Home / Blog / Article


March 27 2018

The Power of Unelected and Unaccountable Bureaucrats

by Charlotte Hays

Just want to take a few minutes to recommend an excellent new book Deconstructing the Administrative State: The Fight for Liberty, by Emmett McGroarty, Jane Robbins, and Erin Tuttle (all of the worthy American Principles Foundation).

The theme of the book is that "major shifts in policy without the consent of the people, transferring control over vast swaths of policy-making from elected officials to anonymous technocrats and all but eliminating true accountability" happen because of the rise of the administrative state.

The three authors provide almost a handbook with which to view much of what is going on with regard to a recalcitrant and unresponsive bureaucracy. I read Deconstructing as soon as it arrived and have been meaning to call it to your attention for some time.

A piece in this morning's Wall Street Journal about the unaccountable bureaucracy reminded me that I had been remiss. Today's piece is by J. T. Young, who served in the George W. Bush Office of Management and Budget and Treasury Department.

We hear a lot about the so-called deep state today because of President Trump's clashes with this embedded bureaucracy, which has managed to subvert some of the president's agenda (a key mechanism is targeted leaks to the media).

 But Young argues that the embedded bureaucracy was a problem before Trump and that without reforms it will continue to have more power than the Constitution gives it. Young writes:

This is not what the Founders intended. Constitutionally, the bureaucracy was supposed to support the executive branch; since the late 19th century, it was intended to be apolitical. President James Garfield’s 1881 assassination by a disgruntled office seeker spurred the replacement of the “spoils system” with the civil service in 1883. Exam performance replaced party membership as the qualification for government jobs.

But the seemingly nonpartisan system had unforeseen liabilities. Despite a disinterested facade, individuals and institutions are intensely interested in advancement, each reinforcing the other. The bureaucracy’s expansion in size and scope is the individual bureaucrat’s gain in responsibility, power and prestige.

Young says that the "first step of reform is recognition of the extraconstitutional role the entrenched bureaucracy has come to play. It is vastly larger and more powerful than anything the Founders could have imagined or accepted—or most Americans imagine now."

Deconstructing the Administrative State is a good place to begin to understand the ins and outs of how an unaccountable bureaucracy builds and uses its power. They show, for example, how grants to states and localities can be used to shape and change local policy-making.

I met Erin, an Indiana mother who opposed the Common Core curriculum, and Jane, a scholar who specializes in education policy, when I was reporting Common Core battles. So I was not surprised that  the book has a lot of good material on education policy.

One of the main points they make is that as "government grows, freedom shrinks." The bureaucratic system has growth in its DNA. But the authors believe that this is a battle that can be won.

Available on Amazon.

IIndependent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
Follow us