Tuesday, January 30, 2007

President Finally Gets Runaway Administrative Agencies Under Control

There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth about President Bush's new executive order achieving more direct oversight by the administration over various administrative agencies' rulemaking bodies. I say it's about time someone attempts to rein in this unelected, hopelessly bloated, inefficient, and largely unaccountable 4th branch of government.

Here's a great example of the criticism, which only makes sense if you completely ignore the Constitutional scheme or the importance of accountability to the voters:
Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California and chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said: "The executive order allows the political staff at the White House to dictate decisions on health and safety issues, even if the government'’s own impartial experts disagree. This is a terrible way to govern, but great news for special interests."
Waxman, of course, would much prefer that CONGRESS dictate decisions on health and safety issues. Or perhaps that unelected and un-fireable government bureaucrats dictate decisions on health and safety issues. (Anything that would prevent those nefarious businesses or incompetent ordinary people from makidecisionsons about their health and safety!) And I love the assumption that those who might disagree with the administration are necessarily "impartial." It's interesting how concerns about government intrusion never seem to apply

And then there is the sinisterism associated with "the political staff at the White House". The nice thing about "political staffs" is that they're accountable to voters through the executive. Elections should have consequences, but administrative agencies are almost impervious to them.

Administrative agencies are of questionable Constitutional legitimacy, I think, but even if Justice Thomas was cloned and appointed to the bench 8 times, they aren't going away. Therefore, because they clearly serve an executive function, they should be more closely administered by the executive. The elected, accountable executive. Any other option either gives too many executive powers to Congress, or leaves the bureaucracy to plow forward on its own - unaccountable, unrelenting, ever more intrusive, and ever harder to stop.

I'd like to see him go a step further - every federal agency and program should be carefully reviewed every ten years, just as military bases, units, and programs are, with an eye towards trimming them down, cutting them entirely, and looking at actual results rather than merely the feel-good-goals. Alas - cutting an EPA sub-agency that is sucking money without producing results makes total sense, and so it will die a quick death in Congress by people who will claim cutting such a program is "anti-environment."

I don't think Bush has the courage or political capital (or the desire, frankly) to go that far, but this executive order is a good step. It's about time a President attempted to wrestle this extra-Constitutional beast back under control.


Juvenal said...

I agree with you that administrative agencies are of dubious constitutionality and that something needs to be done to rein them in, but refuse to follow you through the trapdoor into your fantasy world where apparently the political staff of the Whitehouse is more accountable than comissioners nominated jointly by the President and Congress and subject to oversight by Congress.

Do you really think that the best way to control administrative agencies is by vesting more power in the Executive? Do you really think the problem with our system of government is that not enough power is concentrated in the Executive? The Executive is (constitutionally) a weak office, and it is purposely so. Concentrating even more power in the Executive would be, to use your phrase "completely ignore the Constitutional scheme"

You also sound outraged that Waxman would want "CONGRESS" (your emphasis) dictate decisions on health and safety issues. What's so strange about that? They're entrusted with the legislative power under the constitution are n't they? If anybody should be creating nationwide standards for health and safety (and I dont think anyone should) it should be Congress and not the Executive.

And I really would love you to expand on your theory about how the political staff in the White House is "accountable to voters." I suspect by your reasoning, Barney is also "accountable to voters" ...

Orrin Johnson said...

I think the best way to control admin agencies is to get rid of them. Since that's not going to happen, it's important that control be vested in a single person. Then, Congress may be more likely to limit and clarify their powers statutorily, when they know that someone else gets to execute them.

When control is vested in Congress as a whole, each member, who is ONLY accountable to their own district's voters, can disclaim any responsibility - and can do it credibly. And day-to-day control will not be subject to the Congress as a whole, which means the voters in the majority of the country can't do anything about ridiculous or oppressive regs.

By vesting it with the President, however, who has direct control and accountability over his staff, it's more clear where the buck stops. And that's good for voters.

I disagree that the executive is supposed to be generally weak per se - I think his powers are supposed to be limited to certain specific areas over which he has broad discretion. (Of course, I also think that if the Founders had envisioned admin agencies, they would have limited them in the original Constitution!)

We agree, I think, that the federal government's intrusion into our "health and safety," no matter WHAT branch it comes from, is as unwelcome as it is inefficient and costly. And I agree that the standards should be SET by Congress. But once the statutes are passed, specific enforcement - which includes regulatory powers - needs to remain under the WHite House's control. Then everyone knows who the boss is - and who to blame when the agencies don't work as expected.