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Pillars of Democracy: Three Experts on Building an Administrative State that Works

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On October 21, the Kluge Center, in partnership with the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution, held its fourth event in the Pillars of Democracy series. After three events that covered the lack of trust in the constitutional branches of government, the fourth event’s focus shifted to the administrative state, which some describe as effectively a fourth branch of government given the power that it wields.

William Galston, Ezra K. Zilkha Chair in the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program,moderated the discussion with panelists Jeffrey Rosen, former Acting Attorney General and General Counsel at the Office of Management and Budget; Beth Simone Noveck, the first Deputy Chief Technology Officer during the Obama Administration; and Susan Dudley, one-time Director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Administration.

Galston directed the discussion to three major points:

  • the development of the administrative state since the passage of the Administrative Procedures Act in 1946,
  • the problems that have surfaced as the government’s regulatory apparatus expanded, and
  • what might be done to address the lack of trust in government that is often focused on the regulatory bureaucracy.

In the course of the discussion, Dudley and Rosen explored ways of streamlining bureaucratic processes, including cost-benefit analyses, to speed up infrastructure projects and other initiatives. In one parallel to previous discussions in the Pillars series, Dudley attributed some of the growth in administrative state responsibilities to Congress passing increasingly “vague statutes” and leaving the details to the administrative agencies. In the Pillars event on the presidency, Jeffrey K. Tullis attributed the growth in presidential power to a similar step back by Congress from exercising its full authority.

Rosen looked at potential approaches to reauthorizing the Administrative Procedures Act. More cost-benefit analysis could be a helpful reform for avoiding unwise regulation, he said, or even implementing caps directly on the costs that can come with administrative decisions.

Noveck described ways other countries bring big data to bear on regulatory challenges, how more effective and democratic public engagement could be had in regulatory processes, and how important updated training of the regulatory workforce is. With today’s technology, Noveck said, our everyday activities create a huge quantity of data that can be used to help government make better decisions, and can even be shared in some form with individuals to create innovative projects.

The panelists agreed that the challenge is figuring out how government can balance the public’s desire for clean water, safe food, and other public goods with the need to make processes more streamlined and efficient.

The video of the full event is now available. Watch here. And read about the whole series here.


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