Even by the standards of DC wonkery, WJLA’s Government Matters is nerdy: a studiously nonpartisan show about the business of government where the guests don’t yell, the graphics are restrained, and the tone among those who disagree is one of unyielding respect.
And yet this program aimed at GS-1os and above, and not a cable news screamfest, may have helped convince President Trump to abandon his plan to shutter the Office of Personnel Management. Trump “soured on continuing the fight after seeing an obscure Washington-area television program about government,” Lisa Rein and Josh Dawsey reported in the Washington Post Wednesday. And some intriguing signs point to Government Matters, which runs on WJLA’s 24/7 cable channel six nights a week at 8 and 11 PM, and Sunday mornings at 10:30, as that show.
Reached by phone, Government Matters executive producer George Jackson declined to comment on the possibility that his show may have saved an entire federal agency from the meat ax. And to be sure, the Trump administration’s plan to shutter OPM was already teetering on October 3, when Jeffrey Neal, the former Chief Human Capital Officer for the Department of Homeland Security, appeared on the WJLA show Government Matters alongside host Francis Rose to talk about his ideas for solving management problems in the federal government. Crunching OPM and the General Services Administration together, as President Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, and others had proposed, was “kind of an old stale idea,” Neal said. “Go big,” Neal advised, calling for a “cabinet-level agency for management” that would solve a lot more problems.
Aaron Fritschner, the communications director for US Representative Don Beyer, says he began to suspect Trump’s decision to scotch the plan was influenced by Government Matters after he consulted a media-monitoring service and found that almost all the mentions of OPM in the past month came on the program, which he notes follows Trump favorite Sharyl Attkisson’s show Full Measure on Sunday mornings. “Top budget office and other White House officials were rushed to meet with Trump” after he saw a segment that influenced him, Rein and Dawsey report.
Is it possible the President has begun tuning in to a show that’s so distant from what he sees on Fox & Friends that it might as well be on a different medium? “It does seem like a good thing, right?” says Fritschner of the possibility. He notes Beyer, like other DC-area reps, has spent months fighting against the plan to dismantle OPM, which isn’t exactly the kind of subject that lights up a nine-person CNN panel.
Fritschner says he savors the idea of Mulvaney and other hawks schlepping into the Oval Office to persuade Trump, “but he was just convinced by Francis Rose.” Fritschner says that while Beyer has not yet appeared on Government Matters, the congressman is now in talks to appear. “I hope they would have him on so we can thank them for saving OPM,” he says.
Correction: The headline for this story originally referred to the Office of Management and Budget, not OPM.