Scott Tibbs

A proper reform of the administrative state

By Scott Tibbs, July 26, 2023

The New York Times published what they thought was an alarming report on the plan to "increase presidential power" by the Trump campaign, but what they found was boringly normal conservative policy. In fact, reducing the authority of entrenched unelected bureaucrats and putting them under the direct control of elected officials is a restoration and strengthening of democracy.

Conservatives have complained for decades about the bureaucracy's ability to issue rules and regulations that were never voted on by Congress but nevertheless have the authority of law - sometimes even creating new criminal offenses. Congress, for its part, loves to pass far-reaching but vague laws so the administrative state can then fill in the details. Congress can then evade responsibility when the implementation is unpopular. Unelected bureaucrats with civil service protections can also evade responsibility.

President Woodrow Wilson was famous for advocating government by technocrats - that law and policy would be formulated by "experts" in public policy rather than the whims of the electorate. The problem is that many "experts" either do not know as much as they think they do, or they can be corrupted by politics. We saw this when "public health experts" at one "university" told students to wear face masks during sex to reduce the spread of COVID-19. That just scratches the surface of times when "experts" were wrong, and in some cases totally corrupt.

All of this is antithetical to democracy. Bureaucrats should not have the power to write and implement rules that have the force of law, without the consent of Congress. The Congress, meanwhile, should take its authority back from the executive branch. The President should be responsible for enforcing and implementing the law, never for writing the law. At the very least, all new rules and regulations should be approved by a majority vote of both houses. This puts lawmaking authority back in the hands of people who are most directly accountable to the voters.

Now, with that said, I do not think that Donald Trump's intention is to advance the principles of democracy, and it certainly is not handing power back to Congress. Trump's goal is increased authority for himself if he is re-elected. But to be fair, no President in my lifetime has wanted to do strengthen Congress at his own expense, and unless a genuine conservative is elected in 2024 we will not have that in 2025 either. I do not think any of the major party candidates are actually interested in truly restoring the constitutional balance of power and restoring Congress as the most powerful branch of government.

The concern over Trump's plan is it will be abused. Perhaps it will be. But that is the problem, isn't it? The administrative state is far too big and has far too much power. A proper reform of the bureaucracy is placing it under the direct control of elected officials, yes, but a proper reform would also mean drastically shrinking the authority of that bureaucracy. Whether administrative agencies under the authority of this or that President would be malignant or benign is irrelevant. They should not have that much power in the first place, which is why the Trump plan is only a half measure.

Whether Trump's plan is implemented or not, both parties have a vested interest in a muscular bureaucracy. The President gets to implement his agenda with little opposition, and members of Congress can keep their high salaries and generous benefit package without ever needing to take responsibility for the authority that they have delegated to the King, er, President. The only way we can restore our government as originally intended is if enough people demand it and vote accordingly.

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