“Stroke of a pen . . . law of the land. Kind of cool.” That insouciant comment, made by Paul Begala when he worked in the Clinton White House, raised controversy when Begala said it back in 1998, but it hardly would today.
After all, just in the past few weeks we have discovered that President Obama plans to sign, on his own authority, an international “climate change” treaty. He calls it an executive agreement and so claims he needs no congressional approval, even though his administrators will use the treaty to impose new policies and rules binding American individuals, governments, and businesses to change their behavior on pain of federal sanction.
This past week, the Food and Drug Administration formally withdrew 47 draft guidances. (I have no idea what they were about. If you’re sufficiently intrepid to pursue this, the Federal Register notice is here.) FDA’s step may or may not have to do with a May 7 letter from Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and James Lankford (R-OK) to several federal departments and agencies (Department of Labor, Department of Education, HHS, EEOC) requesting information on the agencies’ use of guidance documents. The letter expresses concern that the agencies may be using guidance documents in ways that circumvent the notice and comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act.
This past Friday, Boston College’s excellent Shep Melnick (interviewed on this site not long ago) gratuitously ruined my weekend by alerting me to the latest “Dear Colleague Letter” (“DCL”) from the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”). The DCL “shares” OCR’s views on “resource compatibility” at the nation’s schools, district by district. Horrendous in its own right, the letter also prompts broader thoughts on “government by guidance”: it’s a prescription for a banana republic.