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The Accountability Amendment

A proposed amendment to the US Constitution that creates accountability of federal officials through enhanced power of the states.

 

Accountability of Federal Officials is Within Reach

 

The Rule of Law

Many feel that our government fails to hold federal officials accountable for their actions, and the cause of this failing is clear: the law is not effectively enforced against them.  And, unfortunately, we find that our current organizational structure is incapable of this enforcement.  Without a credible threat of enforcement, officials may operate with impunity, ignoring legal responsibilities when it suits their political purposes.

The Constitution assigns the responsibility for enforcement of the law to the president, which he does by acting through his appointed Attorney General.  However, the president wins office through the efforts of his political party, and all of his appointments (including the AG) are naturally partisan.  Consequently, the AG has little appetite to prosecute members of the president’s staff and cabinet, and examples of enforcement of the law against officials of the president’s political party are extremely rare while examples of cases of apparent malfeasance that are ignored are all too common.

The states largely avoided this conflict of interest problem: 45 states elect their attorneys general while only five are appointed by governors.

But having identified the cause of the lack of accountability, can we find a solution?  Clearly, the function of enforcing the law against federal officials must be moved from the executive branch, but it is not a good fit in the legislative or judicial branches.  That leads us to the states and this question:

Would it be possible to create an organizational unit under control of the states that could be the non-partisan home of this law enforcement function? 

We submit the answer to this question is definitely YES! Here’s how it would be done by the Accountability Amendment.

 

The Accountability Solution

This amendment would create a new organizational unit, the States’ Compact, which would be controlled by the states acting through a state-appointed board of directors; the board could in turn elect an executive committee to manage the daily affairs of the unit.  The Compact would include a new department to enforce the law against government officials and a collection of existing departments that would be transferred to the Compact.  It would be administered in a non-partisan manner.

  • The new department would be the "States’ Bureau of Investigation” (SBI), with responsibility for enforcement of the law against federal, state and local government officials; it would be empowered to investigate alleged improprieties, issue reprimands, assess penalties, and initiate legal action against an individual or group.  In situations where action is indicated but it lacked jurisdiction, it could recommend appropriate action to the Department of Justice.

  • Additionally, it could be empowered to improve federal operations through review of operational procedures and mandating changes to ensure free and open debate on legislation, adequate time for public review of proposed regulations and executive orders, procedural safeguards against fraudulent activity, and other reform actions.  It would be the watchdog of the federal government, but a watchdog with teeth!

  • Existing departments that would be transferred to the Compact would include (1) all federal departments that are susceptible to partisan meddling by executive and legislative branch personnel (such as the Internal Revenue Service and Federal Elections Commission), and (2) those departments with responsibility for administrative functions that should be free of partisan influences (such as the General Accountability Office, Federal Compensation Agency, Freedom of Information Act Enforcement Agency, Citizen Ombudsman Office, and Office of Government Ethics).

  • By absorbing many of the administrative functions now performed (erratically, at best) by Congress, it would free up Congress to concentrate on matters of policy.Sensitive aspects of administration would be the domain of the Compact, and Congress could monitor its performance and restrain it from ventures into policy, if that became necessary.

 

Other Benefits Delivered

The benefits that would accrue to the country from the implementation of the Accountability Amendment are compelling and seemingly endless.  Here are a few others we can expect to see.

Partisanship

Organizations tend to adapt to and embrace the philosophy of their leaders, and with the careful selection of political centrists for the leadership positions of the Compact, it could quickly institutionalize a non-partisan atmosphere in this group.  That would be a big plus for the republic, and could be a first step toward a more civil and productive political culture. 

Special Prosecutors

With the responsibility assigned to the SBI for investigation and prosecution of alleged improprieties of government officials, the current practice of the Department of Justice of appointing special prosecutors for investigations would be ended.  The purpose of these appointments was an attempt to make an investigation non-partisan, but with a partisan president watching over the DOJ appointments, it is inevitable that the special prosecutor and his staff would come with partisan backgrounds.  This creates an appearance of bias from the inception of the investigation and diminishes the credibility of their work product.  It often results in a less than satisfactory conclusion to an investigation.  

Most advocates of good government would welcome the end of the special prosecutor law and the implementation of this new solution. 

Moving the responsibility to enforce the law against government officials to the SBI should result in non-partisan investigations that produce satisfactory conclusions.  Additionally, it could produce indirect benefits by stopping partisan leaks of information to the press and reducing aggressive political efforts to influence the course of an investigation through extravagant media coverage and continuous political messaging.  The SBI could set the tone for media reporting through its pronouncements and actions.  It could even consider introducing standards of performance for the fourth estate that would justify its preference in the Constitution, introducing more accountability in the public square.

 

A Tough Cop on the Beat

The very presence of this new, active “cop on the beat” would significantly impact the culture of Washington; officials would choose their actions more carefully and avoid risky steps that could bring them under the watchful eye of the SBI and perhaps its enforcement arm.  This culture change would be far-reaching and highly beneficial!

Intimidation of Citizens

In addition to its primary function of enforcing the law, the Compact can be a safe haven for federal departments and independent agencies that should be protected from partisan meddling by the president and members of Congress.  Occasionally, this meddling has escalated to actual harassment of citizens.  This is an abuse of government power that must be eliminated if we are to preserve our personal freedoms.

 

Declare War on Scams

Studies indicate that hundreds of millions of dollars are lost every year to scam artists and criminals that prey on the ineptitude of the federal government.  The Compact could greatly reduce those losses by establishing a group of professional investigators to review disbursement procedures and force appropriate changes by offending operational units.  Today, Congress has this responsibility, but it has neither the skill set nor the time to devote to the effort.  As a result, Congress pays lip service to the need for change, but accomplishes little.

The occasional congressional voice that highlights government waste and ineptitude largely falls on deaf ears. 

Transparency with Teeth

The new Compact would have power to promote transparency in government through improved rules of conduct for the branches of government and all federal bureaucracies.  With the authority to impose penalties for improper conduct by federal officials, the Branch will command respect throughout the government. 

 

Summary of the Amendment

The tentative name of new organizational unit: The “States’ Compact” (or the “Compact”)

 

Purpose

To render the federal, state and local governments more effective in implementing constitutionally-determined public policy.

Governance

The Compact will be governed by a Board consisting of one member chosen by each state legislature, for a term to be determined.  The Board may provide for selection of committees, including an executive committee, consisting of fewer than all members.

 

Funding

The budget of the Compact will be funded by the federal budget and determined by procedures (to be established) designed to reconcile independence with traditional legislative control over appropriations.  Setting it as a percentage of the federal budget is one possible approach.  If these procedures prove inadequate, the Board may request that the states provide supplementary funding.

 

Composition

The primary responsibility of the Compact shall be the enforcement of the law against federal, state, and local governments, so it will have a mini-Justice Department for this purpose.  In addition, it will include a) those executive branch groups now charged with monitoring procedures within the government, and b) a few additional groups.  Examples of groups that will be part of the Compact are the Internal Revenue Service, Federal Election Commission, General Accountability Office, Freedom of Information Act Enforcement Agency, Federal Compensation Agency, Citizen Ombudsman Office, and Office of Government Ethics.

For an orderly transition of these transfers, they shall be scheduled by the president over a period of twenty-four (24) months.

 

Means of Accomplishing Purpose

The Compact will develop improved procedures for operation, popular participation, and punishment and cure of abuses for the federal government. 

It will essentially be a specialized executive branch.  The Constitution requires the President to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”  However, execution of the laws requires execution against the government itself as well as against the citizenry at large.  Inherent in the former duty is a conflict of interest that promotes, or at least permits, unacceptable levels of waste and illegality within the government.  Establishment of the Compact will resolve most of that conflict of interest by empowering the new Compact with the following functions:

  • Reviewing rules of each house of Congress for the sole purpose of ensuring adequate free and fair debate.

  • Approving, and perhaps drafting, administrative rules for executive departments and independent agencies.

  • Relocating government groups to parts of the country other than the Washington, D.C. area, with a preference for metropolitan areas with average income levels below the national average.

  • Investigating and prosecuting crimes allegedly committed by government officials.

  • Providing an administrative procedure for discipline (including potential removal) of any appointed government official for misconduct in, or neglect of, duties.

 

Periodically auditing and otherwise reviewing government programs to eliminate fraud, waste, and other abuse.

Author: Frank Keeney

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