Reviving Federal Regions
99 Pages Posted: 18 Mar 2017 Last revised: 19 Jul 2018
Date Written: March 7, 2017
More than one hundred executive departments and agencies operate through systems of regional offices strategically located around the country. Currently, these regions are misguidedly viewed as mere enforcers and implementers of central policies. We propose two alternative visions of federal regions—regions as mediators and regions as coordinators. These two visions have deep roots in the rich but forgotten history of U.S. public administration. In the New Deal era, federal regions were understood as mediating entities between the central government’s centralizing efforts and regional needs and conditions. With the expansion of federal programs and agencies in the 1950s and 1960s, federal regions were gradually reconceived as vehicles for coordination among the different branches of the administration as well as between the federal government and the states. Since the 1980s, however, federal regions have been seen as part of the oversized federal government and have thus been mistrusted, their role confined to that of mere enforcers.
This Article calls for a revival of viewing federal regions as mediators and coordinators. It argues that when regions live up to their potential, they inject a much-needed dose of democracy into the bureaucracy, improve the coordination among federal departments and agencies, and serve as a powerful check on presidential overreach. Federal regions mediate between central headquarters and state and local governments. Their proximity to the states and to regulated populations and industries enables regional offices to counter the democratic deficit that plagues U.S. bureaucracy. Relatively insulated from Washington, D.C. and state partisan politics, regional officials fuse their expertise with principled politics and can avoid capitulating to the will of the President or presidential appointees. Our model of federal regions as coordinators envisions them as entities that coordinate among the different departments, agencies, states, and localities that operate within given regions.
Our innovative understanding of federal regions gives rise to a promising alternative to both the centralizing, national vision and the state-centered vision of American federalism. We then propose a set of legal doctrines and principles that modify administrative law to suit the unique characteristics of federal regions. Included among these doctrines are broad subdelegation of powers to regions; greater judicial deference to regional policies and decisionmaking; and intergovernmental consultation and redelegation at the regional level.
Keywords: regionalism, federal regions, federalism, administrative law, subdelegation of powers, decentralization
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