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Who Needs Experts?

The biggest problem in Washington, of course, is that President Bush's crack team of political appointees doesn't have enough power. Luckily, help is on the way:

In an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Mr. Bush said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president's priorities.

So agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency will now be assigned babysitters, appointed by the president, to make sure they aren't doing anything too burdensome for businesses. After all, it's not like we can trust OSHA experts to write worker safety regulations. They can't even be lobbied! Where's the accountability?

On a more historical note, Jack Balkin looks at some of the precedents here. Both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton also tried to tighten executive-branch control over experts in the regulatory agencies. The difference is that Bush "treats expertise more like a threat to Presidential authority than the Clinton model did." One question, it seems, is whether the Democratic Congress will try to wrest back control over some of these federal agencies; presumably the White House sees them as its exclusive domain. Neil Kinkopf wrote a Legal Affairs article a few years back about the battles during the Reagan years over who controlled the federal bureaucracy. It might be worth revisiting.

--Bradford Plumer