The US Government was wisely divided into branches in order to diffuse the power. These competing sources of power provide checks and balances against attempts the natural tendency of people, or groups of people, to attempt to act beyond their authority. The first check is the Constitution, with is limitations and demarcation of power and authority. The final check is the ability of a majority of the people to throw off a government that has failed to correct its abuses of that Constitution.
There is another problem in the US Government, which has weakened the checks between the three primary branches (Legislative, Executive, and Judicial): The excessive size and scope of government. Two primary challenges arise from the size of government. First, the size of government results in the impossibility of any one representative knowing all of the laws that exist. Second, the institutionalization of executive and legislative bureaucracies becomes self-protective and limits the knowledge of what needs to be reformed or changed.
1. There is a serious problem when those, who are elected with the responsibility to enact and change laws, do not have the time to read the bills that are placed before them for a vote, let alone to understand the laws that are currently on the books. Aside from the impossibility of citizens understanding all of the laws they must obey, the legislators cannot be expected to make wise decisions about laws if they do not know them. This has resulted in narrow specialization in Congress, with committees and subcommittees. Large “omnibus” bills that include hundreds and thousands of pages with dozens to hundreds of unrelated laws are placed before legislators for their vote. Can we realistically expect that each of the legislators will be able to read the entire bill, let alone to understand the impact of each of the separate provisions in the bill? And how should they understand the impact that those separate provisions have on current law? Is it any wonder that Congress seems constantly busy, yet little seems to get done? Surprisingly, they seem to find time for trivial matters, such as bringing citizens in for the latest professional sports doping scandal.
There is not less of a problem with the Executive Branch. Simply attempting to identify and list all of the agencies connected to the Executive is no small task. These are organized, to use the term loosely, under a plethora of cabinet-level departments. We may amuse ourselves trying to list the names of the Seven Dwarves, yet I wonder if even the President could list all of the departments in his cabinet, or the names of the Secretaries over each of them. Each of these innumerable agencies have separate rules and regulations that they attempt to follow and enforce, which effectively create additional laws to the infinite number that have been enacted by Congress. I have wondered if there are any agencies left in the federal government that do not have their own law enforcement function. Somehow, amid the chaos of the bureaucracy, we expect that the Secretaries of the different departments will have some idea what their various agencies are doing. Additionally, we must not expect these Secretaries to communicate this with the President, since we have regularly given this office a pass for not knowing anything, but the most vital to our security. Even when it has related to our security, we often excuse the ignorance of the President. I would love to see the President answer a pop quiz about all of the nations where we have military operations, including special operations. I will admit, I doubt he could do it. I doubt the Secretary of Defense could do it. How difficult is it to reason that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing in the Executive Branch? It would take an enormous stretch of the imagination to believe that the President is aware of all of the major actions taken by each of his departments. Is this what we expect from a President? With all of the laws and regulations, could we possibly expect anything else?
2. When new elected officials and their officers arrive, they find a ready institution of bureaucracy already on hand. There is some wisdom in this, because the functions of government would otherwise decrease in efficiency (assuming that is actually possible) with every election or change in a department. However, the size of the bureaucracy (as previously stated) is so large that it would be an almost impossible task for an incoming President (or others) to address all of the bloating and inefficiency. Becoming familiar with the various rules is not the primary focus of a President, when other policies seem much more visible and pressing. With this in mind, can we believe that any President would even be aware of changes that need to be made? Without time to look at the operations of each department, the President is left to take the advice of his cabinet. That is, naturally, the reason for a cabinet. However, the Secretaries are almost always new to their respective department. The result is that they, too, are relying on someone else to give them the shortened version of the various duties and how the department functions, including the multitude of laws that require certain duties, processes, and hierarchies.
The process of self-preservation for such departments and agencies is to focus on the immediate crises of which the Secretary or leadership needs to be aware, as well as ideas for further programs and regulations that would increase the scope and power of that department or agency. Information that suggests waste or irrelevance of that organization tends to get buried, underreported, or isolated from other areas. Can an organization offer or accept a recommendation to decrease the size of that organization? If this is necessary, it is ideally done in exchange for greater powers and authority than it previously enjoyed. These are actions that may increase the relevance and the future size of the organization. This can be seen with the recent recommendations of the Defense Department to decrease the number of personnel, while redefining the mission of the department in terms of special operations. The trade-off is a decrease in certain types of personnel that may be sedentary when not deployed, for an increase in active fighting forces, with more locations and situations for them to be used. As the use of active fighting forces for a large number of special operations becomes the norm, the Defense Department may again be able to increase in numbers, while maintaining an active institutionalized function, with its accompanying powers and authority. This comes, in part, from the increased flexibility given to a military at war, compared to a military at peace. The same principle works for other departments, as we view their functions of what they can do as an ongoing bureaucracy, instead of what they should do as part of a limited government.
The result of our bloated government is that citizens cannot be certain they are always obeying the law; legislators cannot know the impact of the laws they created; and the President cannot ensure that the existing laws are fully enforced. There are too many problems in government for everyone to agree where the primary focus should be, which results in little motivation for change. The size of government leads to distractions and disunity, which allows for increased size and abuse. No one can know all of the things our government is doing. Without knowing what our government is doing, how can legislators provide oversight? How can the people hold the legislators accountable for that lack of oversight. The next laws I would like to see passed are those that start to repeal all of the excessive laws we have. The laws that we need should be short, uncomplicated, and limited in scope.