The People's Agents and the Battle to Protect the American Public Special Interests, Government, and Threats to Health, Safety, and the Environment
by Rena Steinzor and Sidney Shapiro
University of Chicago Press, 2010
Cloth: 978-0-226-77202-8 | Electronic: 978-0-226-77204-2


Reasonable people disagree about the reach of the federal government, but there is near-universal consensus that it should protect us from such dangers as bacteria-infested food, harmful drugs, toxic pollution, crumbling bridges, and unsafe toys. And yet, the agencies that shoulder these responsibilities are in shambles; if they continue to decline, lives will be lost and natural resources will be squandered. In this timely book, Rena Steinzor and Sidney Shapiro take a hard look at the tangled web of problems that have led to this dire state of affairs.

It turns out that the agencies are not primarily to blame and that regulatory failure actually stems from a host of overlooked causes. Steinzor and Shapiro discover that unrelenting funding cuts, a breakdown of the legislative process, an increase in the number of political appointees, a concurrent loss of experienced personnel, chaotic White House oversight, and ceaseless political attacks on the bureaucracy all have contributed to the broken system. But while the news is troubling, the authors also propose a host of reforms, including a new model for measuring the success of the agencies and a revitalization of the civil service. The People’s Agents and the Battle to Protect the American Public is an urgent and compelling appeal to renew America’s best traditions of public service.


Rena Steinzor is professor at the University of Maryland Law School and the author of Mother Earth and Uncle Sam: How Pollution and Hollow Government Hurt Our Kids. Sidney Shapiro is University Chair in Law and Associate Dean for Research and Development at Wake Forest University. He is coauthor of several books, including Sophisticated Sabotage: The Intellectual Games Used to Subvert Responsible Regulation.


“Americans think they can rely on the federal government to keep dangerous chemicals out of our consumer products, our workplaces, our food supply, our water, and our air. Rena Steinzor and Sidney Shapiro demonstrate how far our government falls short of being able to perform these tasks. America’s watchdog agencies have been crippled by decades of budget cutting, harassment from Congress and the White House, and a general climate of disdain for the men and women who staff these agencies. There are no easy cures, but we would do well to heed their advice about how to begin to remedy the situation.”— Dan Farber, University of California, Berkeley

“Rena Steinzor and Sidney Shapiro present an eminently readable account of how thirty years of conscious neglect have decimated the regulatory programs that protect our health, safety, and environment, and they offer innovative suggestions for revitalizing the civil service and developing positive metrics to alert society to the need for stronger governmental action.”--Thomas O. McGarity, University of Texas at Austin
— Thomas O. McGarity

"An urgent and compelling appeal to renew America's best traditions of public service."
— UMB News




Part 1. Diagnosis

Chapter 1. Public Interest Lost

Chapter 2. The People’s Agents

Chapter 3. Hollow Government

Chapter 4. Cost-Benefit Analysis

Part 2. Institutions

Chapter 5. Congress

Chapter 6. The White House

Chapter 7. The Judiciary

Part 3. Solutions

Chapter 8. Positive Metrics

Chapter 9. Renewing the Civil Service

Chapter 10. The Road Forward