The Unitary Executive
The constitutional language directly bearing on presidential authority is fairly straightforward: the executive power is vested in the president of the United States. 1 That power, however, unlike the enumerated powers of Congress is largely undefined by constitutional text. Moreover, many statutes conferring power on an executive agency do so in broadly stated terms, authorizing actions in the "public interest." Because of this, presidential power is often best defined by the strength of presidential will.
The exercise of presidential will is not as easy as it might seem, however. While statutory ambiguity might appear to invite significant presidential supervision and direction, in fact, the sheer number of executive departments and agencies often thwarts meaningful oversight. In its place, agencies respond to the special desires of other constituencies. Unions corner the Labor Department, the construction trades dominate HUD, and universities inhabit Education. Members of Congress owing their election to these various constituencies sit on agency oversight committees for the express purpose of seeing to it that their particular needs are provided for in law, and most importantly, in the budget. This may all seem innocent enough, except that it results in one-issue departments responding to special interests, often pulling in opposite directions and frequently exacerbating public costs. No one person, or entity, thus supervises the executive functions to see, first, that their policies are consistent with overall national objectives, and second, that costs stay within a manageable range.