Bureaucratic Resistance and the National Security State

Author:Rebecca Ingber
Position:Associate Professor, Boston University School of Law
Pages:139-221
SUMMARY

Modern accounts of the national security state tend toward one of two opposing views of bureaucratic tensions within it: At one extreme, the executive branch bureaucracy is a shadowy “deep state,” unaccountable to the public or even to the elected President. On this account, bureaucratic obstacles to the President's agenda are inherently suspect, even dangerous. At the other end, bureaucratic... (see full summary)

 
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139
Bureaucratic Resistance and the National
Security State
Rebecca Ingber*
ABSTRACT: Modern accounts of the nationa l security state tend toward one
of two opposing views of bureaucratic tensions with in it: At one extreme, the
executive branch bureaucracy is a shadowy “deep state,” unaccountable to the
public or even to the elected President. On this acc ount, bureaucratic obstacles
to the President’s agenda are inherently suspec t, even dangerous. At the other
end, bureaucratic resistance to th e President represents a necessary benevolent
constraint on an otherwise imperial exec utive. This accoun t hails the
bureaucracy as the modern inca rnation of the separation of powers, an
alternative to the traditional checks on the President of the cour ts and
Congress, which are faulted with fal ling down on the job. These “deep state”
and “benevolent constraints” approaches to bureaucratic behav ior track
debates in the scholarship over the legitima cy of the administrative state more
broadly, and are used as rhetorical devices to ch allenge or defend current
allocations of power. These accounts lead , respectively, to fear of or over-
reliance on bureaucratic resistancewhich I define here broadly as action or
inaction within the executive branch th at hinders executive movementas a
means of checking Presidential power. Fear of b ureaucratic resistance results
in an erosion of valuable internal checks on the President. Alternatively, over-
reliance on these internal checks ma y result in complacency, and an
abdication of responsibility by the tra ditional external checks, namely members
of Congress and the courts. Both a pproaches result in an insufficien tly
constrained President, which shoul d concern most advocates and opponen ts
of the administrative state.
* Associate Professor, Boston University School of Law. I am grateful to Jack Beermann,
Pam Bookman, Jessica Bulman-Pozen, Bennett Capers, Daniela Caruso, Kris Collins, Ashley
Deeks, Stacey Dogan, David Fontana, Ahmed Ghappour, Paul R. Gugliuzza, Monica Hakimi, Gary
Lawson, Tracey Maclin, Linda McClain, Anton Metlitsky, Gillian Metzger, Jon Michaels, Martha
Minow, Henry Monaghan, Nancy Moore, Mark Nevitt, David Noll, Nicholas Parrillo, Deborah
Pearlstein, David Pozen, Daphna Renan, David Rubenstein, Katherine Silbaugh, Theodore Sims,
Mila Sohoni, Glen Staszewski, Rory Van Loo, Steve Vladeck, and Matthew Waxman, as well as
participants at the Administrativ e Law New Scholarship Roundtable at Michigan, the New Voices
in Administrative Law workshop at the Association of American Law Schools annual meeting, and
the BU Law faculty workshop, for generous discussions and comments on drafts. For excellent
research assistance, I thank Margaret Chrusciel, Lindsay Ladner, and Stew Sibert.
140 IOWA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 104:139
This Article seeks to navigate th e tension between these approaches in order to
craft a more realistic account of bureaucra tic resistance, divorced from
substantive views about the polic ies or President at hand. This accou nt
suggests that critics of the bureaucra cy underestimate the extent to which
bureaucrats wield formal authority well-tethered to politically accountable
sources. And both critics and champ ions of bureaucratic resistance
overestimate the extent to which bureaucrats exercise functional power free
from practical constraint. Ultima tely, the bureaucracy is neither all -powerful
nor unaccountable. While it plays an essentialand endangeredrole i n
the modern separation of powers, it is neither the threat that some fear, nor
the holistic cure to a President who is.
I. INTRODUCTION ........................................................................... 141
II. THE DEEP STATE AND THE INTERNAL SEPARATION
OF POWERS .................................................................................. 147
A. BENEVOLENT CONSTRAINTS: THE INTERNAL SEPARATION
OF POWERS ............................................................................ 149
B. THE RISE OF THE AMERICAN “DEEP STATE NARRATIVE ........... 151
C. POINTS OF CONVERGENCE AND POINTS OF DEPARTURE .............. 154
III. BUREAUCRACY AND RESISTANCE .................................................. 155
A. BUREAUCRATIC AXES ............................................................. 156
1. Career-Political Continuum ........................................ 157
2. Burrowers and Ladder Climbers ................................. 158
3. Ideological Alliance with the President ...................... 160
4. Political Taint and Independence .............................. 160
5. The Entrenched and Transient Bureaucracies .......... 161
B. DISAGGREGATING RES ISTANCE ................................................ 162
1. Mechanisms of Resistance ........................................... 163
2. Purposes of Resistance ................................................. 165
i. Neutral Friction ....................................................... 165
ii. Legal Constraint ...................................................... 167
iii. Ethics, Abuse, and Norm-Breaking ............................ 169
iv. Evidentiary Disagreement and Prof essional
Standards ................................................................ 170
v. Policy Disagreement .................................................. 171
IV. FORMAL AUTHORITY AND FUNCTIONAL POWER TO RESIST .......... 173
A. DEFINING FORMAL AUTHORITY AND FUNCTIONAL POWER ......... 174
B. FORMAL AUTHORITY TO RESIST .............................................. 175
1. Congressionally-Sourced Bureaucratic Power
to Resist ........................................................................ 175
2018] BUREAUCRATIC RESISTANCE 141
i. Congress Protects, and Limits, Burea ucratic
Resistance ................................................................ 176
ii. Congress Delegates Directly to Area s of
Bureaucratic Competence .......................................... 177
iii. Congress Bargains in the Shadow of th e
Bureaucracy ............................................................. 179
2. Judicially-Sourced Bureaucratic Power t o Resist ........ 181
3. Executive-Sourced Bureaucratic Power t o Resist ....... 183
i. Ephemeral Versus Longstanding Sub-Allocations ........ 185
ii. Formally-Created Versus Organic Sub-Allocations ....... 186
iii. Contemporaneous Versus Past-Presid ential
Sub-Allocations ........................................................ 187
C. FUNCTIONAL POWER TO RESIST .............................................. 189
1. Vertical Constraints on Resistance .............................. 190
2. Horizontal Constraints on Resistance ......................... 193
3. External Constraints on Resistance............................. 195
4. Leaking as Both Power and Constraint ....................... 197
V. ASSESSING RESISTANCE ................................................................ 201
A. ASSESSING ZONES OF RESISTANCE ACCORDING TO
LEGALITY ............................................................................. 203
B. ASSESSING MECHANISMS OF RESISTANCE ACCORDING
TO PURPOSE .......................................................................... 204
VI. RESISTANCE REVISITED ................................................................ 206
A. PRESIDENT NIXONS LAST DAYS, AND DEFENSE SECRETARY
JAMES SCHLESINGERS EFFORTS TO CONSTRAIN THE USE
OF FORCE .............................................................................. 208
B. PRESIDENT OBAMAS FAILURE TO CLOSE THE MILITARY
DETENTION FACILITIES AT GUANTANAMO BAY ......................... 210
C. PRESIDENT TRUMPS CLASHES WITH DOJ AND THE FBI
OVER INVESTIGATIONS INTO RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE IN
THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN ....................................... 214
VII. CONCLUSION .............................................................................. 220
I. INTRODUCTION
In January 2017, a momentous transition in the U.S. presidency loomed
on the horizon, and the Israeli press carried a fantastical allegation. According
to the country’s main daily newspaper, career U.S. intelligence officials had
warned their Israeli counterparts against providing information to the
incoming U.S. President’s administrat ion, their own government, for fear that,
through malfeasance or trickery, the information might land in the wrong

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