If there's one takeaway from the John Beale saga, it's that our federal bureaucracy has grown far too powerful, and there's not nearly enough oversight and transparency to keep it in check.
We should all question how Beale became a senior official at the Environmental Protection Agency and played a major role in policy decisions, while pulling off a scam I thought only Hollywood could make up.
The Beale I'm talking about is the guy now in jail for stealing nearly $1 million dollars. The same guy who for over a decade conned the EPA into believing he was a CIA agent.
Three decades ago, without any relevant experience, Beale was hired in a position at the EPA to help develop a costly regulatory agenda that reverberates throughout our economy today.
While Beale was stealing taxpayer dollars, he was also putting in place a system to hide scientific data and shield costly regulations from legitimate scrutiny.
Where was the accountability, the leadership or responsibility of EPA’s top brass when his scheme was exposed? There wasn’t any. He was allowed to retire with full benefits despite his scam.
The growth of the executive branch, the regulatory onslaught it facilitates and the Beale style of abuse that goes undetected for years is scary.
But what's worse is the growing ability for the Obama administration to go around Congress and make up its own rules without any checks or balances.
The expanded power given to federal employees has been referred to as the “fourth branch” of government. The growth of this fourth branch has led to increasing power and independence for nameless federal bureaucrats.
Far too many laws are no longer passed by Congress. Instead, bureaucrats are writing and implementing new regulations. Six years into the Obama administration, they’re producing an average of 10 new regulations a day.
Many people fault Congress for failing to hold the executive branch accountable, and I agree — blame is appropriate.
The U.S. Senate, controlled by Obama’s Democratic party, refuses to conduct any meaningful oversight of the executive branch and outright ignores the opportunity to pass or negotiate on any major legislation with the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
In fact, the committee on which I serve as ranking minority member, the Environment and Public Works Committee with jurisdiction over the EPA, has completely failed in its oversight obligations.
Thank goodness the Republican-led House is taking oversight action and shedding light on how Beale helped develop a system to shield agency action from scrutiny. Beale's creation sets a dangerous precedent that’s contagious throughout federal government.
Taking advantage of the lack of oversight, Obama is intentionally expanding the fourth branch. A logical assumption is that under the Constitution, we can turn to the courts.
But the judicial branch is just as much to blame. By giving federal agencies broad deference, the judges are allowing government bureaucrats to interpret the law as they see fit. The judicial branch is not holding bureaucrats accountable for violating laws passed by Congress.
Just this week, we saw exactly that. After the Supreme Court decision on whether the EPA went beyond their scope of authority as mandated by the Clean Air Act, it’s clear to me that the courts are still providing the agencies too much deference.
It’s also clear to me the EPA is violating their internal guidelines, and I hope — sooner than later — the courts will actually decide the EPA cannot just make up data and science as they go.
Beale’s work on major air quality standards during the 1990’s memorialized the definition of the fourth branch.
Beale pushed through the standards without any regard for scientific integrity or transparency. Along the way, he helped hide scientific data and critical analysis and provided cover for inflated benefits claims, creating an “ends justifies the means” mentality that endures today at EPA.
As a reward, EPA’s top officials deferred to Beale’s judgment and allowed him to wander through the vast bureaucracy and commit fraud for decades, during Democrat and Republican presidential administrations.
Congress has passed laws that agencies are supposed to comply with, including the Information Quality Act, which requires standards for scientific work product; the Federal Records Act, which requires agency staff to retain all records of work-related communications; the Freedom of Information Act, which requires agencies to comply with public requests for information; and the Data Access Act, which requires all federally funded data to be made publicly available.
A violation of any one of these should be enough to invalidate certain agency action. Yet the courts, through deference, repeatedly allow such violations.
Beale’s work on air standards proves that with the emergence of the fourth branch an official deep within an agency as large as EPA can violate each of these laws.
This is facilitated when the legislative branch’s fails to do appropriate oversight and the judicial branch gives unreserved deference despite such violations. This is where we suffer the true impacts of the fourth branch.
The executive branch was never intended to be so big or bloated that it needn’t follow mandated rules. Agency employees like those at EPA were never intended to act as their own branch of government.
They should be reminded that they’re part of the executive branch — one of the three — and not an individual fourth.
Sen. David Vitter is a Republican senator from Louisiana.