The People's Agents

in The People's Agents and the Battle to Protect the American Public

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780226772028
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226772042 | DOI:
The People's Agents

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This chapter examines the theoretical explanations scholars have offered for why the five protector agencies have strayed so far, using one central theory that runs across this literature: if the five protectors serve in the capacity of “agents” for American government's ultimate “principal”—the American people as a whole—what conflicting incentives have led them so far astray? The analysis leads to two general conclusions that are generally overlooked in the literature on principal-agent relationships in government. First, the five protector agencies have multiple principals—the Congress, the White House, and the courts—and each of these masters has a profound effect on their performance. Second, while agencies themselves are a source of regulatory failure, so are these principals. They contribute to regulatory failure by making it more difficult for agencies to carry out their statutory missions and failing to engage in effective oversight. To fix this broken system, each of these major institutional players needs to do business differently, beginning with the proposition that, in many instances, the protector agencies are not primarily to blame for their many problems. The ultimate solution is not to muzzle or punish the five agencies but to free them to do their jobs more vigorously.

Keywords: principals; agents; federal agencies; government; regulatory failure; oversight

Chapter.  6221 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Environment and Energy Law

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