Information is everything in presidential policymaking

The incoming Administration is now organizing its internal operations. We now know that the Chief of Staff and the President’s chief strategist come at the policymaking process from very different starting points and don’t follow the same rules of the game. 

The same dynamic is likely to play out in staffing the various Cabinet positions. 

And the over 4,000 other positions the President is responsible for staffing. 

In addition, there are hints that the Administration will request high security clearances for the President’s children (and presumably his spouse).

Each of these choices creates a separate source of information and advice for the President to consider. It has always been the case, so most have sought to limit the domain of information by working for similarity of ideological position or policy preferences. 

One can argue that diversity of information improves decision making. But that puts the onus on the executive to get “into the weeds” – to adjudicate, through reflection and deep learning, the inevitable conflicts among advisors. 

It’s early, but this presidential campaign was remarkably policy-free. Trump isn’t a wonk. And it appears he actively avoids engaging in policy debates. 

A President can try to focus on the bully pulpit and avoid these messy situations, much like a CEO can focus entirely on advocating with industry analysts as a way of propping up shareholder value. 

But the analogy breaks down in the case of government. There are too many “product lines” – it does too many things – and the control mechanisms are too coarse. Inevitably, information flow breaks down, the President is faced with information conflicts, and units are left to their own devices. 

And it all starts in the EOP with choices like those announced yesterday.