Friday, December 17, 2010

The Fourth Branch

In school we all learned the basics of the U.S. government: three branches of government, Executive, Legislative and Judicial, checks & balances, etcetera etcetera. It’s a beautiful system that was designed to work for centuries by keeping any one branch from becoming too powerful, and allowing challenges to any branch that is abusing its authority.

But it seems that we have found a loophole that, in effect, has created a fourth branch of government, one with few, if any, checks or balances, and an ever-growing mountain of power.

I’m talking about the Regulatory Branch. This monstrosity includes the EPA, OSHA, the FCC, TSA, NLRB, and sixty-some-odd more agencies with far-reaching authority and little accountability.

Its agencies account for the vast majority of non-military government employment and budgets. Federal regulatory agencies employ well over a quarter-million people. That’s more than four times the number of people employed by the entire legislative and judicial branches combined. The total 2009 budget for federal regulatory agencies was $51.1 billion, dwarfing the budgets of the legislative and judicial branches, which were $4.7 billion and $6.6 billion, respectively. The EPA alone outpaced each of these, with a 2009 outlay of $8 billion.

In addition to being a monumental behemoth, the Regulatory Branch has an astonishing level of power. Not only does each individual regulatory agency have wide-sweeping authority, but a single rank-and-file employee can, with a simple pen-stroke, cripple or even shut down a business, and the business owner will have little recourse other than appealing to the very regulatory agency that is making the accusations against it.

If a regulatory inspector is having a bad day, is offended by something you’ve said, or just doesn’t like the color of your shirt, they can fine you thousands of dollars. They have to find a violation in order to fine you, of course, but with the mountains of complex, unclear and sometimes conflicting regulations churned out by these agencies, that’s not difficult. I doubt that there are any businesses--of any size--in existence today that couldn’t be found to have multiple regulatory violations.

The Code of Federal Regulations, which contains all the rules spewed out by the Regulatory Branch, was just shy of 80,000 pages in 2009. If you spent 12 hours a day every day reading this 50-volume tome, it would take you about 6 months to read it. It is the equivalent of about 60 copies of War and Peace.

In the eyes of Big Government, the Fourth Branch is beautiful. It has wide-sweeping abilities to create new and all-encompassing laws that have the crafty ability to get around the checks and balances that were established by our founding fathers. It generates significant revenue in the form of fines and fees, which go directly back into Big Government to help create even more layers of bureaucracy and gain more control.

But in my eyes, it is a giant loophole through which has marched an unwieldy, unaccountable and unconstitutional new branch of government, which is not elected and answers to no one.

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