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Iron Triangles 2,111 views
I’ve got this problem with an unwarranted charge on my cable bill. But I’m thinking, no problem, I’ll just call up customer service, we’ll get it resolved. Before I can speak, I’m listening to a recorded message, supposed to be 10 minutes, but the cue turns out to be 20 minutes. I finally get to talk to somebody on the phone and she says, "I can’t help you with this problem, you’re going to have to talk to our service manager." Well, you know what’s going to happen from here. I wait for the service manager, I’m put on hold and then I get cut off. God, I hate the bureaucracy. That ever happened to you?
Welcome back to chapter 11. We’ll take a look at the federal bureaucracy in this chapter. And we’ll look at the departments, agencies and commissions that are responsible for carrying out the policy of congress and the executives. First, we’ll talk about the nuts and bolts and we’ll refresh your memory of what the bureaucracy looks like. Second, we’ll do a brief overview of public policy. And then finally, we’re going to take on and try a few examples of some Iron Triangles and an issue network or two, before we finish the unit.
Let’s get started. Of the three branches of government, the executive branch is by far the largest. Actually, it is about four million people who work in the executive branch of the government. Most of them work in the bureaucracy. Of those four million, two-thirds of those people are working in civilian jobs. The remainder works in the military. Let’s start with the fifteen cabinet branches.
When George Bush took office in 2001, there were only fourteen cabinet branches. And now there’s 15 and you probably know the 15th is the Homeland Security. Homeland Security has been elevated to a cabinet position. For each of the cabinet positions, there is an infrastructure which exists under it. For example, in Homeland Security, you’ll find immigration. You’ll find the IRS, and many other agencies that used to be independent and now have been folded into Homeland Security. Also, as part of the bureaucracy, along with the 15cabinet positions, there are a number of regulatory agencies and commissions.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the most important. You probably recognize that all of these have something in common. They have three letter acronyms. So we’ll call the Security and Exchange Commission the SEC. The SEC is mostly concerned with things like insider trader and stock fraud. You might want to ask Martha Stewart if she has a good feeling about the SEC, they’re the ones who brought her down, charged her, got her sent to prison.
The FTC, the Federal Trade Commission. If there’s fraud involved in business, in trade, in particular something like price fixing, you’re going to see the FTC involved here.
The FCC, the Federal Communications Commission. They’re involved in broadcasting frequencies and licensing and determining what it is that is decent for the radio. You probably remember that Super Bowl a few years back when Janet Jackson had a wardrobe malfunction, well the FCC had CBS fined about a half million dollars for that.
We have the FDA. From your history class you’ll remember the Jungle with Upton Sinclair, and that more soldiers died from eating tainted meat in the Spanish American war than they actually did from Spanish Bullets? Well in the early part of the 20th century the FDA came into existence. And along with that, the USDA. And they inspect food and they try to keep the food chain clean.
The Environmental Protection Agency, or the EPA, got its power and its force in the early 1970s with the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970. In 1990, the Clean Air Act was amended, because now people became aware that ozone gases were disturbing our way of life. Finally the EPA is also involved with clean ups and super fans and things like the Endangered Species Act. They’re the ones who create the ecological balance.
I want to give you a warning right here, in terms of the fact that all of these agencies by law are supposed to be independent agencies. But in fact, in the last seven years there has been more intervention from the West Wing of the White House, than there ever has in recent time. For example, when our Energy Policy was made, Vice President Cheney held meetings with those groups. When federal judges were up to be reviewed, the Attorney General of the United States fired several of those judges on the recommendation apparently, from insiders in the White House. This is not allowed by law, and you may see, by the time you see this video there may have actually been some prosecutions in this matter. So, independent agencies they are, but not always in the real world. Same is true for example, with the EPA. Language from the Environmental Protection Agency, vetted through the White House in order to be cleaned up.
Let’s just spend a few minutes on iron triangles and issue networks. An Iron Triangle is something that you have three groups working together in order to achieve a specific goal. The goal usually starts with a public interest group. It can be private, a corporation that’s trying to make money. It can be public. It can be a group that’s trying to achieve a particular course. But in order to get legislation, and in order to get the policy enacted by the executive branch of government, all three need to work together in an iron triangle.
Let’s try few examples of that. I live in California. And California has more defense contracting than any other state, if the defense contractor get work, it's good for the economy and the people are happy. Well, what happens if the defense contractor is up for a big, big contract and they want to make sure that the federal government is going to participate? Maybe it's Homeland Security and let’s say they have x-ray cameras that they can produce and put into American Airports.
Well in order to get that legislation passed, that’s going to favor them and their bid, they’re going to make contact with a group in congress. Think back to what you know about Congress. The house has 24 standing committees. The senate has 19.
They’re going to know where it is that that committee is going to be heard, and they’re going to find the people in that committee that they can do business with. So the lobbyists are going to go to Capital Hill, they’re definitely going to make use of their connections in Congress. But now, they’re also going to have to work with the executive branch of government. Back to the 15 cabinets. How about the Defense Department here? Maybe it could have even been Homeland Security instead of them. The three of them working together may craft a policy that emphasizes security at airports. We need cameras and who produces them, well it’s the contractor from California. That’s an example of an iron triangle.
Let’s say that energy producers are very interested in getting specific contracts to maybe offshore oil drilling, or to renew our interest in nuclear power or coal production. Those are typical and examples of things that have happened in the last few years. What do they do? Well, same processes is in home. They’re going to send their lobbyist to Washington DC, thousands and thousands of lobbyists remember. And they’re going to get involved by fining people in congress that they can work with. Go down your list. There’s an energy committee in the house, there’s an energy committee in the senate, we're going to make contact here. We’re going to try to create a piece of legislation that works. Now we’re going to be producing more coal, now we’re going to be able to have offshore oil drilling, that sort of thing.
They're also going to work with the department of energy. And sometimes when they’re involved in this process, government actually lets people who are the energy producers, craft their own legislation. And so, you’ve got these three groups working together again, if possible to produce an energy policy which is going to lead to more profits for the energy producers. That’s an iron triangle as well. I’ll see you in just a minute.
We’re back. And we’re going to wrap this up by talking a little bit about issue networks. An issue network is basically an iron triangle with a few more dimensions. Sometimes, it’s not as simple as one, two, three, sometimes there is actually other parties involved. Maybe for example, it’s an environmental group that’s going to sue because they think that industry is abusing the environment. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe it's industry that feels that there’s too much regulation.
In any case, you’re now bringing additional groups in because state and local governments are going to be affected. They’re going to have to respond. They may lose tax revenues in particular. So think of an issue network as an iron triangle with a few more dimensions. It’s not always cookie cut or one, two, three.
Now we know a little bit about public policy. We know a little bit about the structures of the bureaucracy, you know a little bit about the independent agencies. Quickly review your congressional committees, so that you’ll know where to touch base, and it’s as easy as connecting those lines. You’ll be able to answer the advance placement questions. So we’ve got that whole thing done. Now if I can just get my cable company on the phone.