The growing power of the fourth branch of government 1

The growing dominance of the federal government over the states has obscured more fundamental changes within the federal government itself: It is not just bigger, it is dangerously off kilter. Our carefully constructed system of checks and balances is being negated by the rise of a fourth branch, an administrative state of sprawling departments and agencies that govern with increasing autonomy and decreasing transparency.

We take these extracts from an article in the Washington Post by Professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University. If he is right, America is being governed by a bureaucracy accountable to no other branch of government or to the people. The rule of the bureaucrats is arbitrary and tyrannical.

For much of our nation’s history, the federal government was quite small. In 1790, it had just 1,000 nonmilitary workers. In 1962, there were 2,515,000 federal employees. Today, we have 2,840,000 federal workers in 15 departments, 69 agencies and 383 nonmilitary sub-agencies.

This exponential growth has led to increasing power and independence for agencies. The shift of authority has been staggering. The fourth branch now has a larger practical impact on the lives of citizens than all the other branches combined.

The rise of the fourth branch has been at the expense of Congress’s lawmaking authority. In fact, the vast majority of “laws” governing the United States are not passed by Congress but are issued as regulations, crafted largely by thousands of unnamed, unreachable bureaucrats. One study found that in 2007, Congress enacted 138 public laws, while federal agencies finalized 2,926 rules, including 61 major regulations.

This rulemaking comes with little accountability. It’s often impossible to know, absent a major scandal, whom to blame for rules that are abusive or nonsensical. Of course, agencies owe their creation and underlying legal authority to Congress, and Congress holds the purse strings. But Capitol Hill’s relatively small staff is incapable of exerting oversight on more than a small percentage of agency actions. And the threat of cutting funds is a blunt instrument to control a massive administrative state — like running a locomotive with an on/off switch.

The autonomy was magnified when the Supreme Court ruled in 1984 that agencies are entitled to heavy deference in their interpretations of laws. The court went even further this past week, ruling that agencies should get the same heavy deference in determining their own jurisdictions — a power that was previously believed to rest with Congress. In his dissent in Arlington v. FCC, Chief Justice John Roberts warned: “It would be a bit much to describe the result as ‘the very definition of tyranny,’ but the danger posed by the growing power of the administrative state cannot be dismissed.”

The judiciary, too, has seen its authority diminished by the rise of the fourth branch. Under Article III of the Constitution, citizens facing charges and fines are entitled to due process in our court system. As the number of federal regulations increased, however, Congress decided to relieve the judiciary of most regulatory cases and create administrative courts tied to individual agencies. The result is that a citizen is 10 times more likely to be tried by an agency than by an actual court. In a given year, federal judges conduct roughly 95,000 adjudicatory proceedings, including trials, while federal agencies complete more than 939,000.

These agency proceedings are often mockeries of due process, with one-sided presumptions and procedural rules favoring the agency. And agencies increasingly seem to chafe at being denied their judicial authority. … A 50-year-old technology consultant … charged with disorderly conduct and indecent exposure when he stripped at Portland International Airport last year in protest of invasive security measures by the Transportation Security Administration, … was cleared by a federal judge who ruled that his stripping was a form of free speech, … but was pulled [by the TSA] into its own agency courts under administrative charges.

The rise of the fourth branch has occurred alongside an unprecedented increase in presidential powers — from the power to determine when to go to war to the power to decide when it’s reasonable to vaporize a U.S. citizen in a drone strike. In this new order, information is jealously guarded and transparency has declined sharply. That trend, in turn, has given the fourth branch even greater insularity and independence. When Congress tries to respond to cases of agency abuse, it often finds officials walled off by claims of expanding executive privilege.

But while the agencies can sometimes be protected by the president, they can also protect themselves from him. Their power is independent of the president just as it is, in practice, independent of Congress and the judiciary.

Of course, federal agencies officially report to the White House under the umbrella of the executive branch. But in practice, the agencies have evolved into largely independent entities over which the president has very limited control. Only 1 percent of federal positions are filled by political appointees, as opposed to career officials, and on average appointees serve only two years. At an individual level, career officials are insulated from political pressure by civil service rules. There are also entire agencies — including the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission — that are protected from White House interference.

Some agencies have gone so far as to refuse to comply with presidential orders. For example, in 1992 President George H.W. Bush ordered the U.S. Postal Service to withdraw a lawsuit against the Postal Rate Commission, and he threatened to sack members of the Postal Service’s Board of Governors who denied him. The courts ruled in favor of the independence of the agency.

Only “a small percentage of agency matters… rise to the level of presidential notice”. The rest remain “the sole concern of agency discretion”. For instance, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the Department of the Interior (DOI) force people into poverty by depriving them of their land or their water or their jobs in order to preserve some animal, bird or fish instead, there seems to be no recourse to any higher authority for the human victims to appeal to for arbitration. (See for example our post The environmentalists’ tyrannical drive against civilization, January 19, 2013.)

The marginalization Congress feels is magnified for citizens, who are routinely pulled into the vortex of an administrative state that allows little challenge or appeal. The IRS scandal is the rare case in which internal agency priorities are forced into the public eye. Most of the time, such internal policies are hidden from public view and congressional oversight. While public participation in the promulgation of new regulations is allowed, and often required, the process is generally perfunctory and dismissive.

Professor Turley speaks of “the new regulatory age“, in which –

Presidents and Congress can still change the government’s priorities, but the agencies effectively run the show based on their interpretations and discretion.

The importance of this development, he stresses, cannot be overestimated. It is a huge, momentous change in the US system of government.

The rise of this fourth branch represents perhaps the single greatest change in our system of government since the founding.

And he ends with a warning:

We cannot long protect liberty if our leaders continue to act like mere bystanders to the work of government.

Does the independent power of the bureaucracies mean that President Obama is off the hook for the scandals of Benghazi, the IRS targeting of conservative groups applying for tax exempt status, the Department of Justice secretly investigating journalists? That he could have done nothing much about them one way or the other even if he’d wanted to?

If so, is that why the Washington Post published Professor Turley’s article?

Interesting questions, but of passing concern.

What matters is that Americans are no longer living in the free democratic republic they think they are.

The environmentalists’ tyrannical drive against civilization 1

Environmentalism is a religion with a collectivist ideology. Its aim is to undo civilization, thin out the numbers of people on the earth, and return them to the short, hard, primitive life of the savage.

Environmentalists are in power. The Left embraces them because socialists and greens share collectivist longings. Their power, of course, will be much reduced when they have far fewer people to tyrannize over, but they don’t seem to have thought of that.

Environmentalism is as imbecile, and as crippling of human potential, as every other religious tyranny. 

This is from an article by David Spady at Townhall:

Something’s amiss at the Department of Interior. Eight government scientists were recently fired or reassigned after voicing concerns to their superiors about faulty environmental science used for policy decisions. Which begs the question, “Are some government agencies manipulating science to advance political agendas?”

As the rest of the article makes clear, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”

… In in some government agencies, scientists who question the veracity and validity of scientific evidence used to formulate environmental regulations and policies are shunned, kept quiet, and purged. …

Intransigent purveyors of “green” propaganda know their greatest enemy is truth. One of the most famous propaganda experts was Germany’s Joseph Goebbels, who taught that if a lie is repeated often enough it will eventually be accepted as truth. Goebbels also knew that truth has to be suppressed if it contradicts the objectives of the propaganda. Goebbels wrote, “It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

Over the past three decades, [the US] government has unleashed an unprecedented wave of environmental rules and regulations that affect nearly every aspect of American life, and for the most part the public has tolerated it. Public embrace of environmental propaganda and fear mongering about the apocalyptic consequences of mankind’s abuse of the planet have elevated environmentalism to a status above national security. The public is now more likely to give up rights and freedoms for the cause of saving the planet than for security reasons. 

Rural America has long been a target of environmentalists. Government agencies such as the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the DOI (Department of Interior) have been hijacked by extreme elements of environmentalism and rural America is feeling the heat. When environmental protocol is pitted against the welfare of a rural community, these agencies almost exclusively side with the environmental cause, and adverse consequences to the human element are considered last, if at all. 

The Department of Interior refers to itself as the nation’s landlord. It controls almost 30% of the nation’s 2.27 billion acres of land and its natural resources, and as a regulatory agency, it creates policies to govern how public land and these resources are used. Under the leadership of Secretary Ken Salazar the agency has engaged in an aggressive crusade to obstruct and undermine the use of natural resources, restrict human access to public lands, and increase its influence over private property. Decisions made by the agency are presumed to be based on sound scientific analysis, but often times policy is driving the science, rather than science driving environmental policy. This has led to harmful decisions and a violation of the public trust.

A case in point is the story of DOI science adviser and scientific integrity officer, Dr. Paul Houser, who found out that by simply doing his job can be hazardous to one’s career. Dr. Houser is an expert in hydrology who was hired by DOI’s Bureau of Reclamation to evaluate scientific data used in the department’s decision making process. He was assigned several Western State projects including a scheme to remove four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River in Northern California—the largest dam removal project in U.S. history. When a summary of science posted on the web to support DOI’s claim for removal of the dams omitted several crucial factors from expert panel reports, Dr. Houser brought his concerns to his superiors. He was repeatedly told to refrain from sharing his concerns through electronic communication, which could be subject to Freedom of Information Act discovery.  

Dr. Houser learned firsthand that policy was driving the science, rather than the other way around, when he was told by his superiors at DOI, “Secretary Salazar wants to remove those dams. So your actions here aren’t helpful.”

According to the DOI the premise for Klamath River dams removal is to restore Coho salmon spawning habitat above the dams. However, official DOI documents reveal scientific concerns that dam removal may, in fact, result in species decline based on millions of tons of toxic sediment build up behind the dams that will make its way to the ocean. Water temperature increases without the dams could also negatively impact the salmon. These studies were ignored.

So the objective is not to save the salmon. It is to use the salmon as an excuse for destroying the dams. What then is the real reason for wanting this destruction?

Concerns about the human toll and impact to local Klamath Basin communities were also brushed aside. Those most interested in the well-being of the environment they live and work in, were given a backseat to special interests thousands of miles away.  

What special interests would those be?

The Klamath hydroelectric dams provide clean inexpensive energy to thousands of local residents who will be forced to pay much higher premiums if the dams are removed because California has strict new laws for use of renewable energy. The town of Happy Camp sits on the banks of the Klamath River and could be wiped out with seasonal flooding without the dams. Once Coho salmon are introduced into the upper Klamath, farmers and ranchers will be faced with water use restrictions and invasive government regulation of private land. The economic impact will be devastating, property values will depreciate and the agriculture community, often operating on slim profit margins, will be subjected to the fate of the once vibrant logging industry which fell victim to the spotted owl crusades.

Last year, Dr. Houser raised these concerns and was subsequently fired by the DOI. “I put my concerns forward and immediately thereafter I was pushed out of the organization,” he stated. The agency sent a clear message to the rest of their employees and scientists – Salazar’s dam busting agenda cannot be subject to any internal scientific scrutiny. Goebbels would be proud. Truth must be repressed when it contradicts the objective.  

Dr. Houser did the right thing. He did his job. His integrity as a scientist was more important than a paycheck. But he remains concerned about his colleagues in DOI, “There are a lot of good scientists that work for the government but they are scared, they are scared that what happened to me might happen to them. This is an issue (about) the honesty and transparency of government and an issue for other scientists in government who want to speak out.” A few weeks ago Dr. Houser settled a wrongful discharge case with the DOI. Terms of his settlement are not public.

Now, seven more DOI scientists working on the Klamath Project have filed a complaint with PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) claiming they have been reassigned or terminated for disagreement with the integrity of the science used to support dam removal. They have charged DOI’s Bureau of Reclamation’s management with “coercive manipulation, sublimating science to political priorities, censorship, and scientific misconduct.”

What are those political priorities?

To control people? Why? In order to save the earth? Or are they using the cause of “saving the earth” in order to control people? Do any of them know? And why are we letting them do it?

*

This is from the local newspaper of a city in California (whose City Council is also an enthusiastic implementer of Agenda 21*):

The city’s renewable-energy program continues to be the gold standard of the green movement, with a participation rate of about 21 percent – the highest in the nation.

If that means 21% of the city’s population, this is what just 21% is imposing on the rest:

This year, [the city’s] battle against global warming will hit one of its most significant milestones yet when the city adopts a plan for making its entire electricity operation “carbon neutral”. The term … means that the city’s electricity portfolio would have net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by purchasing from clean power sources and buying offsets for standard “brown” electricity. In November the City Council  approved an official definition of “carbon neutral” …

Words will mean what they want them to mean …

… and in December, the Utilities Advisory Commission signed off on a staff plan to reach the rare and prestigious plateau this year.

They’re high on their success, quite unable to see how lunatic it is.

[The city will] join an elite cadre of cities leading the fight against climate change through emission-free electricity.

They will still be using mostly “brown” electricity – about 70% according to their own pie-chart – but because of the “offsets” they can pretend that they are using “emission-free electricity” only.

Of course, like all idealisms, this pretense has its price tag. All those offsets must cost a packet! The consumers will be paying more for their power.

But only a teenie-tiny eenie-weenie bittie-bit, they plead:

If things go as planned, the Utilities Department estimates that the city’s leap to carbon neutrality will cost the average ratepayer between $2.60 and $4.2o more per year.

Sure. You can trust them on that, can’t you?

One councillor dared to dissent:

“I’m concerned that the reason why it’s so cheap is because the benefit is so small,” [he] said.

We hope he has a gun for self-protection, that insurgent.

* Putting Agenda 21 in our search slot will take readers to full descriptions of this spreading blight.