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Document Type

Article

Abstract

Over the past quarter century, administrative law scholars have observed the President’s growing control over agency policymaking and the separation-of-powers concerns implicated by such unilateral exercises of power. The paradigmatic form of agency policymaking—notice-and-comment rulemaking—mitigates these concerns by ensuring considerable oversight by the courts, Congress, and the public at large. Agencies, however, typically have at their disposal a variety of policymaking tools with which to implement White House goals, including the issuance of guidance documents and the strategic exercise of enforcement discretion. While commentators have drawn attention to the risk that agencies will circumvent the extensive checks associated with rulemaking by issuing a guidance document instead, this Article argues that the potential for an agency to forego both rulemaking and guidance documents in favor of the strategic exercise of enforcement discretion poses a greater threat of unchecked unilateral power. It presents a case study of the use of these different policymaking tools in the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), finding that while agencies are able to weaken external checks on presidential policy preferences by employing guidance documents instead of rulemaking, they can virtually eliminate such checks by implementing White House goals through the strategic exercise of enforcement discretion. This Article closes by evaluating potential reforms to temper politically motivated exercises of enforcement discretion, focusing not only on external mechanisms of over-sight, but also on the role of the civil service bureaucracy within the agency itself.