In Defense of the deep state

The term “deep state” originally referred to the hidden security bureaucracies in countries like Turkey and Egypt with sinister overtones. The term has been applied by American conservatives to the existing permanent US bureaucracy, which they argue is exerting tyrannical control over citizens and needs to be destroyed root and branch. The fact is that the US administrative state is highly transparent and plays a critical role in delivering services and outcomes that citizens demand. Modern government cannot function without a high degree of delegation to bureaucratic agents; as such the US “deep state” needs to be defended and not vilified. There are several critical mechanisms for democratic principals to exert control over bureaucratic agents. While there are instances of bureaucratic over-reach, the US system provides a number of checks on agency power that are under-utilised. A separate problem lies in under-delegation, where political principals write detailed rules constraining bureaucratic autonomy in ways that hinder effective and timely government action. Future efforts by conservatives to undermine the “deep state” will result in grave weakening of American government and return the country to the 19th century patronage system.