May 28, 2013

Jonathan Turley’s May 26 commentary [“The rise of the fourth branch,” Outlook] pointed to the growth in civilian federal employment (“unreachable bureaucrats”) since 1962, but that growth is only 13 percent while the country’s population rose 69 percent. He also bemoaned the fact that only 1 percent of federal positions are filled by political appointees, who serve only about two years on average. The idea that more of these short-time, political appointees supplanting career officials would somehow better ensure the realization of a president’s policies is dubious at best. Any supposed improvement in implementation of an administration’s plans would be more than offset by the lack of continuity at the top of the agencies. And those political appointees requiring Senate approval would be trapped in the sclerotic vetting process as well as in congressional politics.

Thomas Calhoun, Bethesda

I dispute Jonathan Turley’s statement that the nation’s regulations are “crafted largely by thousands of unnamed, unreachable bureaucrats.” As a civil servant with 23 years of government service, I have yet to meet another federal employee who does not have a name. If Mr. Turley were to check the beginning of regulations published in the Federal Register, he would see that these civil servants also have phone numbers where they can be reached. Not dissimilar to the charge in Mr. Turley’s commentary of being nameless, I was once called “faceless” by a member of Congress in a teleconference with his constituents. Disproving that charge was difficult, as I was a disembodied voice on a speakerphone, but I did assure the audience that I do indeed have a face. And my name is . . .

Marc Hartstein, Baltimore

With all due respect to Jonathan Turley, agencies like mine go to great pains to be open about our efforts and are subject to vigorous scrutiny by Congress and the courts.

When federal agencies propose a regulation in the Federal Register, for all to see, we maintain a docket containing all the information on which we base the proposal. We bend over backward to allow the public to participate, accepting comment on our proposal, extending the comment period just about every time we are asked, holding multiple hearings where there is interest. Then we prepare a document that responds to all the public comments, explaining why we adopted one person’s idea but not another’s.

After that, we usually get sued by industry and public interest groups, and we try to resolve these lawsuits by negotiating with the parties. If that is fruitless, we have to argue the case in court, and the judges give us a thorough working-over. They often find that we were right and the plaintiffs’ arguments are without merit, but many times they make us go back and begin the process all over again.

Then Congress grills us by demanding meetings with lawmakers’ staff, which we gladly grant. Congress demands all sorts of records. Industry and citizen groups demand, via Freedom of Information Act requests, thousands of our e-mails and documents that may not have been in the public record. They end up knowing just about everything but our shirt size. How much more transparent can we get?

Charlie Garlow, Silver Spring