Monday, July 12, 2010
How The Court's Sarbanes-Oxley Decision Affects Social Security (and Other) Policies
Yesterday's NY Times carried a story about tensions between Congress and the Social Security Administration (SSA), along with tensions inside the SSA, over the critical task of how to keep the numbers concerning social security honest. The key figure is the agency's chief actuary; the current actuary has served 37 years and apparently has earned Congress's respect for his independence, accuracy, and reliability. His independence is legally protected by standard "for-cause" removal provisions -- the head of the SSA cannot fire the actuary at will (and therefore pressure the actuary) but only if specific, demonstrated good-cause reasons exist. This is especially important because there is, in fact, tension between the current head of the SSA and the actuary over some issues. Yet if the comments from House and Senate members in the Times story are accepted, this system has worked; for all the political and policy struggles over social security, at least policymakers have been able to rely on the numbers the chief actuary has generated.
Many have argued that ALL the "alphabet agencies" FAA, FTC, etc., are as situated unconstitutional. The argument goes that the SCOTUS has created a legal fiction--out-right lied thru their teeth, actually--by justifying the view that they are Constitutional by saying that they hold/exercise only *quasi* legislative/executive/judicial powers. Yet as critics have pointed out, when one is fined millions of dollars by the FCC for "obscene" on-air language, the fine is paid with REAL, not *quasi* dollars; and if one is found guilty by an FTC or FDA administrative law judge of selling adulterated drugs and sentenced to jail, one cools one's heels in a REAL jail--not a *quasi* one.
Seen in the above light, many argue that the proper place for these agencies is within the Administrative/Executive branch where power, authority and responsibility can be properly mated.
A classic example of the perils of the status quo took place during the Clinton Administration when, with both the President and VP out of the country during a trade dispute with Japan the Federal Maritime Commission--ON ITS OWN WITH NO CONSULTATION WITH THE PRESIDENT,SEC OF STATE OR DEFENSE, AND USING CURRENT STATUTORY AUTHORITY--ordered the Coast Guard to intercept Japanese ships with orders to fire warning shots if they refused to turn back--a potential act of war.
That such a little-known "independent" "administrative" agency should have the power to order independently on its own, and with no consultation, what is, in effect, an act of war with a foreign nation is an intolerable state of affairs and only spotlights the inherent illogic of the present position/role of the "independent" Administrative Agencies within our governmental structure.
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