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R Street Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, public policy research organization. We are a free market think-tank with a pragmatic approach to public-policy challenges. Our mission is to engage in policy research and outreach to promote free markets and limited, effective government. We work extensively on both state and national policy and are dedicated to building broad coalitions and working with a wide array of groups who share specific policy goals.

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Balance of Power
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"The imbalance of knowledge between Congress and executive agencies leads to an imbalance of power and vice versa," writes M. Anthony Mills.

Congress’ knowledge deficit renders it powerless

Mills is associate vice president of policy at the R Street Institute, a nonpartisan and pro-free-market public policy research organization.

"Knowledge is power." The phrase is attributed to Francis Bacon, the so-called father of modern science, who believed that scientific knowledge enables the mastery of nature and the "relief of man's estate." Although Bacon himself was interested primarily in scientific and technological progress, the connection between knowledge and power is also a political problem — and one that is particularly pertinent today.

Knowledge has always been necessary for making laws and political decisions. But in modern times, scientific knowledge in particular has become indispensable for governing — and not only because modern states make decisions about overtly scientific matters like research funding, environmental protection and space exploration. Administering public policies, from health care and welfare to regulation and taxation, relies on various types of scientific knowledge. And it is, for the most part, carried out by executive agencies staffed by experts.

Over time, such agencies have acquired legislative-like powers — the authority, in effect, to make law by interpreting deliberately vague or broad statutes. One rationale for Congress' delegation of this power to the executive branch has to do with knowledge: Congress lacks the requisite expertise, whereas executive agencies do not. This is in part Congress' own fault, since it has, over time, depleted its own in-house expertise — by, for example, reducing expert staff and dismantling the Office of Technology Assessment. The imbalance of knowledge between Congress and executive agencies leads to an imbalance of power and vice versa.

This is problematic on three counts.

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Symposium on Congressional Capacity and Endless War in Afghanistan & Syria

Organizer: R Street Institute

U.S. military personnel invaded Afghanistan almost two decades ago, and the U.S government began supplying aid to Syrian rebels in 2012. In neither case did Congress use its Article I authority to declare war. In fact, Congress has not declared war since 1942. Instead, presidential administrations have justified their military actions in Afghanistan or Syria. For example, Congress passed an "authorization of the use of military force" (AUMF) in 2001 to permit the Bush administration to use U.S. military resources against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. This sort of presidentially-initiated military intervention is a far cry from what the Founders intended.

Join the Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group on November 12 to discuss this constitutionally anomalous situation and congressional capacity over war powers and foreign affairs.

Location: Capitol Visitor Center, CVC 268, Washington, DC

Democracy reform: Do you have a plan for that?

Got a great idea for how to fix the electoral system? Now you can share your ideas with some of the reform community's leading researchers.

The newly created Electoral Reform Research Group put out a call this week for research papers "into how changes in electoral rules impact political participation, processes, partisanship, power, and policy outcomes."

Proposals are due Dec. 6 and selections will be discussed at a workshop in Washington in February. Chosen participants will receive a $500 honorarium and additional funds will be made available to run research programs based on the proposals.

The group is primarily focused on ranked-choice voting at this point, although its members acknowledge RCV is just one piece of the larger electoral reform debate.

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