Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It

By James Q. Wilson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Interests

WHEN the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was created in 1933, it was hailed by liberals as evidence of a new national commitment to regional planning linked with grass-roots democracy. When he sent the TVA bill to Congress, President Franklin Roosevelt described it as involving national planning for a complete river watershed" that would address all forms of human concern."1David Lilienthal, a member of the first TVA board of directors and later its chairman, wrote rhapsodically about his experience in a book entitled, Democracy on the March.2 To him, the TVA was the crown jewel of the New Deal era because it would address comprehensively a variety of ills--ruinous floods, rural poverty, and economic backwardness--by means of a semiautonomous program of conservation, flood control, power production, agricultural development, and regional planning. The enthusiasm of liberals was matched by the anger of conservatives who believed that all this talk of planning was nothing less than the beginning of "creeping socialism."

Within three decades the positions had reversed. Now liberals were attacking the TVA as a ruthless and insensitive power company that in its single-minded devotion to generating electricity was despoiling the environment and that in its obsession with nuclear power was risking catastrophe. One journalist lamented that the TVA had lost "the aggressive, idealistic fervor of the early days."3 Environmentalists complained of the pollution caused by the TVA's coal-burning power plants and fought the agency's plan to build the Tellico Dam on a river inhabited by the snail darter, a fish on the endangered-species list. Many liberals felt that a dream had been betrayed: The TVA had nothing to do with grass-roots democracy on the march.4

What had happened? The most widely accepted explanation for the

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