How to Make Massive Legislation

G. Donald Allen
In the past several years, we have witnessed massive legislative bills passed in Congress.  Some are more than 2,000 printed pages.  What are the consequences?  What does this mean?

We begin with some salient observations.

  1.  It is most possible that the subject and content of the bill cannot be expressed in fewer pages.  If that's what it takes, then that's what it takes.
  2. It is probable that most congressmen cannot read the bill for content.  Could you read such a bill?  Two thousand pages?  Every bit of it is technical detail.  This means each page must be read slowly and evaluated.  Even at one page per hour, ridiculously fast, the reading would take one work-year.  Which congressman has this kind of time?  Moreover, different people reading the same page will possibly score different evaluations.
  3. What congressman commands this level of knowledge on a dedicated subject?
  4. The most difficult part of the bill is understanding how the disparate parts commingle, and what are the implications of all this. 
  5. The true contents of such legislation cannot be understood by anyone.  Period.
We come to the points. 

  1. No one person can do it.  The bill must be separated into parts, and teams of people must read each of the parts.  And this implies that #4 above becomes problematic -- if not impossible. 
  2. No one congressman or group of same could possible put this together.  The writing of such a bill takes even more time -- probably five to ten man-years if any coordination is intended.
  3. This means that congressmen, on both sides, have deferred to aides, to leaders, or to outside groups to write and evaluate the legislation, write up talking points, and recommend a decision.  There can be little oversight by leaders who simply cannot comprehend what has been written and what it implies.
  4. This means that massive legislative acts are passed with only the recommended OK or not OK of third-party surrogates, often not even a part of government.  Even party leaders cannot know ramifications, much less the contents.
  5. This means that congressmen have passed pieces of possibly expensive and no doubt significant legislation with utterly no understanding of what they have passed. 
  6. The true contents of such legislation cannot be understood by anyone.  Only newly formed agencies can make these interpretations and write the massive implementation regulations based upon the new laws.  See "Too Many Regulations."
  7. News agencies select various aspects of the new or proposed law and offer up their critiques, whether positive or negative.  All of them are based on partial information -- and most likely a political perspective.

Conclusion: there is little responsibility, realism, common sense, oversight, and ability in our Congress.  How can our congressmen do such things?  Do we now have a surrogate Congress creating and controlling our legislation?

Imagine this analogy.  NASA wants to build a spaceship to travel to Mars.  Groups (or individuals) are created to design the components: a. propulsion systems, b. ship design and structure, c. life support systems, d. extra- and intra-ship communication, e. mission goals and control, f. Mars lander, and g. personnel selection and training.  Their reports and recommendations are bound into a very large book.  No one reads the whole thing as a single instrument.

NASA approves and requests proposals on all these parts.  The successful trip is eagerly anticipated.

In the past several years, we have witnessed massive legislative bills passed in Congress.  Some are more than 2,000 printed pages.  What are the consequences?  What does this mean?

We begin with some salient observations.

  1.  It is most possible that the subject and content of the bill cannot be expressed in fewer pages.  If that's what it takes, then that's what it takes.
  2. It is probable that most congressmen cannot read the bill for content.  Could you read such a bill?  Two thousand pages?  Every bit of it is technical detail.  This means each page must be read slowly and evaluated.  Even at one page per hour, ridiculously fast, the reading would take one work-year.  Which congressman has this kind of time?  Moreover, different people reading the same page will possibly score different evaluations.
  3. What congressman commands this level of knowledge on a dedicated subject?
  4. The most difficult part of the bill is understanding how the disparate parts commingle, and what are the implications of all this. 
  5. The true contents of such legislation cannot be understood by anyone.  Period.

We come to the points. 

  1. No one person can do it.  The bill must be separated into parts, and teams of people must read each of the parts.  And this implies that #4 above becomes problematic -- if not impossible. 
  2. No one congressman or group of same could possible put this together.  The writing of such a bill takes even more time -- probably five to ten man-years if any coordination is intended.
  3. This means that congressmen, on both sides, have deferred to aides, to leaders, or to outside groups to write and evaluate the legislation, write up talking points, and recommend a decision.  There can be little oversight by leaders who simply cannot comprehend what has been written and what it implies.
  4. This means that massive legislative acts are passed with only the recommended OK or not OK of third-party surrogates, often not even a part of government.  Even party leaders cannot know ramifications, much less the contents.
  5. This means that congressmen have passed pieces of possibly expensive and no doubt significant legislation with utterly no understanding of what they have passed. 
  6. The true contents of such legislation cannot be understood by anyone.  Only newly formed agencies can make these interpretations and write the massive implementation regulations based upon the new laws.  See "Too Many Regulations."
  7. News agencies select various aspects of the new or proposed law and offer up their critiques, whether positive or negative.  All of them are based on partial information -- and most likely a political perspective.

Conclusion: there is little responsibility, realism, common sense, oversight, and ability in our Congress.  How can our congressmen do such things?  Do we now have a surrogate Congress creating and controlling our legislation?

Imagine this analogy.  NASA wants to build a spaceship to travel to Mars.  Groups (or individuals) are created to design the components: a. propulsion systems, b. ship design and structure, c. life support systems, d. extra- and intra-ship communication, e. mission goals and control, f. Mars lander, and g. personnel selection and training.  Their reports and recommendations are bound into a very large book.  No one reads the whole thing as a single instrument.

NASA approves and requests proposals on all these parts.  The successful trip is eagerly anticipated.