Power  /  Debunk

Bureaucrats as Activists: A Revisionist Take on Conservation

Career bureaucrats in the Trump administration are proving that bureaucrats can be dedicated to a cause other than themselves.

It is easy to think of bureaucrats and activists as inherently opposed to one another. Bureaucrats follow rules to a fault, since their own careers and material well-being depend on the institutions for which they work. Activists, in contrast, want to change the rules. Indeed, since the rise of the U.S. administrative state in the Progressive Era, activists and bureaucrats have often found one another at odds: Progressive “good government” advocates collided with urban machines; the American Indian Movement ran headlong into the Bureau of Indian Affairs; environmentalists battled highway departments; Sagebrush rebels assaulted the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management…

The recent rebelliousness of National Park Service (NPS) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees against the Trump administration might be understood as one chapter of this story. Donald J. Trump rode the Tea Party wave of recent conservative movement politics into office, invoking hostility toward the federal government in general with his promise to “drain the swamp in Washington, D.C.”…He also launched specific attacks against the regulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by the EPA, promised a dramatic cut to the EPA’s budget, and opened the door to revoking federal environmental protections for millions of acres of lands in the west. In response, EPA employees have participated in anti-Trump rallies, spoken out in forums, and organized social media campaigns against the proposed cuts and rollbacks. National Park Service employees began trolling the Trump administration with reports of small inauguration crowd sizes and evidence of climate change on the twitter account @AltNatParkSer. Bureaucrats and former employees at a dozen agencies, from the State Department to NASA, quickly followed suit, although in my opinion none matched the striking icon of Smokey Bear with his head bowed and right arm raising a fist of defiance.