Dear Bureaucrats, Run for Office
Corey Uhden, Politics Contributor
OPINION -- On February 16th, 2017, The New York Times published a report regarding EPA workers urging Congress to reject Scott Pruitt’s appointment to the agency, calling it “a remarkable display of activism and defiance.” As if a peevish president wasn’t enough, we have a petulant bureaucracy to match. If federal employees disagree with the president’s agenda, the principled thing to do is resign, and if they still covet the power to make rules, they’d have to be elected as lawmakers.
America’s alphabet soup of agencies was never meant to be the ultimate deciders on everything we eat, buy, sell, and see but the busybodies in bureaucracy have even repeatedly gone above and beyond their overly broad statutory authority to issue new rules and guidances without following the proper processes. This is the reality of the fundamental transformation Barack Obama promised before becoming president and it raises the specter of the “little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital” that Ronald Reagan inveighed against fifty-three years ago. Undemocratic and highly unconstitutional, it is long past time to put the fourth branch to pasture.
It is time to deconstruct the federal bureaucracies and devolve their powers to states and local communities as the Tenth Amendment commands. Currently, operating under the outrageous premise of Wickard v. Filburn that anything that might have an impact on the buying and selling of goods anywhere in the country falls under the interstate commerce clause, there isn’t a single product that isn’t heavily regulated by at least one federal bureaucracy. Even if a product like a useful drug, for example, has been safely used for years and undergone rigorous scrutiny from some other super-bureaucracy such as the European Union’s Medicine Agency, it still is required to submit to the rigors of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s processes that can take up to twelve years to complete. There is no better recipe for a sclerotic and uncompetitive economy. This isn’t progress; it’s reductivism on a scale Big Brother would envy. Worst of all, it benefits the established enterprises and interest groups that have already reaped bountiful rewards over the inventors and innovators fighting for their own slice of success.
Reform is necessary, and it won’t be easy. Unelected bureaucrats aren’t subject to recall and civil service protections make firing incompetent or insubordinate employees nearly impossible. President Reagan has been proven right: a federal bureaucracy is the closest thing to immortality on this earth. Try to appoint a reformer to a Cabinet post, and watch defenders of the status quo come running faster than you can say, “Betsy DeVos.”
Scott Pruitt, unlike his predecessors, fully understands that his job is to administer the EPA according to statutory requirements. Upon taking office, Pruitt told employees in a mostly congenial speech that “federalism matters” and reminded them “the only authority that any agency has in the executive branch is the authority given to it by Congress.” “Administrator Pruitt spoke to EPA staff today. What's IN: Federalism, process and law. OUT: focus on clean air, clean water, public health” read a tweet from one of the many “rogue” bureaucrats’ accounts in response. Wait, the law wasn’t IN before!? No, it wasn’t. As much as EPA supporters complain about Pruitt suing the agency as Oklahoma’s Attorney General, the EPA made a cottage industry of staging lawsuits to further expand their reach beyond Congress’s control. Those days are over, and not a moment too soon.
Reformers are in for the fight of their lives against the recalcitrant authoritarians of the administrative state but it would save us all the effort if they would just resign and run for elected office instead. If an EPA employee fervently believes that the federal government should be designating irrigation ditches as “navigable waterways” for the purposes of regulating the content of rainwater, he or she can explain that to the residents of Nebraska and try to unseat Sens. Ben Sasse or Debbie Fischer, who don’t believe in such ridiculous rules. That is, if it is actually the policies and not the constitutional process that has them in a fit of fury. It would tell the American people everything we need to know about our would-be rulers if there aren’t some bureaucrats running for office in the near future.
You can follow the author on Twitter @CACoreyU