Essay 27 – The Administrative State

Part 2: Fixing The Problem

Essay 27 – The Administrative State

“There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”
– James Madison, speech to the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 17, 1788

The quote above reflects the importance and the understanding of the separation of powers and the proper role of the different branches of government. For the most part, if the federal government is abiding by the limitations that the people have put upon it through the Constitution and if the separation of powers are adhered to, there is little reason for the people to give much thought to the President or federal government at all during peace time.

The federal government was never intended to have any real effect on the daily lives of the people. Anything that would have such an effect on the people would be decided at the state levels, which is much closer to the people and would be able to differentiate between the various values, beliefs, and cultures that are distinct around the nation.

That all changed with the progressive movement as begun with the election of Woodrow Wilson in 1912. The Progressives, as led by Wilson, abhorred the Constitutional system of government. They believed that the system made it too difficult to make the changes they felt were needed. They believed that the Executive branch (the President) was too weak and, therefore, the needed changes that would help our country “progress” (in their opinion) were being thwarted by the cumbersome system of government.

The Progressives wanted the President to be the real mover and shaker of things and felt that because he was the one person that was representative of all people in the nation, that he should be the one to guide everything and with that, have the power to implement things quickly and decisively.

This line of thinking took hold with many people and, along with such events during the same period as the ratification of the 16th Amendment (enabling the individual income tax) and the 17th Amendment (changing the election of Senators to a direct popular vote of the people), the power shift from the States to the National government was in full motion.

As these major changes in our system of government took hold during the next 10-20 years and the ramifications of them started to be realized, it set the table for Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) to implement the biggest shift in political power in the Republic since June 21, 1788.

FDR’s New Deal administration put into practice what Woodrow Wilson dreamed about. An Executive branch with more power and influence than the Constitution calls for. Out of this, the Administrative State was born.

The idea was that we had progressed beyond the concerns of having a limited government and that it was now time to create an efficient administrative apparatus that was manned by “experts” in each respective administrative areas, using a scientific approach. These experts would be deemed objective and beyond any possibilities of political bias or self-interest, so would be able to determine how best to regulate, administer, and adjudicate an ever increasing number of areas of government.

Of course, this entire concept was 100% contrary to the foundational principles of our Republic and the Constitution, but never mind that, we did it anyway.

At first, the Judicial Branch thwarted much of FDR’s New Deal policies, but after he threatened to stack the Supreme Court, they acquiesced and went along with things.

To accommodate the increased Administrative State, which not only includes the increases in the multiple cabinet level departments, but also a myriad of various independent agencies within them, all filled with bureaucratic experts, in just one decade of the FDR administration, the federal workforce (excluding the military) nearly tripled in size. The numbers then remained fairly steady until the 60’s and with Johnson’s Great Society programs, the size increased another 50%. Since then, it’s remained hovering around 1.2-1.3 million federal employees (excluding military).

But that doesn’t tell the whole story of the expansion of the federal government and the Administrative State. Although the numbers of actual federal employees have remained fairly steady over the past 50+ years, the reach of the federal government into our daily lives certainly has not. They have used other ways to accomplish this.

For example, they are using state and local government employees as “proxies” for their work. They do this by using federal funds provided to the states to implement policies as dictated by the federal government. There are now approximately 3,000,000 state and local government employees that are directly paid for with federal funds (and doing the work that the federal government mandates).

But that’s not all. They also use private for-profit and non-profit organizations to do their work. Government contracts with these private organizations is big business. These organizations are used to do the work of the Administrative State just as if they were government employees. Granted, they probably do it more efficiently, but that’s not really the point here.

Because the federal government assumed so much power and got involved in so many things, the Legislature was not able to keep up with it all and that resulted in them passing on many of their legislative duties to the Administrative State.

What they do now is pass very large, but generally worded laws and then hand it over to the Administrative State to work out all of the details, write the regulations and rules for those laws (effectively creating these regulations with the full affect of actual law).

Basically, the Legislative Branch has abdicated its exclusive power of making laws and handed it to the Executive Branch.

Now, these agencies in the Administrative State are essentially making law, enforcing law, and adjudicating it. The very powers that, per James Madison, if are all held by one entity, its the very definition of tyranny. And it happens to be in a part of the federal government that is not even part of the Constitution and the people within it are not elected by or accountable to the people.


How to fix it…

We need to find a way to steadily decrease the Administrative State and decentralize the power to get it back to the States and local government, closest to the people.

As long as all of the power and money are consolidated and centralized in one place (Washington D.C.) then all of the corruption and cronyism will follow and get worse and worse.

But what can we do? That is the question.

1. Educate the people. If you’ve been following along in these essays, you will recognize that this is pretty much the first step in fixing all of the issues I’ve discussed. I’m afraid that there is no other way. Without enough people educated in these issues, there will be no way to have enough support to make the changes needed to set us back on track.

2. Recognize what changes need to be made to the system. We’ve been operating under our Constitution now for nearly 230 years. We have experiences and knowledge about how it has worked and how it has not that the Founders who created it did not have. We need to use that experience and knowledge and fix the things that have gone wrong. The principles are sound, but there have been many ways that the system has been manipulated that has thrown it out of whack. Recognizing where that has occurred and figuring out how to make it right is imperative.

3. Use the Constitution to fix the Constitution. Once we have identified what has been broken, we need to work to fix it. This will require some substantial Constitutional Amendments in order to plug some holes, clarify some phrases, and add new protections based on what we have learned over the years.

The Administrative State has been progressively growing over the past 100 years. Therefore, it’s not something that can be fixed overnight. We won’t be able to reverse everything immediately. It will take years to dismantle and redirect everything to its proper order and place. The important thing now is for people to recognize the problem, put a halt to the downward spiral, and take substantial steps to correct it.


About this series:

The People Are Sovereign! is a series of 30 essays that will be posted on a daily basis. The series will continue tomorrow with Essay 28 – Article V

To view the previous essay in the series, click this link: Essay 26- The Judiciary Revisited

To view the next essay in the series, click this link: Essay 28 – Article V

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About Steve Wood 182 Articles
I am a husband, a father, a small business owner, a veteran, and a Citizen of the United States. As my avatar depicts, I believe The People need to relearn and focus on the basic principles that our Republic was built upon. My contributions here will be geared toward that end. Please join me in rational, civil discourse.