Uh-oh: Jurassic Government

Everybody knows Jurassic Park – the 1993 science fiction adventure film in which a team of genetic scientists create a wildlife park of cloned dinosaurs.

When the security systems go haywire, the dinosaurs go uncontrollably wild.


Jonathan Turley is a left-leaning law prof at George Washington University …. a frequent legal analyst on CNN … not to be mistaken as a Tea Party kinda guy.

He had a weekend op-ed in the Washington Post that’s a must read.

Titled “The rise of the fourth branch of government “, the article’s central thesis:

The growing dominance of the federal government over the states has obscured more fundamental changes within the federal government itself:

It is not just bigger, it is dangerously off kilter.

Our carefully constructed system of checks and balances is being negated by the rise of a fourth branch:

An administrative state of sprawling departments and agencies that govern with increasing autonomy and decreasing transparency.

That is, the government agencies have gotten so big and sprawling that they  have substantially more power over our lives than the 3 Constitutional branches of government … and they are, for all practical purposes, unmanageable and largely out-of-control.


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Here are some highlights and stats from Turley’s article …

The 4th Branch of Government

There were times in recent weeks when it seemed like the 19th-century Know-Nothing Party had returned to Washington.

President Obama insisted he knew nothing about major decisions in the State Department, or the Justice Department, or the Internal Revenue Service.

The heads of those agencies, in turn, insisted they knew nothing about major decisions by their subordinates.

It was as if the government functioned by some hidden hand.

The suggestion that someone, even the president, is in control of today’s government may be an illusion.

The agencies form a fourth branch of government that now has a larger practical impact on the lives of citizens than all the other branches combined.

By the numbers

Today, we have 2,840,000 federal workers in 15 departments, 69 agencies and 383 nonmilitary sub-agencies.

The vast majority of “laws” governing the United States are not passed by Congress but are issued as regulations, crafted largely by thousands of unnamed, unreachable bureaucrats.

One study found that in 2007, Congress enacted 138 public laws, while federal agencies finalized 2,926 rules, including 61 major regulations.

A citizen is 10 times more likely to be tried by an agency than by an actual court.

In a given year, federal judges conduct roughly 95,000 adjudicatory proceedings, including trials, while federal agencies complete more than 939,000.

Agency discretion

Capitol Hill’s relatively small staff is incapable of exerting oversight on more than a small percentage of agency actions.

The agencies’ autonomy was magnified when the Supreme Court ruled in 1984 that agencies are entitled to heavy deference in their interpretations of laws.

The court went even further this past week, ruling that agencies should get the same heavy deference in determining their own jurisdictions — a power that was previously believed to rest with Congress.

Dissenting Chief Justice John Roberts warned: “…  the growing power of the administrative state cannot be dismissed.”

Bystanders on Capitol Hill & in the White House

The federal agencies officially report to the White House under the umbrella of the executive branch.

But in practice, the agencies have evolved into largely independent entities over which the president has very limited control.

Most of the time, agencies’ internal policies are hidden from public view and congressional oversight.

In the new regulatory age, presidents and Congress can still change the government’s priorities, but the agencies effectively run the show based on their interpretations and discretion.

The rise of this fourth branch represents perhaps the single greatest change in our system of government since the founding.

We cannot long protect liberty if our leaders continue to act like mere bystanders to the work of government.

Grab the kids, it’s Jurassic Government

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One Response to “Uh-oh: Jurassic Government”

  1. Carlos Says:

    1% of the population working for Federal Government? Hardly seems a reason to panic, specially when compared to 1.4 million active duty soldiers and 850K in reserves.

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