Lesson Objectives:- Enabling legislation
- Negotiated rulemaking
- Bureaucrats as policymakers
- Congressional control
As huge as the government is, Congress could not possibly be involved in every aspect of policymaking. There is a certain amount of power that it delegates to federal agencies through what is called Enabling Legislation.
Enabling Legislation is a statute enacted by Congress that authorizes the creation of an administrative agency and specifies the name, purpose, composition, functions, and powers of the agency being created.
For instance, the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914 brought the Federal Trade Commission into existence. Such agencies provide the technical expertise that Congress lacks to make sure laws are implemented correctly and to take care of the day-to-day administration of its programs.
When Congress passes a law, a federal agency responsible for that area drafts a regulation and publishes it in the Federal Register. That gives individuals and companies the chance to comment on the regulation, allowing them to influence how the regulation is written.
When the final regulation is written and published in the Federal Register, a waiting period of 60 days begins. Anyone can ask that the regulation be overturned. Even after the 60 day period, the regulation can still be challenged, but it would have to be a powerful argument finding that the government agency arbitrarily and capriciously misinterpreted the law.
Controversies arise because there are so many interests from all sides. Sometimes, a controversy will arise because a certain agency refuses to act on law. State and local governments, as well as special interest groups, can and have sued such agencies and the Supreme Court has often decided in favor of those groups.
In the past, companies and special interest groups frequently challenged government regulations in court, and it became apparent that regulating through litigation is very wasteful. The Negotiated Rulemaking Act of 1990 was passed to avoid courtroom battles as much as possible. Negotiated Rulemaking allows an agency to announce in the Federal Register that it is drafting a rule and any party that will be affected by it can apply to join the negotiating committee. The committee members get to participate in the drafting of the rule, usually under the condition that they cannot challenge the final rule in court.
Bureaucrats do not just implement laws and policies; the reality is that they play an important role in the policy-making process. The Iron Triangle is a concept that describes a three-way alliance among legislators in Congress, bureaucrats, and interest groups to make or preserve policies that benefit their respective interests. For example, the House and Senate committees for agriculture would work with the Department of Agriculture and agricultural interest groups such as the American Farm Bureau Federation to form the three components of such a triangle.
Some theorists see the policy-making process differently, describing it as an Issue Network. What that means is a group of individuals or organizations—which may consist of legislators and legislative staff members, interest group leaders, bureaucrats, scholars, and media representatives—supports a particular policy position on a given issue. Members of an issue network all support a particular policy position on an issue, for example, taxation or climate change, and work together to influence the president, members of congress, administrative agencies, and the courts.
Some people question whether or not Congress can control the entire federal bureaucracy. The fact is that they actually set the powers and the parameters of the agencies in the first place and can overturn rules when agencies overstep their bounds.
Also, Congress can actually refuse to authorize or appropriate funds for an agency. Although that would be a very drastic solution, it is clear that Congress does in fact have that power.