. He didn't take management seriously, and it's hard to get efficiency by ignoring management. As for being a strong personality -- nine out of 10 liberals will swear that this guy was led around by others, especially his Vice-President.

DEVINE: "The neocons and Dick Cheney [are controlling the President]"? But it wasn't Cheney, it was George W. Bush. I told people that from the beginning. And now it's so clear -- with Douglas Feith's book. Feith is your classic neoconservative, but his book states that they were trying to limit the involvement of the military [so as to avoid overextension in Iraq]. Don Rumsfeld favored decentralization, and the military planned to withdraw from the population centers -- to get out of the police functions as soon as they could. But they were overruled, by Bush himself. Paul Bremer says he was told by Bush, one on one, to stay in there, administer Iraq, and turn it into an effective functioning government -- a democratic government.

The book Devine just brought up is War and Decision by Douglas J. Feith. "As Under Secretary of Defense for Policy from July 2001 until August 2005, he helped devise the U.S. government's strategy for the war on terrorism and contributed to policy-making for the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns." SOURCE: Hudson Institute web display

GREGORSKY: If you like Doug Feith's book, what do we learn from it?

DEVINE: Feith's book is an accurate description of how the bureaucracy works. I wouldn't say I "like" it -- it's mainly the documents he reprints in there that interest me. Bureaucracy is contained warfare, and it's enormously hard to deal with, especially on difficult questions. On routine questions, it's alright. But fighting a war? You had the Vice-President's office, the Pentagon, the State Department and CIA all going in different directions. The four major agencies in charge of policy for Iraq -- each is arguing a position that isn't really what their position is. Even Feith and [Paul] Wolfowitz were trying to limit the involvement. Now, Cheney was certainly pushing it, but Bush's instincts and outlook were totally those of a Wilsonian Progressive.

GREGORSKY: Do we know where he got those instincts? I mean, he didn't get that kind of sweeping global ambition from his father, who had the same choice on Iraq in early 1991 and made the opposite decision. Was it the Christian evangelical strain?

DEVINE: It's more a personality kind of thing. There's a wonderful book written by a husband-and-wife team. It's called The Bushes. Have you ever read that?

GREGORSKY: No. [The authors are Peter and Rochelle Schweizer. It's a fat paperback, 624 pages, re-issued in January 2005 by Anchor Books and listing at $16.oo on Amazon -- ISBN-10: 0385498640 and ISBN-13: 978-0385498647.]

DEVINE: It's fascinating -- a pro-Bush book mostly written before George W. comes under the authors' frame of mind as a President. It's not something I would've read normally; but, again, it was part of my job to understand politics. The book's purpose was to say how great the Bushes were. The book's only failure is that it's so honest that it tells more than the authors know they're telling [laughter].

GREGORSKY: It's unwittingly honest?

DEVINE: Yeah. Jeb was the serious guy; read the books; did well in school; did whatever his father told him -- he was the Good Son. And George W. figured "I cannot compete with this guy" -- so he became the opposite of Jeb. Whatever Jeb was, he was the opposite. Jeb read? George W. didn't read. Jeb was serious? George became a playboy -- [this pattern goes] right through. And how cruel history is. The two of them first ran for Governor the same year -- 1994. And Jeb gets his election stolen basically by Lawton Chiles with his attack on Social Security -- that last-minute mailing [by Governor Chiles] cost Jeb the election. It's so clear in this book -- they were grooming Jeb to be the President. Not George, who they considered a wild guy -- which he was; you couldn't tell where he's coming from.

GREGORSKY: But, in that super-Republican year of ‘94, George W. manages to upset Ann Richards and become Governor of Texas.

DEVINE: While Jeb has to run a second time [to become Governor of Florida], four years later. And the book has a little story about the first Governors Association meeting after that election. George W. introduces him in a lighthearted but -- to me -- very nasty way. Well, ya got here a little late. I'm not even sure the authors gave an exact quote; but the sense of this scene is one of [the wayward son settling a score].

GREGORSKY: So George is the "anti," but he's still within the family. Where else does he get his ideas? What manner of man is this, other than "he's not his brother"?

DEVINE: I think that's all he is. I'm not a psychiatrist. I don't know what goes on in there, but -- he's a guy that just kinda goes by his instincts. I mean, he's not a stupid person, but he has no background. He never read anything -- apparently, not until he became President. Now he reads biographies, and other books given to him by Karl Rove.

GREGORSKY: So, despite what you are saying about this instinctive drive, Bush really needed a guy like Rove. He could not have organized [a successful national campaign] on his own?

DEVINE: Well -- I don't know. What do you have to organize?

GREGORSKY: An intellectual template.

DEVINE: You mentioned my early days in the University. But most of my adult life was as a political consultant, right? And 95% of what happens is luck. Being in the right place at the right time.

GREGORSKY: [Not hiding his skepticism]

DEVINE: Think about it. Somebody's gonna win an election, right? And the guy who won is the first one who blinked his eye three times (or something). So he wins -- and the consultant or the manager takes credit for it. But that isn't why it happened.

GREGORSKY: Well, okay -- campaigning and elections entail a lot of luck. But planning and running an Administration should be anything but luck.

DEVINE: It's the exact same thing.


DEVINE: The world is not a well-organized place! And I predict the next disaster is going to be worse. The classic theory says that, in an emergency, the experts will organize things, come in, and [much of what they do will supposedly] work. But you can't organize it -- it happens too quickly. In an emergency, about 90% of welfare-delivery is by individuals and groups that aren't under anybody's control.

GREGORSKY: So-called "spontaneous organization."

DEVINE: That's right. But some of that spontaneous organization is seen as negative. In Katrina, they decided that a lot of people who got in there messed things up. So what has FEMA -- or now it's DHS -- learned? "We gotta be more careful about who we let in and out." The result is a national ID that only Official Responders can get in order to come in during an emergency -- which means, next time, nobody will be able to get through the perimeter to help. If you try, you will get arrested.

That's why I'm a free-marketer -- because you'd be insane to turn over, to that kind of system, any kind of important job that could be done otherwise.

GREGORSKY: I'm confused. Your Swift Sword book is more about control or at least direction than it is about fatalism. Right now you are sounding very fatalistic, as if the entire realm of politics and government is a crap-shoot.

DEVINE: All my view of bureaucracy does is to make the best you can of it. You can't make it work unless you go back to James Wilson, Aaron Wildavsky -- and Drucker says this too: Simple missions. You can't give ‘em too much to do.

GREGORSKY: So, the same imperative for business works in government. A focused company delivering an understandable product or service [is the best course in most cases] -- and beware of conglomerates.

DEVINE: Yeah. The same problem can happen in the private sector: With all of these banks having to break up, we're learning it again. The difference, and the greatest attribute, is that in the private sector they can go out of business.

There was more back-and-forth on this topic, but we'll leave you with Devine's favorite quote -- from Nixon-era OMB chief Roy Ash, who made his early fame as a wizard of conglomeration (Litton Industries): "Imagine that you were the chief executive officer of your company and that the board of directors was made up of your customers, your suppliers, your employees, and your competitors, and that you required a majority vote on everything. Wouldn't you conduct your business in a different way than you do now? Going from the private to the public sector is not going from the minor leagues to the major leagues in baseball; it is like going from softball to ice hockey."

We also talked about the L.A. Times story on how President Obama could use his several million munchkins as an alternative delivery network. It's already being retooled for permanent political advocacy, but could also be mobilized to help in a national emergency. Devine's response was one more surprise: "I think that could be great -- because [during a national disaster] they would try to go down there to volunteer; the Homeland Security people would block them; and maybe Obama would learn: Hey, get rid of those jerks and let my guys go in there."

INTERMISSION: For further linkage and context

Check out the Los Angeles Times on the prospect of several million twentysomethings being e-prompted by the President to do -- well, use your imagination. E-rupt? E-vacuate? (Anything but E-lucidate, since mobs are not cut out for that.) When Rush Limbaugh contemplated the scenarios, the result was an unusually chilled spine. But the mainstream media remain sanguine and credulous in these early and yeasty days of Obama-nation:,0,1892559.story

In a 2006 column written for the American Conservative Union Foundation, Devine showed how DHS-ism, by blurring the mission of the newly merged agencies, hampered early relief work in and around New Orleans:

In September 2008, a Heritage Foundation paper reported: "The DHS currently answers to 86 different congressional committees and subcommittees. The 9/11 Commission recommended that Congress consolidate oversight of homeland security... In 2005, Congress did create two standing committees [for] handle homeland security issues. However, the Senate committee still splits jurisdiction between homeland security and governmental affairs, lessening the attention given to homeland security, and the DHS is still subject to the whims of all 84 other committees." As a contrary and sterling example of bureaucratic focus, you can be uplifted -- figuratively speaking -- by the U.S. Coast Guard. National Review was one of the few political magazines to explain why that agency escaped any and all criticism in the wake of Katrina. NR got the piece from retired Newsday reporter Lou Dolinar --

Finally, as Devine noted, Douglas Feith's book War and Decision is rich with documentation and, according to Daniel Gallington in the Washington Times, "required reading for someone who wants a better understanding of why and how we went to war in Iraq. And, especially for the Iraq war critics, the book allows one to put strong opinions aside for a moment and learn about the decision process and how it ended up where it did. It's all here -- and, whether one agrees with it or not, it's fascinating story and very well told." Gallington and other reviewers are excerpted at

PART THREE: The Legacy of Wilson, the Lessons of Iraq

GREGORSKY: Your Swift Sword book almost says that Woodrow Wilson was a more effective centralizer and reckless innovator than what both the left and right agree took place during Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. Before we get into what to expect from Barack Obama, go back a century to this man Wilson.

DEVINE: Woodrow Wilson is the originator of modern U.S. government -- right up to today's economic crisis! It's his Federal Reserve System that is inflating the money supply. He's the first one to take over what was then America's biggest industry: Agriculture. He started the Farm Loan program to bail them out.

GREGORSKY: He was the first President to use military force against a Communist government -- in Russia, backing the whites against the reds. Come to think of it, he got the first federal subsidies for road-building -- 40 years before Eisenhower proposed the Interstate Highway System.

DEVINE: Everything goes back to his two terms -- but he laid the groundwork much earlier. He wrote one of the seminal books of all time on how Congress diffuses power -- and concluded that we gotta put the power together in the Presidency. [The book came out in 1901: Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics.] He said we need this little thing -- what came to be called the Office of Management and Budget.

GREGORSKY: So FDR gets too much credit (or blame). You're saying Wilson and his programs are really the revolutionary force. Wilson's legacy is more pervasive and systematic.

DEVINE: Absolutely. No question. He starts the American Society for Public Administration. He starts the American Political Science Association. The Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Trade Commission -- this guy is the greatest genius of American politics after the Founders. And it's all from his graduate-student years in Germany! He looked at Prussia and he decided: Prussia works. And the reason it works is because, when the guys at the top want to do something, they do it. The Prussian bureaucracy works. So Wilson comes back and writes that the main defect in the American Constitution is the separation of powers! This guy is radical to the extreme.

GREGORSKY: As well as the only academic we had that ever became President. So ideas, in that sense, if you stick with ‘em and push ‘em [as solutions], have an incredible influence.

DEIVINE: Ohhh, ideas are everything. Ideas are what the world's about. Well, two things -- and this also comes from Weber: Charisma and the routinization of charisma. You start off with the idea person, the romantic figure, the great leader -- and then his vision wears out and it turns into bureaucracy. Weber is absolutely right there. That is the greatest summary of what government, and social life in general, are all about.

From Blackwell Reference Online:

Weber...notes that those attributed charismatic authority are considered "extraordinary and endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities...regarded as divine in origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of [those qualities] the individual concerned is treated as a leader." In this sense, the social relationships directly involved with charismatic authority are strictly personal and irrational in character. Weber points out, however, that if these relationships are not to remain a transitory phenomenon, they and the charismatic authority they are involved with "cannot remain stable; they will become either traditionalized or rationalized, or a combination of both...." What Weber means is that, over time, either a bureaucracy vested with rational legal authority will supersede the charismatic leader or institutionalized structures will incorporate the charismatic impetus. This rationalization or institutionalization process is what Weber refers to as the routinization of charisma.

GREGORSKY: For years, the left and right fought over what the "lessons of Vietnam" were. From the mid-‘70s well into the ‘90s, you could always start an argument by asking about those lessons. What are the lessons of Iraq?

DEVINE: The main lesson is one that George W. Bush originally said himself: You can't "nation-build." That's number one. Number two, you should be careful getting in. No matter how weak the opposition looks, they're a lot stronger once you are dealing with them [on the ground].

GREGORSKY: Aren't you basically talking about the old Weinberger Doctrine?

DEVINE: Absolutely!

GREGORSKY: If you're going in, combine massive force with laser-like objectives --

DEVINE: And I wrote that [about Iraq in 2003]. In fact, I used the Weinberger Doctrine when Weinberger was against it. I loved him, went to his funeral -- but he didn't support his own doctrine when it came to Iraq.

GREGORSKY: Are we in effect nation-building in Afghanistan?

DEVINE: Now we are. We've changed the mission there, too.

GREGORSKY: Will Obama continue that?

DEVINE: I don't know.

GREGORSKY: After spending 10 times what they told us it would cost, the loss by Republicans of the Congress [as swing voters shifted to the Democrats in protest], and then the revival of good planning and solid results under Generals Petraeus and Odierno, at least we can say that President Bush "cleaned up his mess." He didn't turn into a pile of jelly like Lyndon Johnson did during 1967 and ‘68. Would you be willing to give him that much?

DEVINE: Well, I think he made it better off than it was [three years ago]. The Surge did help in Baghdad. But, we shouldn't kid ourselves: It was "ethnic cleansing" that worked, and it's still going on. The only way [restoring order in Iraq] is going to work is to separate ‘em, even when they stay in the same city.

GREGORSKY: How conscious was the outgoing President Bush of the fact that he had a "Wilsonian" foreign policy?

DEVINE: Not at all. He denied it. But clearly Bush is almost a classic Progressive -- and not only in foreign policy, in domestic policy too.

GREGORSKY: Did you vote for Bush in '04?

DEVINE: I think I finally did -- but on the grounds that I live in Maryland and wouldn't make any difference.

[Mutual laughter]

GREGORSKY: Tough question -- or maybe not. Setting aside their respective levels of personality morality, and looking just at economic and trade policy, who was the better President: Bill Clinton or George W. Bush?

DEVINE: Bill Clinton.

GREGORSKY: That's what Bruce Bartlett concluded in his [2006] book Impostor.

DEVINE: He's right. Bruce and I talked very often [when he was writing that].

PART FOUR: "Nobody cares about running the government"

GREGORSKY: If she had stayed a Senator, Hillary Clinton would have been able to preside over a Democratic government in exile (waiting for the official one to make fatal mistakes). As it is, she has thrown away her independence to take a paycheck from Barack Obama and preside over what some people say is a government in exile -- the U.S. Department of State. Any advice for her?

DEVINE: [Pause] Be careful. Don't follow your predecessor Madeleine Albright's famous statement to Colin Powell. When he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, she asked him, "What's the point of you saving this superb military for, Colin, if we can't use it?" Actually I think [the new Administration] will be much more realistic on foreign policy.

GREGORSKY: What about managing this monstrosity known as the State Department? Hillary is a control freak -- isn't that a plus?

DEVINE: Well, the State Department is an interesting place. I can't think of anyone that ever tried to "manage" it -- except, to some extent, Jim Baker. Every other Secretary turned over the management to the permanent staff. And the Department is basically run by its union. It's not called a union, it's the American Foreign Service Association. They always had a guy with the rank of Ambassador who is, in effect, the Assistant Secretary for Administration. Baker is the only one I know of who put his person into that job. One of the others (I don't remember which one) actually said, "I made the bargain to turn the agency over to the bureaucrats and let them run it, so they'll let me run foreign policy" -- make the big decisions and run around [the world]. It's not a bad bargain, actually -- because the only "solution" is to wipe out 70 to 80% of it. You would pay a lot to do that.

GREGORSKY: That's the nuclear option for State, i.e. "nuke the State Department."

DEVINE: [Laughter] Very little that goes on there is useful. What is useful is out in the foreign missions. All they have back here [in D.C.] is redundancy, questioning, doing whatever it is over again, and keeping the cables away from the people at the top. It's a totally dysfunctional organization, which is why -- and we've had a lot of smart people as Secretary of State -- they make this cynical decision. It's not worth the cost -- I mean, nobody cares about running the government. Nobody.

My predecessor at OPM [under President Carter] --

GREGORSKY: Alan K. Campbell.

DEVINE: "Scotty" Campbell, who was my professor at Syracuse University when I got my PhD, told me the story. Carter was a notorious hands-on guy.

GREGORSKY: He stayed up late reading the Civil Service Reform bill right before he signed it [laughter] --

DEVINE: That's the story -- and you remember what Carter said?

GREGORSKY: He told Campbell "there's a lot of boring stuff in here."

DEVINE: [Laughter] It is boring stuff. And that's exactly how every President looks at this -- or every major department head. Trying to get them to manage their agencies is enormously difficult. If you try to really shake it up, every person in the bureaucracy of the agency hates you; they will do anything to undermine you. The ones who are higher up -- they all know the reporters who cover the beat, the Congressmen and staff who'll start an investigation. So you pay an enormous amount if you do try to run your agency. As someone who did do it, I understand exactly why others make the calculation that it's not worth it.

GREGORSKY: Why did President Reagan trust you and back you, most of the time, to do what you did. Was it just simply "we gotta cut the budget"?

DEVINE: Yeah -- well, not only the budget. I think his World War Two experience was key. He was personnel director of that movie unit, and he couldn't fire somebody. Every time I met with him, he would mention that. His most direct advice, or policy order, was telling me: "Go get the bureaucrats, Don [laughter] -- make them work." You know, his gut was kind of to let me have my way at OPM. He trusted me. And he was the only one who did [laughter].

Devine's take on the Office of Management & Budget is unique, and his Swift Sword book makes the astonishing proposal (see pages 163 to 171, "Zero Option for the White House") that most of the Executive Office of the President should be abolished. "Why did Ronald Reagan require one hundred times the staff that Franklin Roosevelt -- fighting the Great Depression and World War Two -- needed?" Devine favors a return to Cabinet Government, last tried by Eisenhower, as a way to increase responsibility while ending the fiction that a big White House operation can manage the government. "Is it not easier for the President carefully to choose his top cabinet and agency heads based upon their political loyalty, experience, and expertise, and let them carry out his will while they personally choose their accountable subordinates? Doesn't this make more sense than amassing a staff of several thousand in a centralized White House, most of whom, in an institution like OMB, will be career civil servants without any particular loyalty to the President?" Devine also favors the shrinkage of congressional districts, which would mean a couple of hundred more Congresspersons each serving 20 to 40% fewer constituents. His logic: "As society becomes more complex, the need for many more and smaller governments grows, and justifies under management principles the usefulness of defederalization as a means to shed national functions."

None of those topics came off our tape to be part of this transcript; but the mentions and quotes are here to reinforce the cutting-edge feel you'll get from picking up Reagan's Terrible Swift Sword. For now, in this on-line venue, let's stay with the livelier topics...

DEVINE WISDOM: Republicans at Bay; Obama's Opportunity

GREGORSKY: You've been fairly pro-Clinton, at least on trade and economic policy. Is that mostly due to his facing a Republican Congress for six of those eight years? Or do you think [Bill] Clinton himself deserves some credit?

DEVINE: He probably deserves some credit. Ronald Reagan did change the world, and his successors know it. The pragmatic sense in Obama is part of that. And Clinton said "the era of big government is over." I mean -- if you look at the facts, the ones who've grown government, especially domestic government, have not been the Democrats. It's been the Republicans. The big spenders are --

GREGORSKY: Nixon and Bush.

DEVINE: Nixon, Bush -- well, this Bush will take it away. In his first term, he already had the highest increase. And now, with the end of this thing, no one will ever be able to match the guy. Which is why, in some ways, Obama can't do worse.

GREGORSKY: But here comes another $850 billion in so-called stimulus.

DEVINE: Yeah, it's a lot. It's about the same Bush did [laughter].

GREGORSKY: Some people on our side, though, say Obama is the most left-wing doctrinaire socialist ever to make it to the Oval Office.

DEVINE: They don't know what they're talking about. I read his biography -- Dreams of My Father -- and no one who hasn't read that book should make any comments about him. Sure, he comes from the Left; and on the social stuff he'll probably do a lot of things conservatives won't like. But he's not a radical leftist.

GREGORSKY: Do you think he and the congressional Democrats will be so risky as to institute the Freedom of Choice Act?

DEVINE: I doubt it [pause] -- I don't think they could get it passed. Plus, I believe Pelosi's deal with the Rahm Emanuel Democrats [after 2006, to avoid bringing up hot social issues for floor votes] is probably still in force. They'll make a lot of noise, but I don't think they'll pass it.

GREGORSKY: Who did you favor for the Republican presidential nomination last year?

DEVINE: Ohhh -- I voted for Ron Paul.

GREGORSKY: [Shocked into a hushed voice] You voted for Ron Paul?!?

DEVINE: Absolutely.


DEVINE: A lot of his support was anti-war, but it wasn't all anti-war. Ron Paul is not the person, but he's the center of gravity for building the kind of conservative moment I want. He's not personally the guy, and even on foreign policy I don't agree with him totally, but --

GREGORSKY: I don't see how you could agree with him [on foreign policy] at all. He was on a radio show and asked what he'd do, as President, if informed that North Korea had just sent troops across the demilitarized zone. He laughed that goofball laugh and said he didn't care what the North Koreans did. Yuk-yuk.

DEVINE: [Laughter]

GREGORSKY: Seriously, we happen to have a defense treaty with the South Koreans. Give me a break.

DEVINE: But, you know, his commitment to limited government --

GREGORSKY: No, deal with that! Deal with that. This guy is an isolationist.

DEVINE: Well, I know he is -- but, for most of our history, we were isolationists in the sense of not going "abroad, in search of monsters to destroy," as Paul often quoted John Quincy Adams. And when we were great as a country, we had that policy. Now I'm not an isolationist, but -- Ron Paul is closer to where we should be than are the nation-builders.

GREGORSKY: Did Ron Paul at least vote to go into Afghanistan?

DEVINE: I don't know. He probably didn't. We had to go into Afghanistan, because bin Laden was there. But there wasn't a "great desire" to go into Iraq. Rumsfeld himself wasn't in favor [of going in massively] -- and I'd bet my life that's going to be in his book. He wanted to do it on the cheap. He knew, and he said: The fewer we put in, the easier it is to get them out.

GREGORSKY: How did you vote in November 2008?

DEVINE: l finally voted for McCain, very reluctantly. If Paul was running, maybe I wouldn't have. Remember, again, I live in Maryland.

GREGORSKY: And not voted for McCain had he picked Lieberman.

DEVINE: Oh yeah -- no way would I have voted for him if he'd done that.

GREGORSKY: Me neither.

DEVINE: Sarah Palin might not have been the perfect pick, but she certainly kept conservatives like me in line.

GREGORSKY: Same here. And I read your column in September where you recalled meeting with her way back in 1999. She was Mayor of Wasila, and you were looking for local backers on behalf of Steve Forbes?

DEVINE: The guy who was running Alaska for the campaign took me around to meet influential people in the different parts of the state. We went to Wasila, and I met with her. We had a great talk. Very intelligent and interesting person -- she got into the issues.

GREGORSKY: And she was a Forbes backer.

DEVINE: Not yet. I convinced her [laughter]. And I met her one or two other times after that. Nothing I remember especially. She was just somebody I wanted to get to support Forbes, and I was impressed by her.

GREGORSKY: My theory as to why McCain picked Sarah Palin is different from all of the conventional ideas. I think he liked her mostly because she fought with other Republicans -- the same way he does [laughter].

DEVINE: Oh yeah -- I'm sure that's what it was. I agree absolutely with that.

GREGORSKY: All right -- the first year of a new President is always a time of embarrassment and mistakes, but also worthwhile innovation. His very lack of governmental experience at least detaches Barack Obama from the pride-of-authorship trap. What should we look for?

DEVINE: l think Obama could be a good Progressive President, as opposed an erratic Progressive President like Bush -- or his father, or Carter or Clinton -- or a good President, period, like Reagan. You might see a very interesting Administration with this guy. I think he's very serious. Interestingly, the weakest point is his management stuff. His instincts and ideas -- in the limited context of his Progressivism -- are good, but he's taken the current system and made it even worse.

GREGORSKY: The "system" where a big White House staff and supposedly autonomous Cabinet chiefs end up miscommunicating and then turf-warring?

DEVINE: Yes. What he's done is create a two-tier system. He's got all the big guys in the Cabinet, and then he's duplicating ‘em in the White House. That's the opposite of what I suggest, which is to get rid of the guys in the White House [and hold the Cabinet chiefs and agency executives responsible for implementing the agenda].

In some cases we're getting bigger people in the White House than there are [for the similar policy zone] in the agencies. Larry Summers will be more important than the Treasury Secretary -- because the guy who has direct access to the President every day always wins. That's how Kissinger became Secretary of State; that's how Condoleeza Rice became Secretary of State. If you're close, you're gonna win -- 90% of the time.

Contact Don Devine via


Any likening of Barack Obama to Ronald Reagan gives most middle-aged conservatives a headache; and yet -- the respective landscapes are not so different. Just as Jimmy Carter had discredited his party's economic paradigm by 1980, George W. Bush did the same for the GOP's big-government version of capitalism during 2005-08. Leaving the Presidency, Carter and Bush were seen as oblivious bumblers, with approval ratings below 25%, and their respective successors took over during extreme economic stress. Only one mainstream commentator has delved into these parallels, and then stretched them out. See Floyd Norris's column, right after the ‘08 election, on what Obama's people should learn from 1981-84. As with Reagan, Norris writes, "The success, or failure, of [the new] administration is likely to be determined by how well [Obama] deals with the long-term problems the nation confronts, not by how soon the current recession ends."

As for Don Devine's predecessor, in fact the first director of OPM, "Alan K. Campbell...was a powerful influence on his students and colleagues at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University during the 1960s and 1970s, first as creator and director of the Metropolitan Studies Program (1961 to 1969) and then as dean of the School (1969 to 1976). Before arriving at Maxwell, Dr. Campbell was deputy controller of the State of New York. Alan K. Campbell left Maxwell to become dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin but was immediately tapped by President Jimmy Carter to be chair of the U.S. Civil Service Commission. In this position, he led the legislative effort that resulted in the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978."


Why the American Foreign Service Association can make the State Department function more like the Longshoremen's Union: "In 1918, the American Consular Association was founded to represent the interests of the members of the Consular Corps. In 1924, the Consular Corps was combined with the Diplomatic Corps to form the Foreign Service of the United States. In the same year, the Consular Association reconstituted itself as the American Foreign Service Association... In 1971, the Governing Board polled the members in a referendum and 86% urged AFSA to seek exclusive recognition as a union... AFSA's labor-management role was affirmed with the passage of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, which incorporated many important reforms urged by the Association. The negotiation of regulations implementing the Act's hundreds of provisions, and the monitoring of regulations already agreed upon, is an important component of AFSA's role as employee representative."


From Woodrow Wilson's Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics (1901) --

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Electronic Publication: Sunday, February 1, 2009

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