What are the other independent regulatory commissions?How many other independ

The Federal Reserve regulates banking and nation’s money supply. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regulates many aspects of energy. The people who control these agencies are appointed for multi-year terms. They are unclutrolled by the President; they act independently. One can only hlpe that the appointees do a good job.

Are there other important aspects of our economy that are similarly controlled by independent commissions? Have the various independent commissions done a good job? Have there been problems due to too much independence?

Thanks for any info.

Well, the FCC is an independent agency headed by five commissioners. They do a decent job.

I think the SEC and NASD are also ‘independent’. Also what about most state ‘bar’ assiciations for lawyers?

A listing (which is fairly inclusive, but might not be complete) of “Independent Establishments and Government Corporations” can be found at http://firstgov.gov/us_gov/establishments.html These span a broad spectrum of agencies - and most people will probably find some of their favorite government agencies AND some of their prime examples of governmental abuse on the list. It includes (in alphabetical order, to take some of the most famous) the Central Intelligence Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, NASA, the National Science Foundation, and much more.

IIRC These organizations are referred to as “independent” NOT because they are immune to control by political processes, but because they are not formally a part of any of the fourteen executive departments (State, Defense, Treasury, Commerce, etc.) Most of them are still subject to a variety of political controls.

The commissioners are appointed by the President. While many of the terms are fixed (so that GWB will have to live with some of Bill Clinton’s commissioners for a while yet) - for most of these parts of the government, there is another vacancy each year, and the total number of commissioners is small enough that a President will typically have appointed a majority before the end of his (or her) first term. In addition, the President will be able to name people to fill vacancies, and for many of these there are likely to be a few vacant positions at any given time. In some cases, the President can fire sitting commissioners, which also gives him/her opportunities to change the agency’s leadership.

In addition, most of these agencies do require annual budgets - which means that they must go through both Executive and Legislative branch budgeting processes. This can also be a substantial check on their authority and discretion.

The Federal Reserve has seemed particularly free of political control for some time - but I would argue that this is at least as much a reflection of the political skills of Alan Greenspan and the political clout of his supporters as it is due to the formal organizational structure of the Federal Reserve Banking System. By this point, any president who attempted to appoint a different chairman would face enormous political and economic problems regardless of who the replacement was. Fundamentally - Greenspan seems to me to be in many ways quite comparable to J. Edgar Hoover in terms of his ability to maintain a position in the Executive Branch relatively free of political controls. (The REASONS they maintain that power are quite different, I hope, but the autonomy each has seems similar). Hoover, as head of the FBI, was in the standard agencies (FBI is a part of the Justice Department).

My own take would be to say that there is not any strong evidence right now that the independent agencies are any more, or less, problematic than any other part of government. Some have done well, some have been abusive. They have been more popular recently (over the last 50 years or so) as a way of structuring new activities by the Federal Government, but it is not clear that this way of setting things up makes a huge difference by itself.

I think we should take a page out of the UK’s book and call them “quango’s”. It doesn’t make them work any better - it’s just a cooler sounding name.

I KNOW somebody’s going to come along now and correct me in excruciating detail concerning the difference between a quango and the type of US agency we’re talking about, but it sounds like the same sort of thing to me.

According to http://www.cabinet-office.gov.uk/quango/index.htm the UK has just over 1000 quango’s although “The government is committed to keeping the number of quangos to an absolute minimum …”.

Oh. Heck.
The FirstGov site is certainly comprehensive, to a fault. As dorkbro mentions, it lumps agencies with completely different levels of independence together. Allow me to tease a few out.

The most ones which most obviously stretch the definitions of independence are Environmental Protection Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, Peace Corps, and I believe the General Services Administration. These are just the same as cabinet agencies without the rank, they are “independent” only in the sense of being non-departmental. Their heads serve at the pleasure of the President and they are no more independent than Secretary of Labor or whoever. I really think these should be called “non-departmental line agencies” and the term “independent” should not be used in connection with them.

In order to have true independence, the organization’s leaders must have tenure. The most independent of all Federal bodies are the courts, which aren’t on these lists because they are in the judicial branch. Constitutional considerations aside, independent commissions like the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, the FERC, and the governing body of the Postal Service are much closer to the courts in practical terms than they are to the EPA or the National Endowment for the Arts. They have multiple leaders, whose views presumably moderate one another, appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate, but not able to be fired by either body except for cause.

Granted, there are significant differences. Firing somebody for cause is easier than impeachment, but harder than firing, say, the Attorney General. A tenure of several years is more insulating than serving at the pleasure of the President, but less insulating than life tenure. (The longest non-life tenure I know of is that of the Comptroller General, who serves a 15-year term at the General Accounting Office. The Fed Governors are a year shy of that.)

Anyway, I’ll end with an interesting note. This sort of organization puts these agencies in a weird place, mentally. A lot of people don’t even accept that the Federal Reserve and Postal Service are public organizations, even though their governing bodies are appointed by the President (yet no one places the Supreme Court outside the Federal government). Political scientists describe them as quasi-judicial, quasi-executive, quasi-legislative organizations, which puts them in a weird Constitutional place. Some place them in a fourth branch of government, one deriving not directly from the Constitution, but from statute. So basically, if you’re confused, you’re in good company.