Accountability in Washington D.C.
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Accountability of Government Officials is Within Our 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 the 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 (1) a new department to enforce the law against government officials and (2) 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.
Existing departments that would be transferred to the Compact would include (a) 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 (b) 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).
Additionally, the Compact could be empowered to improve federal operations through review of operational procedures and mandating changes to ensure free and open debate on the legislation, adequate time for public review of proposed regulations and executive orders, procedural safeguards against fraudulent activity, and other reform actions. It would become the “watchdog” of the federal government, but a watchdog with teeth!
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 we can expect to see.
The presence of this new, non-partisan unit ready to enforce the law will significantly impact the culture of Washington; officials will need to 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 will be far-reaching and highly beneficial.
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. This atmosphere, coupled with the broad powers given to the Compact, should mark the end of hyper-partisanship in Washington.
With the responsibility for investigation and prosecution of alleged improprieties of government officials assigned to the SBI, the current practice of the Department of Justice of appointing special prosecutors for investigations would be ended. The purpose of these appointments has been an attempt to make an investigation non-partisan, but with a partisan AG watching over the DOJ appointments, it is inevitable that the special prosecutor and 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.
The SBI could also produce indirect benefits by stopping partisan leaks of information to the press and reducing aggressive 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 the media’s preference in the Constitution, introducing more accountability in the public square.
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, which 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 falls largely on deaf ears.
The Compact would change the culture of Washington by encouraging civil conduct by officials; it could work to eliminate personal attacks on opponents, bringing a breath of fresh air to political dialogue.
The new Compact would have the 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 Compact will command respect throughout the government.
Summary of the Other Four Act 2 Amendments
Election Reform Amendment – will protect voters in federal elections from interference by outsiders:
satisfies the libertarian tenet of not infringing on the rights of others
blocks the tsunami of money that currently flows into targeted election districts
honors the personal service contract between the candidate and their constituencies
addresses the adverse selection effect of the current system
reduces the fund raising burden on candidates and elected officials, freeing them to perform their primary duties
Executive Restraint Amendment – empowers Congress to restrain executive and bureaucratic overreach:
levels the playing field by giving Congress a tool to quickly block new regulations, matching the presidential veto
ends the current bias favoring new regulations that allows them to be implemented while a challenge must go through the judicial system, which may take years
causes a shift of power to the people
Honest Finances Amendment – promotes transparency and prudence in the management of our national finances:
addresses the greatest intergenerational wealth transfer in the history of the world
mandates that every claim on the federal purse must be submitted to the discipline of the national budget, including but not limited to direct funding, credits and deductions under the tax code, self-dealing by Congress in compensation and benefit determination, earmarks for constituents, and pensions and benefits for federal retirees
Term Limits Amendment – limits service in the federal judiciary and Congress:
rebalances power among federal branches, since limits have been added to the executive branch by earlier amendment
ends lifetime appointments to the judiciary, protecting against diminishing performance by individuals
places limit on personal power in Congress; acknowledges original intent to have “citizen” lawmakers, not career politicians
Our Goal – Transform Washington
The five Act 2 amendments would transform the culture of Washington and address the systemic problems of our federal government. They would strengthen the pillars of the republic, fortify our personal freedoms, and end the extreme partisanship in Washington.
Throughout history, no other form of government has had this impact for good. Our democratic republic has proven to be worth fighting for; we can save it with an Article V mid-course correction of reforms.
Author: Frank Keeney
Socialism or Freedom
The last 200 years have given us a ring-side seat at the workings of a number of different government forms. When we evaluate them, we do not need to rely on theory; we can observe the actual positive and negative results.