Last week, U.S. Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma released his first annual Federal Fumbles report, a list of 100 examples of government waste at its worst. Following the document’s release, many of the more amusing “fumbles” have made national headlines. Yet, while these problematic programs have garnered the most media attention, to conclude that the study’s greatest attribute is the illumination of questionable spending is to miss the point of the report altogether. These specific samples are only a symptom of a greater problem.
Government programs, like those listed in Lankford’s report, that so clearly violate the trust of American taxpayers, can only exist in a system deprived of meaningful accountability. While the causes of our current state are numerous, one factor is notable, outside of the consistent (and vital) debate concerning the proper size and scope of government: the nature of how America is governed in the modern age.
This element is an important point in the Senator’s report, but has gone unnoticed by many news outlets and commentators. Lankford notes that while President Obama signed 224 bills into law last year, federal agencies published 3,554 final rules. This translates to 16 new rules for every law passed by Congress. These regulations perpetuate the cycle of government waste and abuse that infuriate average citizens by shifting responsibility to unelected bureaucrats.
Today, America is governed, at least in practice, by administrative agencies that are unaccountable to the people. This shift in authority occurs in two primary ways. First, the executive branch avoids congressional decision-making and approval though agency actions. One timely example of this overreaching authority is the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. This rule requires states to cut carbon emissions 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Opponents of the rule argue that the EPA exceeded its legal authority under the Clean Air Act. Ultimately, the Supreme Court will likely decide that question. At the very least, however, the EPA’s plan makes a significant policy decision, to mandate emission reductions and to inflict higher utility costs on millions of Americans without the approval of their elected representatives.