- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

Both apparent candidates for president are voicing the need to change how Washington functions. The Treasury secretary recently recommended changes on how to regulate financial markets. Some argue the recent Federal Reserve actions regarding Bear Stearns lacked a basis in authority. Isn’t it time to take a long, careful look at how our federal government is organized and operates?

Since its inception in the late 18th century, the United States has grown rapidly into a nation of 300 million, stretching coast to coast with a gross domestic product (GDP) of $13.16 trillion. At the nation’s outset, the executive branch was composed of the president and the vice president; the Constitution did not directly provide for additional leadership. The president was empowered to appoint “officers of the United States” with the advice and consent of the Senate. In addition, the Constitution referred to “executive departments,” but made no express provision for them. The term “Cabinet” does not appear within the Constitution.

George Washington had four executive officers that made up the first Cabinet: the secretaries of state, treasury, and war, and an attorney general. The Cabinet has grown to 15 members (with the addition of the Department of Homeland Security), and the “immediate Office of the President,” or “IOP,” has 90 separate functioning offices. Furthermore, the Cabinet system itself has become dysfunctional. In varying degrees, all 15 departments have been superseded by the IOP, a process that took form at the beginning of World War II and has yet to reach its probable pinnacle.

As a result, in correlation with our current debate on a range of policy issues, we need to examine whether the evolved system for the execution of the laws by the executive branch is still sufficient for our needs.

This complex history traces back almost 100 years. In 1914, Congress created the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to continue Teddy Roosevelt’s “trust busting” programs. It took 21 years for parties to realize the FTC was not located within the executive branch, and by then it was too late. In the summer of 1935, the Supreme Court concluded in Humphrey’s Executor v. United States that a fourth branch was not inconsistent with the intent of the Framers, thus making permanent what are euphemistically called “independent regulatory agencies.” At its present growth rate, the fourth branch will be larger then the executive branch by the end of the century.

It is doubtful that an executive branch organized to fulfill the needs of a population of 80 million (1900) or 150 million (1950) can effectively serve a population of 300 million (2000) or 570 million (2100). Not only are we growing, we are also aging. We increasingly compress ourselves into larger metropolitan areas. Our health-care needs, our educational needs and our infrastructure all impose an increasingly heavy load on the executive branch. That branch will not be able to address any of these issues, or a host of new, unforeseen challenges for the executive, using structures, numbers and programs derived from the middle of the last century.

Our ability to govern ourselves effectively in this century may hang in the balance. The fourth branch has no political obligations and is accountable to no voters, directly or indirectly. The president is responsible for the execution of the laws, yet he has no practical control over independent regulatory agencies when they alone decide to increase our interest rates, dictate environmental controls or instruct the corporate community about the composition of its boards.

In 1947, facing organizational issues after World War II that were but a fraction of those present today, President Truman appointed Herbert Hoover to head what became known as the “Hoover Commission.” Its charter was to make recommendations for the reorganization of the executive branch, which it completed two years later.

The needed reorganization facing us today is vastly greater than anything that could have been imagined in 1947. Each departmental and agency function and the interactions (or lack thereof) among them needs review. There is no simple short cut to correcting organizational sprawl. Each piece, function and role must be examined.

We need to begin the reform process today and involve many different venues and disciplines in the effort. A joint commission with membership from the three branches, nongovernmental organizations, public service organizations, industry and academia should be created by the next president. In the meantime, candidates running for the presidency should begin to discuss the need for a complete reorganization of the federal government.

Stanton D. Anderson is chairman of Global USA Inc., a government relations and business consulting firm, and Herb Fenster is senior partner at the international law and public policy advisory firm of McKenna, Long & Aldridge.

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