Every time there’s a threat of a government shutdown, a threat once rare but now not so rare, there’s a discussion of who is so important that he is declared "essential" and who must show up for work, anyway.
The president has the authority to classify certain employees in the executive branch who must stay on the job even if there’s no money to pay them for it.
But what does "essential" mean? Nobody seems to know. Does it mean that some workers are crucial to the safety and security of the United States — the Army, Navy, and ships at sea, for example — or does it mean merely that some grunions are crucial merely to keeping the bureaucracy fed?
The president should have some flexibility to conclude, but maybe not all by himself, that the Education Department, or the Commerce Department, are as important to the nation’s survival and well-being as Defense Department or the Department of Homeland Security.
This is a problem even without the threat of a shutdown. No one apparently knows the precise size of the federal workforce, only that it’s uuuuuge, or what everyone in it does, exactly, or what really is essential and what’s not. It’s not likely that anyone really wants to find out.
We can hope that Mick Mulvaney, the president’s choice to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Jeff Pon, the president’s nominee to head the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, will make taking a census of the swamp a priority once Mr. Pon is confirmed in his job.
To begin they could usefully study a report compiled by Open the Books, a nonpartisan watchdog group, called "Mapping the Swamp: A Study of the Administrative State," which attempts to provide perspective on the 2 million identified federal government employees who collectively are paid $1 million per minute over a 40-hour work week.