Federal Regulatory Agencies: Fourth Branch of Government

February 5, 1969

Report Outline
Spotlighting of the Regulatory Agencies
Evolution of Regulation by Commission
Plans for Improving Agency Performance
Special Focus

Spotlighting of the Regulatory Agencies

Recent Sharp Criticism of Trade Commission

Recent criticism of the Federal Trade Commission has directed attention to the part played by federal regulatory agencies in the American economy. A 185-page report by seven law students, made public Jan. 5, 1969, attacked members and staff of the F.T.C. for “spectacular lassitude and office absenteeism, incompetence by the most modest standards, and lack of commitment to their regulatory missions.” Of Chairman Paul Rand Dixon, the report asserted that his “chief and perhaps only contribution to the commission's improvement would be to resign from the agency that he has so degraded and ossified.”

Dixon, in an angry rebuttal four days later, called the authors of the report “young zealots” who had produced “a hysterical, anti-business diatribe and a scurrilous, untruthful attack on the career personnel of the commission.” As evidence of the students' “anti-business bias,” Dixon cited a passage in the report calling for application of “criminal sanctions to dishonest corporate behavior, for it [the report said] is far more damaging in contemporary America than all the depredations of street crime.”

The brief flurry of charges and counter-charges lifted the F.T.C. momentarily out of the obscurity in which it and other federal regulatory agencies usually operate. Although little known outside of the industries they regulate, the agencies have been called “a headless ‘fourth branch’ of government.” It has been said that the agencies “probably account in sheer volume for the bulk of ‘legislating’ and ‘judging’ done by the federal government.” Associate Justice William O. Douglas declared a decade ago that “The administrative agency is supreme.”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Regulation and Deregulation