Most people do not understand the sheer magnitude of the Executive branch. There are almost 3 million federal employees, 99 percent of whom are career civil servants over whom the president has virtually no authority. Seventeen states have fewer citizens than the federal government has bureaucrats.
There are only a few thousand positions within the federal government that are subject to “noncompetitive appointment,” i.e., positions that the president can fill through political patronage. Among these are 1,137 positions that can be filled by presidential appointment with Senate confirmation; 320 positions subject to presidential appointment without confirmation; and 701 positions in the Senior Executive Service (the top level of managers within the federal ranks) that can be filled by non-career appointments.
As these numbers illustrate, it is the career civil servants who pull the millions of levers of power, not the few political appointees at the top of every agency. It is very difficult for the appointees to even keep track of the policies being implemented by the career staff, much less change them.
Working for the federal government seems to instill an utter disdain for limits on governmental power. The idea that a regulation might unconstitutionally infringe individual rights or preempt an area that is traditionally the responsibility and authority of a sovereign state simply never occurred to most of the career employees I encountered. Years of working for a very large federal bureaucracy instills the ultimate regulatory mindset in career civil servants — when there is doubt about whether the federal government has the authority to do something, they never err on the side of not regulating. The rule is: when in doubt, regulate.