The Crisis of the Administrative State, Part 2

Admin State 2 copyOne of our lefty commenters yesterday lodged an objection to my post on “Liberal Conformity and Times Square” that Congress should just pass a simple fix to the 1965 Highway Beautification Act to exempt Times Square from the obvious silliness of applying the statute to that unique location.

Problem solved? Not even close. Because if Congress were asked to step in whenever a bureaucrat did something stupid, they’d hardly have any time left for important things like resolutions to commemorate National Orange Juice Week.  The Times Square nonsense is merely a well-publicized example of what goes on every day, though to be sure Congress is partly at fault for passing vague or imprecise statutes that delegate huge amounts of law-making and enforcement power to the executive branch.

Chris DeMuth of the Hudson Institute walks us through one of the more egregious examples of this style of government at work in a recent working paper:

A good example (I think not atypical) of ad hoc administrative democracy in action is the requirement of the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA–APHIA) that magicians prepare and submit disaster-response contingency plans for the rabbits they use in their shows.In 1965, Congress responded to a heartbreaking news report of animal abuse with a law requiring licenses for medical laboratories using dogs and cats in their research; in 1970, it amended the statute to cover other animals and “exhibitors” (circuses, animal shows, etc.) as well as research labs. Thirty-five years later, in 2005, a USDA official was attending a children’s magic show in Monett, Missouri, in which the magician, Marty Hahne, pulled a rabbit, Casey, out of his hat. She asked to see Hahne’s license, which he had not known about but immediately obtained. He began paying USDA’s annual license fee and following the agency’s requirements—which included furnishing USDA with itineraries for Casey’s out-of-town travel and agreeing to surprise inspections of his (Hahne’s) home. USDA began contacting other children’s magicians and their association, KIDabra, began playing an intermediary role.

Then, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina later in 2005 (in which some New Orleans exhibition animals were lost), USDA–APHIA initiated rulemaking proceedings for animal disaster-response planning that continued for many years and produced a final rule in December 2012.Soon thereafter, Hahne received a “Dear Members of Our Regulated Community” letter informing him of the new requirements. With the pro bono assistance of a professional disaster-plan consultant, he prepared a 34-page plan analyzing the risk parameters for a single bunny in Christian County, Missouri, including chemical leaks, floods, tornadoes, heat waves, and other emergencies, and specifying evacuation procedures including continued exercise opportunities for Casey and continued care if Hahne and his wife Brenda were incapacitated in the disaster, and other matters.

Finally, when the Washington Post ran a fun-poking story about Hahne and Casey’s travails, USDA immediately announced that it was suspending the disaster-plan rule for further analysis.

Don’t think that a congressional “patch” in statutes will fix this kind of government.  This is the mode—not the exception—of the kind of government liberalism has deliberately built.

Stay tuned, more to come on this topic.