Washington, D.C., is the country’s last “company town,” and the big industry is the federal government. So it isn’t received well here when someone dares to question the size or scope of government.
Recently, law professor Jonathan Turley took to the pages of The Washington Post to warn about the growth of the administrative state. “The growing dominance of the federal government over the states has obscured more fundamental changes within the federal government itself,” Turley wrote. “Our carefully constructed system of checks and balances is being negated by the rise of a fourth branch, an administrative state of sprawling departments and agencies that govern with increasing autonomy and decreasing transparency.”
Predictably, some career bureaucrats didn’t like Turley’s message and registered their protests with letters to the Post. “If Mr. Turley were to check the beginning of regulations published in the Federal Register, he would see that these civil servants also have phone numbers where they can be reached,” one wrote. “Agencies like mine go to great pains to be open about our efforts and are subject to vigorous scrutiny by Congress and the courts,” added another. “They end up knowing just about everything but our shirt size. How much more transparent can we get?”
The complaints miss the point. Certainly many bureaucrats are nice people, and certainly they can be reached by phone, fax, or e-mail. The problem isn’t the people in the government; it’s that those people don’t have the constitutional authority to be making public policy.