Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Bush tries to take hold of federal bureaucracy

New York Times story:

President Bush has signed a directive that gives the White House much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.

In an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Mr. Bush said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities.

This strengthens the hand of the White House in shaping rules that have, in the past, often been generated by civil servants and scientific experts. It suggests that the administration still has ways to exert its power after the takeover of Congress by the Democrats.

This executive order — another controversial and questionable one — looks like it will create a public relations and communications monopoly for Bush. He will be 'the decider' in what is published by the government, increasing control over an already bulging federal bureaucracy. While it may act as a positive regulator, it has the negative effects of increasing the power and control of an administration that has already shown itself as having poor policies, making bad decisions, and not being representative of the people. Balkinization:
It no accident that these revisions occur following the Republican loss of Congress in 2006; both Congress and the President have varying degrees of influence over the bureaucracy; the Administration, faced with a Congress of the opposite party, is trying to ensure that its influence remains stronger. But it is likely that these changes would have occurred even if the Republicans retained Congress, because these changes are part of a longer trend of Presidents finding ever new ways of asserting control over the federal bureaucracy, and, more to the point, they mesh well with Bush's big government conservatism.

Critics may assume that the use of political appointees as gatekeepers is consistent with the Administration's "war on science." There may be something to that, but here is a better way to look at it. Scientific expertise is a source of authority for the bureaucracy; it justifies its independent judgment. Such independent judgment is precisely what Presidents seek to curb in asserting control over the bureaucracy. There is no one way to do this, of course.
Critics often charge that the Bush Administration does not care much about policy debate, only about politics. The Bush Administration's distinctive solution to the conflict between the President and the bureaucracy reflects this larger tendency.
Bush is trying to take hold of the bureaucracy — and use it to his advantage.

In some ways this executive order is comparable to the actually good decision of bringing all the United States intelligence agencies under the control of an 'intelligence czar' — a middle man between the agencies and the White House. This order, however, allows the Bush administration to have control over regulation. It also mixes in [bad] politics where it ought not be mixed: in things like science. As the Times article says, the order highlights Bush's tour de force to the new Democratically-lead Congress; this executive order accompanies statements by the president that his plan for Iraq will be acted on no matter what Congress says or does.

It is all about making sure all areas of the federal government are in agreement, or look as if they are. Whether it's a NASA report on the threat of global warming or a State Department dossier critical of Bush's poor foreign policy, this White House looks like it wants to crush any and all criticism of and dissent to its policies. From their viewpoint, they might as well start with the areas of the government Bush has control over. At the same time, the directive allows Bush to enjoy popularity among groups which benefit from the new rules, namely businesses; donors to Bush.
Business groups welcomed the executive order, saying it had the potential to reduce what they saw as the burden of federal regulations. This burden is of great concern to many groups, including small businesses, that have given strong political and financial backing to Mr. Bush.

Consumer, labor and environmental groups denounced the executive order, saying it gave too much control to the White House and would hinder agencies’ efforts to protect the public.

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