The Public Interest

Micromanaging the administrative agencies

Jeremy Rabkin

Summer 1990

THE FEDERAL BAILOUT of savings-and-loan institutions is now projected to cost more than $400 billion over the next decade—more than the total cost of the Vietnam War. Many individual scandals went into making the debacle, but to focus on them may be to miss the central point. A recent paper prepared for the National Bureau of Economic Research by two long-time students of congressional involvement with administrative programs, Thomas Romer of Carnegie-Mellon and Barry Weingast of the Hoover Institution, blames much of the problem on congressional champions of the thrift industry; as the authors demonstrate, key congressional factions entrenched in particular committees and subcommittees were preoccupied with assisting narrowly defined “constituencies” and averted their gaze from the larger issues at stake. Though it was this behavior that allowed the crisis to reach its current staggering dimensions, the authors insist that Congress’s activity was “relatively routine” and “fits into a more general pattern of the way Congress responds to constituencies and to regulatory developments.”

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