Federal Regulatory Law One of the bedrock principles upon which the U.S. rests is the separation and balance of power among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. The executive branch's responsibility is to carry out the laws that the legislative branch enacts. A large federal bureaucracy has come in existence over the years in order to ensure that Congress's laws are executed.
The U.S. president, who heads the executive branch, has 15 cabinet members: the departments of agriculture, commerce, defense, education, energy, health and human services, homeland security, housing and urban development, interior, attorney general, labor, state, transportation, treasury, and veterans' affairs. In addition, seven others have cabinet-level status: the vice president, the president's chief of staff, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of Homeland Security, the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and the United State Trade Representative.
The Office of Management and Budget, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and the Office of the United State Trade Representative are three examples of the 14 offices that exist within the executive branch. Other offices include the Council of Economic Advisors, the National Security Council, the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and the Office of National AIDS Policy.
Federal regulatory law covers such a wide variety of subjects that full coverage of all topics is beyond the scope of this discussion. The following are highlights of selected areas.
Department of Agriculture. The Department of Agriculture regulates farm and foreign agricultural services, natural resources and the environment, rural development, and food safety. They help farmers and ranches, as well as oversee a wide range of programs involving food stamps; school lunches; national forests and rangelands; safe drinking water for rural America; meat, poultry, and egg safety, and open markets for U.S. agricultural products overseas. Probably the most high-profile agency within the Department of Agriculture is the Food Safety and Inspection Service, which oversees meat, poultry, and egg product quality.
Department of Commerce. The Department of Commerce was created in 1903 to promote free trade, provide for economic development, oversee protection of marine and coastal resources, and regulate import-export activities. Some of the more high-profile organizations within the Commerce Department are the National Weather Service, the Census Bureau, and the Patent and Trademark Office.
Department of Energy. The Department of Energy has an energy program, an environmental program, and a science program, all designed supposedly to enhance national security. The energy program tries to develop alternative energy sources and decrease reliance on foreign energy sources by increasing domestic energy production. The environmental handles the legacies of the cold war by overseeing radioactive waste disposals. The science program sponsors technology that develops new ways of finding, producing and delivering energy. Probably its most high-profile role is to regulate the nuclear power industry.
Department of Homeland Security. The newest department, created in late 2002 in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy, is responsible for defending the country against a terrorist attack. It was formed from 22 existing agencies taken from other cabinet departments, and has four divisions: Border and Transportation Security, which includes the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Customs Service, and the Coast Guard; Emergency Preparedness and Response, which includes the Federal Emergency Management Agency; Countermeasures, which includes the Civilian Biodefense Research Programs; and Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection, which includes the National Communications System. The Secret Service was moved into the department, but the CIA and FBI were not.
Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD is responsible for creating opportunities for homeownership, providing housing assistance for low-income people, working to create affordable housing, enforcing the fair housing laws, helping the homeless, and spurring economic growth in distressed neighborhoods. The highest-profile agencies within HUD are the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity and Ginnie Mae.
Department of Justice. The Department of Justice enforces federal laws and represents the U.S. in all legal matters. Among the more high-profile agencies with the Justice Department are the Antitrust Division, the Civil Rights Division, the Bureau of Prisons, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the FBI.
The INS administers the nation's immigration laws by conducting immigration inspections of travelers entering (or seeking entry to) the U.S. from any of 250 ports of entry, regulating permanent and temporary immigration, and maintaining control of U.S. borders. The Border Patrol has responsibility for 8,000 miles of international boundaries.
Department of Labor. The Department of Labor tries to improve working conditions and tracks national economic measurements. It administers labor laws that guarantee workers' rights to safe working conditions, a minimum wage, freedom from employment discrimination, and unemployment insurance. Probably the most high-profile agencies within the Labor Department are the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 established workplace safety rules and created OSHA to oversee enforcement. OSHA has jurisdiction over any worker or business covered by the Act, which applies to 100 million workers and 6.5 million employers.
Department of Transportation. The Department of Transportation is responsible for federal transportation programs, including the interstate highways, waterways, air travel, mass transit systems, and railroads. The most high-profile agencies with the Transportation Department are the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Highway Administration.
Department of Treasury. The Treasury Department is known as the one that manages the government's finances by collecting taxes and paying the bills. But it also has law enforcement, economic policy development, and international treaty negotiation responsibilities. It supervises bank and thrifts; it prosecutes counterfeiters, moonshiners, tax cheats, and smugglers; and it protects visiting dignitaries. Several high-profile agencies are part of the Department of Treasury, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; the IRS; and the U.S. Mint.
Independent agencies. In addition to the various cabinet departments and the agencies within those departments, many independent agencies regulate various activities. The independent agencies were typically created by Congress to enforce a particular law or set of laws. Their jurisdiction often overlaps the jurisdiction of cabinet departments.
FCC. The Federal Communications Commission is an independent agency, directly responsible to Congress. The FCC was established by the Communications Act of 1934 and is charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable.
EEOC. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to provide oversight and coordination of all federal equal employment opportunity policies. It enforces laws designed to prevent job discrimination, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), and the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Title VII and the ADA cover employers with 15 or more employees, while the ADEA covers employers with 20 or more employees.
EPA. The Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970 to be responsible for enforcing compliance with environmental regulations. They're involved with hazardous waste disposal, recycling, global warming, endangered species protection, oil spills, wetland protection, children's health issues, and groundwater contamination.
FDIC. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation's mission is to maintain public confidence in the nation's financial system. To achieve this goal, the FDIC was created in 1933 to insure deposits and promote safe and sound banking practices. It did not take over responsibility for deposits in savings and loans until 1989, following the savings and loans crisis earlier in the decade.
FTC. The Federal Trade Commission enforces federal antitrust and consumer protection laws. It tries to ensure that the markets are free of undue restrictions by stopping actions that threaten consumers' opportunities to exercise informed choice.
NLRB. The National Labor Relations Board is an independent agency created in 1935 to enforce the National Labor Relations Act. They investigate and issue rulings on unfair labor practices by employers and unions.
NRC. The Atomic Energy Act of 1946 created the Atomic Energy Commission to regulate public safety in the atomic energy industry. In 1974 the AEC was abolished and replaced by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to regulate nuclear reactors, nuclear materials, and radioactive waste.
SEC. The Securities and Exchange Commission's mission is to protect investors and the securities markets. Its aim is to make sure that all investors, large and small, have access to certain basic facts about an investment before buying it by requiring public companies to disclose meaningful information to the public. It also oversees key participants in the securities world, including stock exchanges, broker-dealers, investment advisors, mutual funds, and public utility holding companies.
SBA. The Small Business Administration, established in 1953, provides financial, technical, and management assistance to small business owners and those interested in starting small businesses. It is the largest single financial backer of small businesses and provides advice to more than one million small business owners annually.
Other agencies. Two other agencies worth mentioning are the Food and Drug Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers. The FDA, which is now an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, regulates food, including food-borne illnesses, nutrition, dietary supplements; medical devices, including pacemakers, contact lenses, and hearing aids; biologics, including vaccines, blood products; animal feed and drugs; cosmetics; and radiation-emitting products, such as cell phones, lasers, and microwaves.
The Army Corps of Engineers, an agency within the Department of Defense, provides engineering services to federal civil works projects related to navigation, flood control, environmental protection, and disaster response. They also manage the construction of military facilities for the Army and Air Force and provide management support for other federal agencies.