Sunday, March 24, 2013

A thought about U.S. executive power.

The president of the United States is dealing with domestic and international issues. He is the head of a huge executive branch, but also dealing with the legislative and judicial branches of government. He has to deal with politics in order to maintain his authority, and as leader of his party to try to assure that his administration has adequate influence in the legislative branch.

There are some 200 foreign nations. The Secretary of State has a huge organization with representatives in those foreign nations feeding information through layers of filters to supply the Secretary with information and analysis. The Secretary travels a lot and actually meets and holds discussions with many foreign leaders. He spends essentially all of his time on foreign affairs. The Secretary of Defense also has a huge organization, with different interests and analytic capacities than the State Department, feeding him information and analysis on which he spends all his time and effort. The same can be said of the Director of National Intelligence. The Secretary of the Treasury similarly has an organization to study and analyze international economic affairs which feeds him information and analysis.

The Secretary of the Treasury also leads an organization gathering information on and analyzing domestic economic conditions and providing him with information and analysis on which he spends all of his time. So too the Secretaries of other cabinet departments in their areas of expertise.

The president has a White House staff and can draw on a National Security Council, and Domestic Policy Council, a Council of Economic Advisers, a Council of Scientific Advisers. He can also draw upon the organization of his political party for advice.

If the president has any sense he will surround himself with cabinet officials who can effectively bring to his attention the most relevant information and analysis from their subordinate organizations on the issues at hand (and likely to arise) while effectively advocating policies and actions relevant to their responsibilities. If he has any sense he will recognize that each and any of those cabinet members may be right and his less informed opinions may be wrong. He will use the White House resources to help him obtain a broad spectrum of informed advice, as well as to follow up and assure that his decisions are being effectively implemented.

The U.S. Constitution was constructed by people who had led a revolution to free their country from the rule of a monarch who believed he ruled by divine right; they set up checks and balances and gave great power to the legislative branch of government. The Congress not only has 538 members elected from all over the country, but a large staff reporting to individual members and to the various committees, plus investigative bodies. It obtains exhaustive advice from the private sector and non-governmental organizations, as does the executive branch.

Even were the president to be so foolish as to wish to ignore the Congress, he could not effectively govern were he to try to do so. He is constrained to come to agreement with them.

A cabinet member has the odd task of forcefully advocating the positions he achieves with the advice of his subordinate organization, while implementing the decisions of the president whether or not they agree with the recommendations he has made, and supporting the positions of the administration publicly and with the domestic and foreign leaders which which he interacts.

And of course, all there people are people -- fallible, emotional, with families and personal concerns, who get tired and sometime sick. It is interesting that we so often presume that the government should make rational decisions based on all but perfect information and analysis, judged against our uninformed and poorly analyzed opinions.

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