Biggest Failures of United States Regulatory Agencies

Regulatory agencies are not effective at their jobs, but we still need them.  How do we make regulatory agencies more transparent and hold them accountable for their actions? 

It's clear that government intervention is necessary to regulate private sector industry, but what can be done to improve it? The answer is simple:

 "Make regulatory agencies more transparent and hold them accountable for their actions!" 

This is what Syndicated Maps is trying to do with our crowdsourced public safety maps.  

Crony Government regulation is a huge problem for every industry and regulatory agency.   Not only are the current state of U.S. regulatory agencies inadequate, they're also so ineffective that they appear to be taking little steps toward their stated goals of protecting the public and holding companies accountable. Even worse, multiple sources indicate that these agencies aren't even capable of doing their jobs in general, as evidenced by a litany of recent scandals involving some of the regulated industries' most powerful players. Here are some examples below over the last decade.  

FAA - Federal Aviation Authority 

The FAA's lack of oversight of Boeing 737 Max crashes is just massive and should make anyone angry.  Please watch the documentary on Netflix - Downfall: The Case Against Boeing

On March 10, 2019, a Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed in Ethiopia killing all 157 people on board. It was the second crash of a Boeing 737 Max 8 in five months. Following the crash, countries around the world grounded their fleets of Boeing 737 Max 8s, but it wasn't until nine days later that the FAA grounded them as well. Even then, it announced that it would be doing so only “out of an abundance of caution.” In other words: "We aren't grounding our fleet because we don't think there is anything wrong with it." The FAA's unwillingness to ground its fleet stands in stark contrast to many other countries' decisions to do so immediately—including China and Europe—as well as Canada, which did not have any airline operating Boeing 737 Max 8s within its airspace.

It is clear from these crashes and the FAA's response that federal oversight—or rather, lack thereof—is a significant failure on behalf of regulatory agencies during this period.  It was the first time in history a President (Trump) had to initiate an order to ground the airplanes in an emergency.  

EPA - Environmental Protection Agency

DOE - Department of Energy

Hiring people from the oil and gas, and mining industries that they are supposed to regulate is probably not the best idea.  This leads to the #1 problem.  With the EPA of DOE providing no meaningful oversight of the mining and oil and gas industry, we are left to deal with a series of environmental catastrophes. The Gulf oil spill was huge but we have millions of gallons of oil that are spilled around the United States daily into our natural water sources and you will never hear about any of them.  The EPA & DOE don't regulate abandoned wells and mines like it should. 

Of course, this is just one example of how state and local regulatory agencies need to be kept on a tighter leash by Congress—but it's not enough to simply make them more accountable; they also have to be more transparent. In particular, they need to make sure all their public employees are putting forth a consistently high level of effort; if they aren't doing so willingly, then they should be fired or demoted and replaced with someone who will do an adequate job. was inspired after listening to multiple groups of parents tell stories about sick kids living in close proximity to oil and natural gas drilling/fracking locations. The maps aim to document health and safety concerns by residents all over the World in an effort to provide more transparency about the risks associated with living near oil drilling operations. These maps are to serve as a platform for people to express their safety concerns about oil and gas drilling operations that may be jeopardizing their health and safety. 

FCC - Federal Communications Commission

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was created to regulate interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable. It has failed to regulate the internet and telecoms in several important ways:

  • In 2008 through 2012 auctions of the wireless spectrum were allowed for use of 4G networks. These auctions have resulted in a small number of major telecom companies controlling the market. Telecom companies have been allowed to pay less than their fair share while smaller regional companies are forced out because they can't afford to keep up with ever-increasing prices in spectrum licensing fees. Smaller regional companies end up being bought out by one of the big telecom giants who then increase their profits as they take over more markets around the country.

  • Cell phone coverage is an area where FCC regulation is necessary but has failed citizens throughout America:

  • Many areas continue to be "dead cell zones" where there is no cell coverage whatsoever.  The FCC still fails to provide this disclosure and let smaller rural carriers fill in these wireless gaps. 

  • Rural areas continue to get left behind as the big broadband companies choose where they want to invest money for building high-speed networks.

  • The FCC in 2015 finalized rules that removed net neutrality regulations from internet service providers (ISPs). Net neutrality means that ISPs treat all data on the Internet the same, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform or application. The FCC regulations allow ISPs to do whatever will bring them profit- even if it means stifling a company's ability to create new content or consumers' access to information.

FDA - Food and Drug Administration

We all take drugs to improve our health at various times in our lives, but you may be wondering: how do we know that drugs are safe? If you're in the United States, this is the job of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a regulatory agency that oversees both food and pharmaceutical products. Part of their job is to approve new drugs before they reach the market, which seems like it would be a good idea until you learn about how ineffective their approval process is. 

The FDA's approval process for prescription drugs has three phases: 

1) identifying symptoms or diseases with negative effects and no effective cure, 

2) developing a molecule with potential therapeutic effects for those symptoms or diseases, and 

3) testing whether people who had been given that drug experienced any side effects

However, there are several significant flaws with this system. First, because this process involves so much time and money (and because so many medications fail in clinical trials), pharmaceutical companies try to get around it by using legal loopholes—for example, marketing a drug for off-label use (a usage not approved by the FDA). 

Second, even if all goes according to plan within these three phases of testing, important information still gets lost: due to financial conflicts of interest or simply poor study design choices during phase 3 clinical trials, important safety issues may be missed. Approving new medications with dangerous side effects puts patients at risk--but it also creates challenges for physicians who must then weigh these risks against possible benefits when prescribing medication.

CDC - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Possibly one of the most disappointing instances of failure at the CDC was the response to coronavirus COVID-19.  They failed in so many ways but the biggest mistakes were pushing the vaccine on people who already were infected and not doing enough blood testing to understand natural immunity. Here are dozens of examples on The Correct Way to Handle the Next Pandemic.

There were several mistakes in terms of communication and lack of preparation, including a failure to prevent others from getting sick by providing medical care properly. Criticisms also included a lack of flexibility in changing responses based on new information and insufficient training for physicians in treating patients with ebola.  Why not focus more on treatments than prevention because we know from experience you can't stop the spread. 

Other failures include their response to swine flu, mad cow disease, h1n1 (bird flu), zika and sars. In each situation, they did not respond quickly enough or appropriately enough to contain the spread. The CDC's response plan should be more timely and effective so that these kinds of failings can be avoided in the future.

FED - Federal Reserve

Crony Capitalism

If you're not totally sure what the purpose of the Federal Reserve is, you're not alone. Let's explore some of the ways this independent agency helps regulate our country's economy.

  • The Fed has the mandate to keep inflation in check. When inflation is high, it means that prices are rising and the dollar buys less and less over time -- leaving Americans with smaller paychecks and higher prices at the grocery store or gas station. While some people think that low inflation sounds better than high inflation, too little of it can be bad for an economy, too. So part of the Fed's role involves making sure that there are just enough dollars in circulation to keep prices stable.

  • The Fed also has another equally important mandate: maintaining maximum employment across America without allowing domestic inflation to get out of control. This is one reason why it’s so important for workers to understand which jobs are available at their skill level -- so they can quickly adjust their work strategies if necessary to help reduce unemployment rates (and keep them low). To do its job well with regard to ensuring full employment across all sectors of society, many experts believe that leadership within any given institution must have good decision-making skills about how best to manage resources like time or money within tight budgets; otherwise, things could get off track fairly easily because we only have limited capacities as humans!

  • The Fed is largely responsible for creating the financial crisis in 2008 by inflating assets and keeping interest rates too low for too long.  The Fed for the first time is now buying assets and keeping bonds on its balance sheet.  Stock market crashes and recessions are actually good for the long-term economy because it cleans out the phony pretender companies that are fake and makes room for real companies that are more efficient. 

  • The damage the Federal Reserve is destroying the price function of free markets and capitalism.

  • If you are still confused about what the Federal Reserve does watch this cartoon. 

SEC - Securities and Exchange Commission

The Securities and Exchange Commission is the most ineffective regulatory agency in the United States.

It's not effective at its job because it's too concerned with its reputation. It wants to be able to feel like it’s doing a good job, and so it focuses on individual executives rather than on what companies are doing as a whole. That means they don't hold companies accountable for things that happen at an institutional or corporate level, instead of focusing on whether or not someone made a mistake. It also means they pursue cases of insider trading, even though those cases are largely unprovable and mostly just involve people who have sensitive information making bets against their company (something which happens all the time).

It’s not effective at its job because it’s corrupt. SEC officials constantly move back and forth between the commission, working for regulations, and then going to work for firms that are regulated by them. This creates an extreme conflict of interest since these officials are now working for companies that might want to skirt regulations (and hired them specifically because they know how to do this). The revolving door also creates a sense of kinship between people working in both roles: as soon as you leave one organization you start seeing your former colleagues as friends rather than adversaries.

Finally, it’s not effective at its job because it’s too focused on the short term. The SEC only cares about what’s happening at the moment—rather than looking out for potential problems down the line—because its focus is solely on legal proceedings rather than systemic change or long-term stability within markets

DOT - Department of Transportation

DOT has tons and tons of data but fails to use this data to help improve traffic safety at the local level. There are over 20,000 different municipalities that have different flavors of traffic laws, signs, intersections, and acceptable hazards.  Herein lies the problem that people don't know how to drive in certain areas because cities manage all of their intersections differently across the United States. 

Bad Intersections is a crowdsourced map database of intersections that are potentially hazardous and have a track record of accidents.  Our mission is to identify hazardous intersections for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers to raise the level of awareness of problematic intersections among drivers and city officials to improve safety. We seek to use media sources, DOTs, law firms, city, state, country and federal agencies to identify intersections with the following characteristics: high rates of accidents & fatalities (vehicles, bikes, pedestrians, motorcycles, trains) & dangerous railroad crossings.   

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I don't agree with the Brookings List of Gov't Failures because it puts the blame on terrorism and natural disasters.