Reasonable people disagree about the reach of the federal government, but almost everyone believes the government should protect us from such dangers as bacteria-infested food, harmful drugs, toxic pollution, crumbling bridges, and unsafe toys. And yet, the agencies that shoulder these responsibilities are in shambles; if they continue to decline, lives will be lost, money wasted, and natural resources squandered. In their timely new book, The People's Agents and the Battle to Protect the Public: Special Interests, Government, and Threats to Health, Safety, and the Environment, Rena Steinzor and Sidney Shapiro take a hard look at the tangled web of problems that have led to the dire state of the American regulatory structure.
In Steinzor and Shapiro’s view, the agencies are not primarily to blame; regulatory failure actually stems from a host of overlooked causes. The authors go beyond the facile analysis that so often dominates media coverage of regulatory failures, with a focus on gross errors by bureaucrats, revealing instead the unrelenting funding cuts, the breakdown of the legislative process, the increase in the number of political appointees, the concurrent loss of experienced personnel, chaotic and interfering White House oversight, and ceaseless political attacks on the bureaucracy. In their estimation, all have contributed to the broken system.
While the news is troubling, the authors propose a host of reforms, including a new model for measuring the success of the agencies and a revitalization of the civil service. The People’s Agents and the Battle to Protect the American Public is an urgent and compelling appeal to renew America’s best traditions of public service.