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Trump administration puts the Education Department in its sights

As if Trump and his team didn't have enough on their plate, they now want to merge the Education Department and Labor Department.
Mick Mulvaney
Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney listens to a question during a press briefing at the White House, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Washington.

Nearly every modern president has taken on government "reorganization" initiatives, exploring ways to streamline the federal bureaucracy and eliminate unnecessary overlap between agencies. At face value, these are worthwhile goals.

But as is often the case, when Donald Trump's team takes on a task, there's reason for some skepticism.

Mick Mulvaney, who is, among other things, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, has been working on a broad plan to reorganize much of the federal bureaucracy, which will reportedly include "consolidation" of safety-net programs. But as Politico  noted, the most ambitious aspect of the blueprint appears to be the proposed merging of two cabinet agencies.

The Trump administration plans to advocate a merger of the Education and Labor departments as part of a sweeping government overhaul, according to two individuals familiar with the proposal who declined to be named because it's not yet public. [...]The plan, if undertaken by the administration, would pose a heavy political and legislative lift. Past attempts to eliminate the Education Department haven't proven popular in Congress.

As if this White House didn't have enough on its plate, Team Trump is picking a new fight, laying out a plan to combine two agencies that have very little to do with one another.

As the Washington Post's report explained, the Education Department oversees "federal student loans, distributes K-12 education funding, and enforces federal civil rights laws at public schools and colleges," while the Labor Department has "a broad portfolio that includes programs to train workers, enforcement of minimum-wage laws, the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- which produces economic data -- and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration."

If we're being generous, we could note that the Labor Department may tackle some job-training initiatives that the Education Department could oversee, but to think that the two cabinet agencies should merge into one big, new entity is a stretch.

It's also wildly unrealistic: there's no way lawmakers will want to tackle such an endeavor this year, especially with so little time remaining before the midterm elections, and in the next Congress, the plan's odds of success will almost certainly be worse.

So why bother?

The likely explanation is that the Republican administration wants to make clear that it embraces the right's long-sought goal of eliminating the Education Department. Conservatives have been fighting against the agency for decades, and the president's cabinet secretary, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has made no secret of the fact that she's not overly fond of the agency she leads.

Indeed, this wouldn't even be the first time GOP policymakers took steps to make the department go away: one of the first things congressional Republicans did after taking control of Congress in 1995 was consider legislation to merge Education and Labor, making this an everything-old-is-new-again moment.

That effort failed. This one will, too.