Patterns of Use
ANY COMPREHENSIVE understanding of executive orders as a class of presidential decision requires some basic descriptive work: How many orders have presidents issued? Are there any consistent patterns with respect to the subject matter of orders? Does the frequency of orders vary with a president's political situation? To understand how presidents have used executive orders as an instrument of executive power, it is necessary to place orders into categories and analyze the external forces that spur their issuance. This chapter attempts to discern patterns in how presidents have used executive orders over time.
The complexity of the process surrounding Executive Order 12114, described in chapter two, belies the notion that executive orders typically involve routine administrative matters with few substantive consequences. But the complex administrative procedures that govern the drafting and clearance of modern executive orders stand in sharp contrast to the informal methods that were used to keep track of them before 1935. Until the format and publication of executive orders were standardized in the 1920s and 1930s (in a series of presidential instructions that themselves took the form of executive orders), it was often unclear which presidential actions, exactly, constituted an executive order. Presidents have issued executive directives and commands from the earliest days of the Republic, but there has never been a uniform style. As a result, executive orders were issued and recorded in a haphazard manner:
Often a President would write “Approved,” “Let it be done,” or “I approve the accompanying recommendation and order that it be effected,” or similar words at the end of a recommendation drawn up by a Cabinet member. Sometimes an Executive order was signed by a secretary at the order of the President…. Other orders were signed by the Secretary of State in the absence of both the President and the Vice President…. Others were orders signed by department heads, and they purported to have the same effect as if they had been signed by the President…. Executive Order 396 [of 1906] is not even