Lawmakers aim to curb agencies' power

Congress is giving federal agencies too much legislative power, a panel of witnesses before a House Government Reform subcommittee charged Wednesday.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., testified before the Subcommittee on National Economic Growth, Natural Resources, and Regulatory Affairs on the dangers of handing over law-making authority to the executive branch.

"By delegating Congress' powers to the executive branch, the people have no recourse, because the executive branch employees that craft these rules and regulations are unelected and unaccountable," said Hayworth.

The Constitution grants legislative power solely to Congress. When Congress delegates regulatory power to an agency, that power is not absolute: the legislative branch ultimately has the final say in approving or rejecting regulations.

Hayworth and Brownback have both introduced legislation, known as the Congressional Responsibility Act, requiring congressional approval for all agency regulations before they are enacted.

Both men criticized lawmakers for participating in the "Washington two-step,"-taking credit for passing popular legislation, but often letting agencies take the heat for unpopular rules.

In March 1996, Congress passed the Congressional Review Act (CRA) as a vetting process for new agency regulations, but has yet to veto a single agency rule since its passage.

The controversial case Browner v. American Trucking Associations has been central to the debate over agencies' regulatory powers. In 1999, the D.C. Court of Appeals held that the Environmental Protection Agency had overstepped its authority when it created new ozone standards. The case is currently before the Supreme Court.

Although most witnesses generally agreed that Congress delegates too much authority to the agencies, Wendy E. Wagner, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University, said a case for broad delegation of powers could be made.

"The public, for example, may prefer broad delegations if they are the only way of overcoming legislative deadlock on timely and important social problems. Broader delegations to the agencies may also be preferable in circumstances where a problem is simply too complex for Congress to efficiently resolve at a legislative level," Wagner testified.

The agencies generally do a good job of using discretion when implementing regulations, said John T. Spotila, administrator for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget. He said the Commerce Department refrained from issuing a final rule on manufacturing specifications for nuts and bolts, instead working extensively with Congress on crafting cost-effective legislation.

"Federal agencies make good faith efforts to develop, assess, implement, and enforce regulations that implement government programs," Spotila said.

H.R. 2301 and S. 1348, introduced in 1999, are currently in committee.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.