Monday, May 31, 2010

Fwd: Obama Has Already Changed Our Government More than You Think ANS

Subject: Obama Has Already Changed Our Government More than You Think

Here is an article about some of the good that President Obama has done so far that you just don't hear about in the Right Wing Media. It is about people he has appointed to public posts that actually have expertise in the area of concern, and believe in scientific evidence rather than being political first. 

Obama Has Already Changed Our Government More than You Think: John Judis at the New Republic

Here is the first part of a fine and informative article by John Judis at the New Republic. The link for the remainder of the article can be found at the end of this substantial excerpt.


The Quiet Revolution
Obama has reinvented the state in more ways than you can imagine.

by John B. Judis
The New Republic, February 1, 2010

These days, liberals don't know whether to feel betrayed by or merely disappointed with Barack Obama. They have gone from decrying his willingness to remove the public option from his health care plan to worrying that, in the wake of Democrat Martha Coakley's defeat in Massachusetts, he won't get any plan through Congress. On other subjects, too, from Afghanistan to Wall Street, Obama has thoroughly let down his party's left flank.

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 office.

The regulatory agencies, most of which date from one of the three great reform periods (1901–1914, 1932–1938, and 1961–1972) of the last century, were intended to smooth out the rough edges (the "externalities," in economic jargon) of modern capitalism–from dirty air to dangerous workplaces to defective merchandise to financial corruption. With wide latitude in writing and enforcing regulations, they have been described as a "fourth branch of government."

That wide latitude could invite abuses of power, but the old-time progressives who fashioned the regulatory state rested their hopes on what could be called "scientific administration." Louis Brandeis and Herbert Croly–to name two of the foremost turn-of-the-century progressives–believed that the agencies, staffed by experts schooled in social and natural science and employing the scientific method in their decision-making, could rise above partisanship and interest-group pressure. Brandeis's famous concept of states as "laboratories of democracy" comes out of his defense of state regulation of industry and was meant to conjure an image of states basing their regulatory activities on the scientific method. For his part, Croly often made the progressive case for disinterested expertise. The success of the regulatory agencies, he wrote, depended upon "a sufficient popular confidence in the ability of enlightened and trained individuals … and the actual existence for their use of a body of sufficiently authentic social knowledge."

Many of the last century's presidents–from Theodore Roosevelt to Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton–subscribed to this progressive ideal of regulation based on expertise. But, beginning in the 1980s and culminating in the presidency of George W. Bush, the notion of scientific administration came under attack from Republicans and their allies. They began to subvert the agencies by bringing in business executives, corporate lawyers, and lobbyists–the very opposite of the impartial experts envisioned by Brandeis and Croly.

Reagan chose Thorne Auchter, the vice president of a construction firm, to head OSHA. Bush appointed a mining company executive to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration and a trucking company executive to head the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. To lead OSHA, he named Edwin G. Foulke Jr., a longtime foe of the agency who had advised companies on how to block union organization.

Some of the Republican appointees weren't business types, but ideologues or hacks who were utterly unqualified for their positions. Anne Gorsuch, whom Reagan nominated to head the EPA, was a rising member of the Colorado House of Representatives, where she was part of a conservative group known as the "House crazies." Michael Brown, whom Bush appointed to run the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), had previously been commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association.

Even some less offensive Republican picks were unable to carry out their agencies' missions. Bush appointed Christine Todd Whitman, a moderate figurehead, to lead the EPA, but he boxed her in with a hostile White House above and conservative staffers below–people like Jeffrey Holmstead, who had represented the Chemical Manufacturers Association and was placed in charge of enforcing the Clean Air Act.

Obama's regulatory appointments could not be more different–no surprise given that he is the son of two social scientists (one of whom attempted to introduce scientific administration to Kenya) and that he once worked in academia himself. Indeed, the flow of expertise into the federal bureaucracy over the past year has been reminiscent of what took place at the start of the New Deal.

For instance, as a replacement for Foulke at OSHA, Obama chose David Michaels, a professor of occupational and environmental health at George Washington University. In 2008, Michaels published a book, Doubt is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health, detailing how businesses had delayed regulations by "manufacturing uncertainty" about scientific findings.

To manage the EPA, Obama appointed a slew of highly experienced state environmental officials. (As Bill Becker of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies explains, state officials are ideally suited for the EPA because they have firsthand experience in how regulations are enforced and how they work.) Obama's choice to run the agency was Lisa Jackson, a chemical engineer who led the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Her deputies include the former secretary of the environment in Maryland, as well as the former heads of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, the Massachusetts Bureau of Resource Protection, and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

Meanwhile, Obama chose as his Food and Drug Administration (FDA) chief Margaret Hamburg, who achieved renown during the 1990s as health commissioner of New York City, where she developed a program for controlling tuberculosis that led to a sharp decline in the disease. Her number two is a former Baltimore health commissioner who, in 2008, was named a public official of the year by Governing magazine. Obama's director of the National Park Service is a 30-year veteran of the agency–and the first biologist to lead it. And his new director of FEMA is W. Craig Fugate, who performed outstandingly as Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist's head of emergency management in Florida. Fugate may not know anything about Arabian stallions–but he does know a thing or two about hurricanes.

Republican presidents didn't just undermine scientific administration by making poor appointments; they also slashed or held down the regulatory agencies' budgets, forcing them to cut personnel. This was a particular problem in the all-important area of enforcement: If regulatory agencies can't conduct inspections and enforce rules, it doesn't matter how tough those rules are. OSHA's budget fell 13.1 percent in constant dollars during the Reagan years and 6.8 percent during the administration of George W. Bush. As a result, an agency that had employed 2,950 people in 1980 employed just 2,089 in 2008–and the number of compliance officers had declined 35 percent. According to Michael Silverstein of the University of Washington School of Public Health, this meant that a workplace could expect an inspection only once every 88 years.

The story was similar elsewhere. Under George W. Bush, the EPA's funding dropped 27 percent, while personnel fell 4.2 percent from 2000 to 2008. Personnel at the National Labor Relations Board, which is responsible for enforcing labor laws, has fallen 41.8 percent over the last 30 years. At the Mine Safety and Health Administration, funding had fallen 5.3 percent and personnel 43.8 percent from 1980 to 2006–when the Sago Mine disaster in West Virginia suddenly awakened Congress to the way the Bush administration had crippled the agency.

Now Obama is reversing these trends.


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