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Federal Powers and Separation of Powers

The Fourth Branch?

Although not created by the Constitution, independent executive agencies sometimes are called the fourth branch of the federal government. They arose in the wake of the Industrial Revolution and typically are charged with regulating areas of big business. Congress creates independent agencies with legislation, and the president selects the agency head with the advice and consent of the Senate. Unlike cabinet members, who serve at the president's whim, independent agency heads can be removed from office only for cause and serve for a fixed number of years.

Curiously, the independent executive agencies usually have powers that resemble all three branches of federal government. They serve as legislative bodies when they enact their own regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, enacts regulations limiting pollution emissions by industry. Independent agencies also have executive functions, such as when the Interstate Commerce Commission checks to ensure that trucks have proper safety features. Finally, the independent agencies act like courts when they hold hearings and issue fines for violations of their regulations. Their powers, however, are not unlimited. Congress may alter, amend, or appeal legislation delegating authority to an agency. The president may remove the head of an agency for cause. The courts may declare agency action to be unconstitutional or outside the grant of authority from Congress.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationGreat American Court CasesFederal Powers and Separation of Powers - Preamble, The Tyranny Of The Monarchy, The Articles Of Confederation, Constitution Of The United States