Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Why regulatory reform just isn't enough...

This John Judis piece on Obama's work to reform critical agencies is getting a lot of play on the liberal blogs. It offers a ray of sunshine to liberals who are presently disgusted with the administration and the lack of Congressional leadership. Judis writes,

Yet there is one extremely consequential area where Obama has done just about everything a liberal could ask for--but done it so quietly that almost no one,
including most liberals, has noticed. Obama’s three Republican predecessors were
all committed to weakening or even destroying the country’s regulatory
apparatus: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety
and Health Administration (OSHA), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC),
and the other agencies that are supposed to protect workers and consumers by
regulating business practices. Now Obama is seeking to rebuild these battered
institutions. In doing so, he isn’t simply improving the effectiveness of
various government offices or making scattered progress on a few issues; he is
resuscitating an entire philosophy of government with roots in the Progressive
era of the early twentieth century. Taken as a whole, Obama’s revival of these
agencies is arguably the most significant accomplishment of his first year in

These are important reforms, I really do not want to diminish the substantive change that Obama has brought about in various agencies. However therein lies the issue - just as Bush undercut the missions of these agencies and Obama has revived them so too can the next president choose to weaken these critical agencies. This isn't lasting reform, it's reform that will be in place until the next time a Republican wins The White House.

I worked in a federal agency for sometime while I was in law school. To a person the staff of that agency believed in the agency's mission. Unfortunately Bush was President, Mrs. Mitch McConnel was the Secretary and a certain Italian Supreme Court Justice's woefully unqualified son was the head of the agency. Talk about dispiriting. It's hard to relay to people how demoralizing it is for agency staff to get up and go to work everyday knowing that your bosses not only don't believe in your mission but that they are actively trying to undermine your work.

Lasting reform comes through legislation, this is why EFCA was such a high priority for labor unions. If you want true reform you need to get it into statute where the next administration can't do away with it through the technical and arcane agency rule making process. I'm not trying to disparage the administration's efforts or Judis' work in highlighting these reforms. Liberals though should understand that far from a revolution this is just our turn on the playground.

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