While it’s an arbitrary timeline, the first 100 days of an American president’s term are viewed as a harbinger of accomplishments and failures to come. But since the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who coined the term, we’ve judged every new commander-in-chief by his successes and setbacks between January 20 (Inauguration Day) and April 29. In that regard, the incoming administration of Donald J. Trump will be no different.
As a candidate and now president-elect, Trump has promised to do a lot of things within his first 100 days to “make America great again,” from withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership to enacting ethics reforms to “drain the swamp” in Washington. Many of his promises would require legislative action, and it remains to be seen what kind of relationship his administration will have with Congress. As with most new presidents, Trump soon will discover the limits of his power over a vast federal government with three distinct branches, two of which are beyond his purview—Congress and the judiciary. He’ll have to contend with 535 overseers, approximately two million federal civilian workers, another roughly two million military service members, countless laws and regulations, and of course, a lot of politics.
Several items on his 100-day action plan would affect the federal workforce and government operations. Here’s a round-up of publicly-stated Trump priorities that federal employees in particular should keep an eye on:
Implementing a government-wide hiring freeze: Trump in October, during his “Gettysburg address,” vowed to freeze agency hiring and reduce government through attrition. He has said he would exempt certain jobs in the military, public health, and public safety. To date, however, there are no details on how exactly this would work. Earlier this month, Trump transition officials said the freeze would number among several policies aimed at slashing the size of government that Trump will announce before he is sworn into office. The Trump team will put the proposals forward “as inauguration comes closer,” the officials said. A non-specific, across-the-board hiring freeze could be problematic and may not even be effective, especially since some agencies already are under a freeze, or are operating with fewer staff and resources. Trump would not be the first president to institute a federal hiring freeze upon assuming office: Ronald Reagan ordered one as well.
Eliminating “wasteful” spending projects: In his acceptance speech as the Republican presidential nominee in July, Trump pledged to “ask every department head in government to provide a list of wasteful spending projects that we can eliminate in my first 100 days. The politicians have talked about it; I’m going to do it.” As Eric Katz reported at the time, Trump promised to overhaul the Veterans Affairs Department, the Transportation Security Administration and the Education Department, whose “bureaucrats” a Trump administration would no longer “protect.” He said his administration would fix TSA at the airports, “which is a disaster.” He also said, “we will completely rebuild our depleted military” and “we will take care of our great veterans like they have never been taken care of before.”
During the campaign, Trump outlined a 10-point plan to reform the VA, which included these two bullet points aimed at VA employees: “Use the powers of the presidency to remove and discipline the federal employees and managers who have violated the public's trust and failed to carry out the duties on behalf of our veterans,” and “Ask that Congress pass legislation that empowers the secretary of the VA to discipline or terminate any employee who has jeopardized the health, safety or well-being of a veteran.” So far, Congress has only passed legislation that makes it easier to fire VA senior executives, but because of constitutional concerns, the department has stopped using that authority granted under the 2014 Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act.
As for the larger war on waste, as Tom Shoop pointed out in July, this is much easier said than done. Eliminating federal programs is up to Congress, and agency heads generally want to keep, not gut, the programs and spending they administer. Trump’s predecessors have all tried to cut waste in government, proving just how hard is is to do.
Slashing regulations: This is another pledge other presidents have made, and have had difficulty accomplishing. Specifically, Trump has vowed “on day one” to require that for every new federal regulation, two existing ones be scrapped. “So important,” Trump has said of the proposal. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Trump can use executive action to roll back President Obama’s executive orders or make changes that don’t require congressional approval. But those changes could be overturned by Congress, or his Oval Office successor. Without legislative action, these types of changes don’t carry the rule of law, and therefore are at risk. Then there’s the time, energy, and resources it will take to identify which regulations should go. Any large-scale rollback of regulations likely would take years.
Slowing the revolving door: Trump has proposed a five-year ban on White House and congressional officials becoming lobbyists after they leave government service. Obama also instituted ethics reforms during his first 100 days to slow the revolving door between the White House and K Street. But just as lobbyists found a work-around through loopholes in the Lobbying Disclosure Act, observers predict the same thing would happen in a Trump administration. The president-elect also has proposed a lifetime ban on White House officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government, and a complete ban on foreign lobbyists raising money for American elections.
Proposing a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on members of Congress: There’s one major problem with this idea. Presidents can lobby or advocate for an amendment to the Constitution, but they cannot introduce, ratify or veto one. That’s up to Congress and the states. Constitutional amendments can be officially proposed in Congress through a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers, or via a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the state legislatures. Then to be added to the Constitution, three-fourths of the states (38 out of 50) have to ratify the amendment. That’s very hard to do, which is why we have only 27 amendments. And “none of the 27 amendments to the Constitution have been proposed by constitutional convention,” according to the National Archives website. Some lawmakers have self-imposed term limits. For example, former Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma kept his pledge to serve only two terms in the upper chamber, and actually introduced an unsuccessful constitutional amendment during his tenure to limit congressional terms.
“Restoring National Security Act”: In his Contract with the American Voter, Trump lists this bullet point, which seems to be a potpourri of proposals affecting various agencies and programs lumped under the national security heading: “Rebuilds our military by eliminating the defense sequester and expanding military investment; provides veterans with the ability to receive public VA treatment or attend the private doctor of their choice; protects our vital infrastructure from cyber-attack; establishes new screening procedures for immigration to ensure those who are admitted to our country support our people and our values.” Repealing the sequester for the Defense Department, or any agency, requires congressional approval, while veterans already have the option to choose a VA health facility or the private sector for their health care (and the 2014 Choice Act expanded that flexibility). The government already has plans in place to protect the nation’s infrastructure from cyberattacks, and it’s not clear how Trump would improve or expand that. As for “new screening procedures” for immigrants, again, it’s unclear what specific form that would take, how a new process would differ from existing processes, or what kind of additional resources agencies and federal employees would need to carry out any new policies or programs in this area.
Eric Katz contributed to this story.