What does modernized governance look like?
The American people deserve a government that is poised to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. To achieve this goal, our nation’s policymakers and the civil service must work together to deliver better outcomes for the American people rather than process. Modernized governance requires that those governing respect the focus of liberty and freedom that are enshrined in our constitutional system. It does so in different ways. First, we must simplify the vast number of laws that make it impossible for Americans to understand the rules of the road and, in turn, be able to make decisions for themselves. We can ensure strong environmental, labor, health, and public safety standards while empowering citizens to meet these standards in objective ways, free of the whims of bureaucrats and arbitrary delays. In addition, we must ensure that laws are made by those who are ultimately accountable to the will of the people. We must ensure that unaccountable agencies are not imposing their own laws on the American people., Instead, we support the restoration of that power back to Congress and to the elected executive to ensure representative democracy. Finally, modernized governance is the execution of laws in a predictable way that grants citizens assurance that they can rely on the objective rules laid out. Likewise, the civil service benefits from well-defined roles, giving them a clear picture of what is expected and allowed. Less discretion to arbitrarily interpret the law would, consequently, create less risk of influence by personal or special interest agendas. With less of the civil service’s effort focused on process and more on assuring compliance and developing substantive standards, the public would be left with more freedom, prosperity, and trust in the government to keep us safe and healthy.
The volume of federal regulations is far too massive for the average person to comprehend. But there are steps we can take to begin to reduce this burden without decreasing the quality of our environmental, labor, and public safety standards. For example, during the Trump administration, the Department of Transportation developed the “Rule on Rules” that required the Department to eliminate two regulations for every new regulation, to have a general approach of having no rules that do not directly address needs in the market, to require “guidance” documents to be published and available to those affected, and to be clear on interpretations of the rules prior to enforcing the rules. These commonsense policy changes, which have since been repealed, reduced the power of the executive agencies and made the law more understandable to those impacted.
Another goal is to restore power to Congress by taking measures to reduce the ability of the administrative state to manipulate congressionally approved principles into economically impactful and byzantine regulatory schemes. One example of this effort, the REINS Act, would require Congress to approve regulations that would have “major” financial consequences on the economy or any individual project. Other ways to do this include requiring regulations to expire without reauthorization (i.e., a default sunset provision) and taking away the legal force and effect on so-called “guidance” memos issued by executive agencies. Transparency around the existence of these guidance memos could be an important first step.
Administrative agencies are notorious for their inefficiency and selective enforcement of the law. For example, executive agencies are charged with performing environmental impact studies under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) before granting a permit. These studies are designed to ensure that the environmental consequences of a proposal and reasonable alternatives are considered before a significant action affecting the environment moves forward. The problem is many of these studies take years to complete. The average project study takes 4.5 years to complete, while 25% takes more than six years. And, even after the completion of the studies, the decision on whether to grant a permit lies in the hands of a government official. Modernized governance believes avenues of reform should be explored that allow applicants for a permit to immediately undertake projects provide they are meeting the established environmental standards. Such efforts would eliminate unneeded procedural delays and would create a more definite timeline for the project to be completed. A concurrent benefit would be the accelerated ability of the federal government to ensure compliance with the underlying standards to which permittees attest. Similar inefficiencies exist across the spectrum of the administrative state and can be similarly addressed. Bottom line, we do not need to sacrifice high-quality standards such as clean air and water in the march toward a modernized and standardized governance structure.