The book The Regulators: Anonymous power brokers in American Politics by Cindy Skrzycki serves to uncover the struggles for power, legal battles and political intrigues that happen behind the scenes in Washington. She uses her famous style of humor and wit to make the subject of regulation fun and understandable for the common citizen. She is very intent at spotting scandals and regulatory violations and pursuing them to their extreme ends.
All the six chapters are further illustrated humorously by Keith Bendis to make them further understandable and comprehensible. She states that the objective of writing this collection is to take complicated topics, and reduce them to understandable texts for anyone to understand. In this she succeeds. On top of this, she makes topics that would be rather boring easy to read and absorbing. The book, through its six chapters, gives the readers a sense of the omnipresent regulators who have a hand in almost every aspect of the American’s life. It also largely highlights the people who stand to contradict the authority of the regulators and how they fail in most instances.
The first chapter dubbed “The Long arm of the regulators: The Ubiquitous Regulatory State,” serves the reader with tales about the lobbying behind regulations that range from insignificant matters like the legal size of prunes, the breath mints and holes in Swiss cheese. It also gives us a peek at how the department has grown in terms of the increase in the number of pages in the Federal Register, staffing and the cost of regulation.
The chapter explains how the register was developed as the daily measure of regulatory activity. She takes us back to the point at which the Federal Register Act was created back in 1935 after the Supreme Court censured the president for failure to give sufficient notice for an order concerning the regulation of quota allowances. This led to a situation where the government could not locate the original document which consisted of the regulations governing the oil sector. To prevent similar cases from happening in the future, the government saw the need to put up the. Since then, the register has grown in size from a mere 2620 pages in 1936 to over 80000 pages in 2002.
We are made to understand however, that this has not been a steady climb. With changes in governments, comes a change in these regulations which sometimes requires freezing of some of theses regulations for some time before decisions are made or complete stoppage of them. This opens our eyes to the importance of these high level individuals as far as regulation is concerned. These are the people the author refers to as the anonymous power brokers of the American politics.
The chapter also points out the difference in the nature of regulations over time. The regulations have changed from those with an economic dimension as were witnessed in the early 20th century to ones with a social dimension as witnessed currently. She argues that the change has been prompted by the creation of regulation agencies such as the EPA and the OSHA. She uses two case studies to illustrate the role of regulators, Congress and interest groups in creation of regulations. First, we see the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration putting a company to task over the quality of tires it produces. The company’s have been involved in accidents that have led to more than 150 deaths. The company lacks conviction and access and hence lost the debate. Second, we see OSHA’s ergonometric rules in effect.
Chapter two is titled “The Regulators: Who Makes the Rules and How Much Power Do They Have?” It is a similarly enticing good read. The author starts us off with the creation of other regulatory bodies like the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Communication commission. Their regulations include policies such as those implemented by a Robert H. Dick whose description of employment involves the tasting of teas to determine if they pass the FDA regulations. The FCC implements its regulations by getting employees to sift through media and identify content that does not pass its regulations. These are coveted jobs due to the powers these two individuals hold over individual markets and businesses.
Chapter three is headed “Special Interests: Bending the Rules of the Regulators.” It covers a wide scope of issues but mainly centers on the co-ordination of certain people to remove laws that are against certain business interests. In this chapter, we are introduced to a situation where certain regulations that had been adopted only a moth before are disapproved. While it centers on business interests, it also covers congress’ role as a special interest and introduces a few other mundane aspects of regulations.
In Chapter four, “The-End-of-the-Century Crucible of Reform” the author highlights attempts to reform the regulatory authorities so that regulators are more accountable. It however fails to mention earlier reform attempts. It however points out political realities diluted efforts at making these reforms happen while missing a chance to illustrate how special interests defeated broad reform proposals. She laments how Americans remain ignorant to the costs that go to regulations and the amount of important information that is poured into it.
We also see the regulators attempting to adopt a one-size-fits-all reformation that seeks to one procedure of getting things done.
The theme of accountability is carried forward to chapter five “the Price Tag of Regulation: The Cost-Benefit equation.” In this chapter, however, the book analyses the important role that cost-benefit and risk analysis have played in regulation. It carries us through the adoption of the Tire Safety Regulation and how different shareholders contributed towards its creation and adoption. Among them is the Bush office of Management and Budget, pro-regulation groups, auto and tire manufacturers, and the Congress.
According to this chapter, the cost-benefit and risk assessment methods of regulation have been adopted rather positively and are used to justify almost any new project or policy. This is amid the controversy about the methodologies required. Targeted changes become more easily accomplished than comprehensive modification.
Chapter six depicts the Bush administration trying to change some of the regulations put up during the Clinton era. It carries us through what we would expect for the future of regulation. It discusses the effects the September 11 attack, international treaties and the Enron Scandal are expected to have on regulation. She concludes by pointing out the role that the government now plays in regulation. She says that the government continues to control more and more bodies with time. Theses include Homeland Security, accounting, governance and environmental regulation.
This book serves to show the role of public administration plays in regulation. It also shows cases where personal interest overtakes public interest in making national policies. The book also serves to introduce the regulatory procedures to public administration students through the use of case studies as is shown in the text. This way, it becomes on of the most relevant source as far as regulation is concerned. It also shows how simple seemingly stupid decisions can cause conflict in an economy, as in the case of fresh breath mints. When the regulators decide the right serving size for hard candies, every manufacturer complains with a different opinion.
The book introduces various themes as are met by public administration officials. These include themes of corruption, misuse of power and division of responsibilities. It also looks at governance with special interest with the governance of Washington. The book also serves to highlight various challenges faced in administration like cases where regulations have been changed within a month to serve certain interests. The book also shows cases of policy improvements especially with the adoption of the Federal Register and the change of regulatory laws to ensure more accountability by the various bodies.
The book is however a poor read on various grounds. It skips various opportunities that would be important for passing important information. In chapter 3, the book fails to acknowledge the strength of lobby groups in pursue of certain interests. While the lobby groups actually won the fight against the regulators eventually, the author fails to mention this and displays lobby groups as minute groups that are fighting against giant figures. This is actually not so and shows a bias of some sort.
The book also fails to display the message in an educative tone but rather does so in a sarcastic tone. This way, the author seems to concentrate more on the administrative figures that seem to determine everything in the lives of Americans rather than on the importance of certain laws and regulations. She seems not to care about which laws are good and which ones are bad but just uses them to show the control that certain figures have over us. However, she is certainly skeptical of the rather mundane laws.
These weaknesses however do not make her less important. they could be attributed to different aspects of her writing. First, these articles are extracted from newspapers. Newspapers articles are often written in a hurry with no much time to substantiate information. They are also expected to favor a certain side for better readership and are often expected to be pitchy as well.
In conclusion, the writer attempts to display the regulatory process as it is in Washington. She displays how different aspects of regulation affect the everyday lives of average Americans. She approaches these topics in a humorous and fun to read way and carries the reader with her. Of much importance is her review of her past papers which serves to remind the reader about various scandals that have arisen in the past. This way, anyone interested in public administration would be interested. The book also serves to identify challenges that are often involved in public administration and strategies that may be used to resolve them. The weakness that is seen in her book could be attributed to two things, her role as a journalist and the fact that her articles were meant for newspapers which are often expected to be pitchy.
Dudley, S. E. (2003). Unmasking the Regulators. (In Review). Regulation, (2), 56. Retrieved from: http://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/serials/files/regulation/2004/7/v26n2-review.pdf#page=3
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