Next week, Congress will have an opportunity to bring much-needed oversight to America’s regulatory process by voting for the aptly named REINS Act (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny).

If passed, this law would require any new, major regulation—defined as one that would cost more than $100 million, lead to a major increase in consumer prices, or adversely affect employment—to be approved by Congress. The REINS Act would go a long way toward curbing the administrative state and restoring the constitutional principle of self-government.

This leads to the question: What is the “administrative state,” and why should Congress rein it in?

The administrative state is the conglomeration of federal administrative agencies that have become a “fourth branch” of government. Power has in effect been transferred from the representative, constitutional institutions—Congress, the President, and the courts—to administrative agencies and bureaucrats.

Although our civics textbooks still describe a government where Congress makes laws, the President executes laws, and courts adjudicate disputes, this is not the way our government actually works. Today, bureaucrats make law, execute law, and adjudicate. Although the laws made by agencies are called rules, they carry the force of law.

The administrative state is inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution. Article I, section 1 states that all legislative powers shall be vested in Congress, yet Congress has transferred its powers to these agencies. Furthermore, the Constitution clearly requires the separation of powers, yet powers are combined in administrative agencies. Finally, many agency personnel are unelected and unaccountable despite the republican principles on which the Constitution is based.

This question was reprinted from the new First Principles page at For more answers to frequently asked questions, visit