HUD Ignores the Law for 3 years: A Closer Look

Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) is investigating the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) for its failure to comply with a 2014 court decision requiring the agency to award contracts based on a competitive bidding process. The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that HUD unlawfully categorized Performance Based Annual Contribution Contracts as “cooperative agreements” instead of procurement contracts.[1] Despite this ruling, HUD has continued to treat these contracts as cooperative agreements for the last three years, allowing unelected bureaucrats to award public housing funds to favored groups and blocking others from competing for the contracts. CoA Institute urges Secretary Ben Carson to bring HUD back into compliance immediately.

Cooperative Agreement v. Procurement Contract

The agency’s use of Performance Based Annual Contribution Contracts’s comports with the statutory definition of a procurement contract. A procurement contract exists when “(1) the principal purpose of the instrument is to acquire (by purchase, lease, or barter) property or services for the direct benefit or use of the United States Government; or (2) the agency decides in a specific instance that the use of a procurement contract is appropriate.”[2] Conversely, a cooperative agreement exists when, “the purpose of the relationship is to transfer a thing of value, to carry out a public purpose of support.”[3] When HUD or any other federal agency uses a procurement contract, it must comply with federal procurement laws, such as the Competition in Contracting Act and the Federal Acquisition Regulation.[4] By improperly classifying Performance Based Annual Contribution Contracts’s, HUD was able to ignore these important contracting safeguards and to select any recipient it wished, making it ripe for cronyism.

Waste of taxpayer dollars

In addition to its defiance of a court order, HUD also harmed its relationship with PHAs like Navigate Affordable Housing Partners (“Navigate”), which had previously been eligible to compete for housing assistance dollars across state lines. HUD’s decision to alter its long-standing classification of these contracts was intended to generate an estimated savings of $208 million in voucher programs and $250 million in the public housing program.[5] Moreover, HUD announced it was not going to allow PHAs to compete for Performance Based Annual Contribution Contracts’s outside of their home states even though some, like Navigate, had competed beyond state lines and were able to provide the government with the best value.[6]

Change on the Horizon

According to a recent Washington Examiner article, discussions of HUD’s return to the competitive bidding process has already begun. HUD officials, however, have failed to elaborate on when the necessary changes will take place. CoA Institute will continue to monitor HUD’s unacceptable delay in complying with the court’s orders. Additionally, CoA Institute will continue to examine whether other government agencies are partaking in the same or similar unlawful activity as HUD.

HUD should take immediate action to ensure that its policies are in line with federal law to ensure money intended for public housing isn’t wasted on bureaucrats’ favored PHAs.

Travis Millsaps is counsel and Katie Parr is a law clerk at the Cause of Action Institute


[1] See United States v. CMS Contract Mgmt. Servs., 745 F.3d 1379, 1380 (Fed. Cir. 2014) cert. denied subnom.

[2] 31 U.S.C. § 6303.

[3] See 31 U.S.C. § 6305.

[4] See CMS Contract Mgmt. Servs, supra note 1, at 1381; see also Competition in Contracting Act, P.L. 98-369, §§ 2701-2753, 98 Stat. 1175 (1984) and 48 C.F.R. 31 2017 et seq.

[5] Press Release, Nat’l Ass’n of Hous. & Redevelopment Officials, NAHRO Analyzes Impact of HUD Proposed Savings (Oct. 31, 2012), available at

[6] See CMS Contract Mgmt. Servs., supra note 1 at 1383.

CoA Institute Urges Removal of Anti-Transparency Provisions in Senate Bill

On August 16, 2017, Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) joined other government transparency advocates in sending a letter to Senator John Cornyn objecting to the inclusion of provisions that exempt the implementation of the Building America’s Trust Act [1] (“the Act”) from the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) and the Paperwork Reduction Act.

In particular, Section 702 of the Building America’s Trust Act specifically exempts any agency actions implementing the Act from “publication in the Federal Register[.]” This exclusion will deprive the American people from learning when provisions of the Act are implemented by federal agencies.  This unfortunate provision runs directly counter to the APA’s publication requirement which serves as an essential hallmark of administrative law and promotes transparent and accountable government.  Americans’ input into the rulemaking process should not be so easily cast aside.  Section 702 relies on the need to ease “the expeditious implementation of this Act” as the justification for the APA exemption.  But the APA already allows agencies to exempt rules from publication if good cause is shown.[2]  To ensure a transparent and accountable government, agencies implementing the Act should have to demonstrate their good cause for avoiding the APA’s requirements instead of receiving a rubberstamp on binding regulations.

CoA Institute believes that Section 702 should be removed from the Building America’s Trust Act because the APA already contains a good cause exemption that should satisfy the Act’s policy goals without adding new exemptions from the APA’s procedures.

Travis Millsaps is counsel at Cause of Action Institute.

[1] Building America’s Trust Act, S. 1757, 115th Cong. (2017).

[2] 5 U.S.C. § 553.

Group Tied to Progressive PAC Solicits Donations in Misleading Call for Hurricane Harvey Relief

On Wednesday, Linda Sarsour, a controversial political activist, tweeted an appeal to her followers asking that they donate to an ostensibly noble cause—the Hurricane Harvey Community Relief Fund. Unfortunately, this seemingly benevolent appeal is anything but.  Ms. Sarsour actually linked to a page that accepts donations for a fund called the Texas Organizing Project Education Fund (“TOP ED”).  TOP ED is a 501(c)(3) non-profit group that is wholly affiliated with a self-described progressive Political Action Committee, the Texas Organizing Project (“TOP”). Cause of Action Institute previously looked into TOP and TOP ED for their affiliation with the now-defunct ACORN group.

Ms. Sarsour’s disingenuous call to action through the Hurricane Harvey Community Relief Fund is in fact a call for donations to TOP which received roughly 93% (or $1.5 million) of TOP ED’s gross receipts in 2015 through its cost-sharing agreement. In its Form 990 IRS filings, TOP ED notes that it shares “employees, facilities, and goods and services” with TOP, and does not pay its employees any salary.

At a time when Americans are pulling together to assist the victims of Hurricane Harvey, it is appalling to see opportunists taking advantage of their generosity.  At this time of national tragedy, it is unconscionable that groups like TOP and activists like Ms. Sarsour would mislead Americans into thinking they are donating money to save hurricane victims when in fact the funds would go to an organization that promotes a political agenda.

Travis Millsaps is Counsel at Cause of Action Institute.

Following CoAI’s Letter, DOJ Rejects Unlawful Slush-Fund Settlement Project in Harley-Davidson Enforcement Action

On July 20, 2017, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) filed a substitute consent decree in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Act enforcement action against Harley-Davidson, Inc. removing a requirement that Harley-Davidson fund a so-called Emissions Mitigation Project (“Project”).[1]  About three weeks earlier, on June 1, 2017, Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to EPA requesting all documents and records related to the selection of the Project, and the American Lung Association  as the Project’s implementing entity.[2]  In conjunction with that request, we also sent a letter to EPA Administrator Pruitt asking him to reconsider the unlawful mitigation Project, because it lacked a sufficient nexus to the underlying violation.[3]  As we stated, the Project appeared to be a continuation of Obama-era practices that used consent decrees to funnel funds to favored non-governmental organizations.[4]

Fortunately, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a policy directing U.S. attorneys to end this practice on June 5, 2017.[5]  DOJ attorneys cite Sessions’ memorandum as a reason for rejecting the Emissions Mitigation Project and filing the new consent decree, because the original Harley-Davidson agreement failed to connect the alleged violation—excess gas and nitrogen oxides emissions nationally—to the Project—replacing wood-burning appliances in the northeast.[6]

CoA Institute applauds DOJ’s revised consent decree, which is consistent with our assessment that the Emissions Mitigation Project violates the “sufficient nexus” requirement necessary for ensuring that agencies do not abuse their enforcement power at the expense of taxpayers.

Travis Millsaps is Counsel at Cause of Action Institute

[1] Consent Decree, United States v. Harley-Davidson, Inc., No. 16-cv-01687 (D.D.C. filed July 20, 2017), ECF No. 6.

[2] FOIA Request EPA-HQ-2017-007905, Envtl. Prot. Agency (June 1, 2017), available at

[3] Letter from Travis G. Millsaps, Counsel, Cause of Action Inst., to Hon. Scott Pruitt, Adm’r, Envtl. Prot. Agency (June 1, 2017), available at

[4] Blog Post, Cause of Action Inst., Cause of Action Institute Applauds AG Sessions’ Termination of Settlement Fund Payouts to Third-Party Groups (June 7, 2017),

[5] Memorandum from Jeff Sessions, Attorney Gen., U.S. Dep’t of Justice, to U.S. Attorneys et al. (June 5, 2017), available at

[6] Consent Decree, supra note 1, at 2–3; Memorandum from Jeff Sessions, supra note 5; see also Letter from Travis Millsaps to Scott Pruitt, supra note 3, at 2–3.

The White House Should Follow Arizona Governor Ducey’s Lead and Implement an Online Portal Where Americans Can Suggest Regulations to Eliminate

On January 9, 2017, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey announced a new program designed to reduce outdated and burdensome regulations and to promote economic growth and job creation. His goal is to eliminate 500 regulations by the end of 2017.  To achieve this goal, Governor Ducey created a website—RedTape.AZ.Gov—where Arizonans can “crowdsource” recommendations on which regulations should be eliminated and submit those recommendations directly to the governor’s office.[1]  The website provides an easy, streamlined way for citizens to assist in the regulatory reform of their state.  This approach recognizes and honors what F.A. Hayek called the knowledge problem, that is, that the information necessary to make informed and efficient decisions is decentralized and that the top-down model is doomed by its arrogance.

President Trump’s White House should follow suit if it is serious about reducing the strain old regulations put on the country. President Trump issued Executive Order 13,777 on February 24, 2017, which requires that agencies designate a Regulatory Reform Officer (RRO) to implement a regulatory-reform agenda that implements, inter alia, Executive Order 13,771, which requires agencies to remove two regulations for each new one they issue.[2]  Neither of those orders contain a way for ordinary Americans to provide transparent input into this important process.  Several agencies have decided to open public-comment periods so that stakeholders and the public can provide input, but this approach leaves the comments scattered by agency and makes it difficult to aggregate.[3]  In addition, not every agency has decided to offer a public-comment period, leaving ordinary Americans without a voice.

The White House subsequently issued Executive Order 13,781 on March 13, 2017.[4]  This order created a website that allowed the public to submit comments on ways to optimize and reorganize the federal government.  While Executive Order 13,781 is a step in the right direction, it contains two fatal flaws.  First, the comment period closed on June 12, 2017 when it should be kept open permanently.  Second, the White House said it received over 100,000 comments during the comment period, but those comments are not available to the public.[5]  Cause of Action Institute submitted a FOIA request to the Office of Management and Budget, which administered the website, seeking access to those comments.[6]  Even though that request is still pending, the White House can take immediate steps to launch an improved website.

To foster and promote transparent regulatory reform, Cause of Action Institute recommends the White House launch a new website devoted to receiving recommendations from the public.  The recommendations could then automatically be forwarded to each agency’s RRO.  To ensure a transparent comment process, the recommendations should be accessible to the public and easily searchable by agency, topic, regulation identifier number, and other filters.  The website could foster public discourse by allowing the public to upvote or downvote comments, respond to specific comments, and suggest related regulations to comment on.  Finally, the website should not have a deadline for submissions but instead permanently allow Americans to make recommendations to reform the administrative state.  By providing a central, permanent website for submitting and reviewing recommendations, the White House can achieve its regulatory reform agenda more efficiently and promote accountability while ensuring that all Americans have a voice in the process.

Travis Millsaps is counsel at Cause of Action Institute.

[1] Press Release, Gov. Doug Ducey, Governor Ducey Announces RedTape.AZ.Gov (January 9, 2017),

[2] See Exec. Order No. 13,777, 82 Fed. Reg. 12285 (Mar. 1, 2017),; Exec. Order No. 13,771, 82 Fed. Reg. 9339 (Feb. 3, 2017),

[3] See Evaluation of Existing Regulations, 82 Fed. Reg. 17793 (proposed April 13, 2017), available at

[4] See Exec. Order No. 13,781, 82 Fed. Reg. 13959 (Mar. 16, 2017),

[5] See Reorganizing the Executive Branch, The White House, (last visited June 29, 2017).

[6] Press Release, Cause of Action Institute, White House Should Release 100K Public Comments on Reforming Government (June 19, 2017),

The Center for Biological Diversity’s Flawed Legal Challenge to the Congressional Review Act – Part II

This post is Part II in a series discussing the lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity.  Part I is available here.

The joint resolution disapproving the Refuges Rule was a proper use of the CRA’s look-back provision.  But even if it wasn’t, a court is unlikely to overturn the resolution on that basis.

A joint resolution disapproving an agency rule via the Congressional Review Act (“CRA”) really only differs from any other law invalidating a regulation in two respects.  First, it allows the Senate to pass the resolution without needing sixty votes to end debate.  The 60 vote necessity to do so for other legislation is not a Constitutional mandate.  And second, it prohibits the agency from reissuing the rule in substantially the same from.  The latter provision could be added to any piece of legislation overturning a regulation, so all that is really at stake is whether the Senate may operate under expedited procedures and a lower vote threshold.

The CRA requires a disapproval resolution to be introduced within sixty days of the agency submitting the requisite report to Congress.[1]  But if the report is submitted within the final sixty legislative days of a congressional session, then that report is considered to have been submitted on the fifteenth legislative day of the new Congress.[2]  This is known as the look-back provision and it is designed to allow a new Congress to review all of the midnight rules rushed out the door at the end of the previous Congress.  The look-back provision is especially important after an election year when a lame-duck administration tries to push through an aggressive regulatory agenda for the incoming administration to unravel.

In its lawsuit, the Center for Biological Diversity  claims that the Refuges Rule was not eligible for the CRA’s look-back scheduling provision because it qualifies as a hunting regulation that is exempt from Section 801’s reporting requirements by Section 808.[3]  This claim fails for at least two reasons.  First, the look-back provision is an internal congressional scheduling rule, which is the type of rule courts often avoid under the political-question doctrine.  Second, the Refuges Rules does not qualify as a hunting rule under the Section 808 exemption and was thus properly subject to the look-back provision.

The interpretation of internal congressional rules is a political question that courts often avoid.

Congress creates its own rules of administration and courts are loath to meddle in them.  The Constitution states that “[e]ach House may determine the rules of its proceedings[.]”[4]  Legal challenges to those rules often implicate the political question doctrine, under which courts avoid cases where there has been a “textually demonstrable constitutional commitment of the issue to a coordinate political department.”[5]

One example is Metzenbaum v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, where the D.C. Circuit found that judicial interpretations of congressional rules is inappropriate because “there is ordinarily ‘no warrant for the judiciary to interfere with the internal procedures of Congress.’”[6]  “To decide otherwise would subject Congressional enactments to the threat of judicial invalidation on each occasion of dispute over the content or effect of a House or Senate rule.  The majority having given its sanction to legislation, and implicitly the process followed in its enactment, a minority might yet frustrate its implementation through litigation based on purported violations of ‘housekeeping’ rules.”[7]  One exception to this rule is where the “rights of persons other than members of Congress are jeopardized by Congressional failure to follow its own procedures[.]”[8]  This approach has given rise to the so-called “enrolled bill rule,” which holds that “if a legislative document is authenticated in regular form by the appropriate officials, the courts treat that document as properly adopted.”[9]  This rule stretches all the way back to the Supreme Court’s 1892 decision in Field v. Clark.[10]

Here, the CRA is clear that the look-back provision is nothing more than a scheduling rule of Congress:

This section is enacted by Congress as an exercise of the rulemaking power of the Senate and House of Representatives, respectively, and as such it is deemed a part of the rules of each House, respectively, but applicable only with respect to the procedure to be followed in that House in the case of a joint resolution[.][11]

There does not appear to be any contention that the joint resolution was improperly voted on or incorrectly enrolled by the congressional officials upon its passage.  The Center for Biological Diversity merely claims that Congress should have determined that the Refuges Rule was ineligible for the look-back provision.  But Congress did make that determination, and courts are typically hesitant to get involved in such matters.

This conclusion is buttressed by the fact that the CRA expressly precludes judicial review of congressional determinations made under the CRA.  Section 805 states that “[n]o determination, finding, action, or omission under this chapter shall be subject to judicial review.”[12]  The determination made by both chambers of Congress that the Refuges Rule qualifies for the look-back scheduling provision is precisely the type of “determination” that the CRA exempts from judicial review.

The Refuges Rule does not qualify for the Section 808 exemption.

Despite theCenter for Biological Diversity’s claim, the Refuges Rule does not fall within the CRA’s Section 808 exception.  The CRA provides that “[b]efore a rule can take effect,” the agency promulgating the rule must submit a report to Congress.[13]  Section 808 provides that notwithstanding that requirement, a rule may take effect at such time as the agency decides if the rule “establishes, modifies, opens, closes, or conducts a regulatory program for a commercial, recreational, or subsistence activity related to hunting, fishing, or camping[.]”[14]  The Center for Biological Diversity claims that the “Refuges Rule is covered by the plain language of Section 808 . . . [b]ecause it disallows certain hunting practices that may be approved by the Board[.]”[15]

Although the Center for Biological Diversity is correct that the Refuges Rule affects hunting practices, it makes no attempt to argue that the regulation impacts “a regulatory program” aimed at “commercial, recreational, or subsistence activity.”  By its plain terms, the Refuges Rule is not directed at subsistence activity; it is titled “Non-Subsistence Take of Wildlife”[16] and the Center for Biological Diversity admits in its complaint that the rule does not affect takes “for subsistence by federally-qualified subsistence users.”[17]  The rule also does not affect either commercial or recreational activity but is instead aimed at “the conservation of natural and biological diversity, biological integrity, and environmental health on refuges in Alaska[.]”[18]  The rule focuses on “predator control” by “prohibit[ing] several particularly effective methods and means for take of predators[.]”[19]  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) “define[s] predator control as the intention to reduce the population of predators for the benefit of prey species.”[20]  This includes practices “such as . . . those undertaken by government officials or authorized agents, aerial shooting, or same-day airborne take of predators.  Other less intrusive predator reduction techniques such as . . . live trapping and transfer, authorization of particularly effective public harvest methods and means, or utilizing physical or mechanical protections (barriers, fences) are also included[.]”[21]

The Refuges Rule does not affect a regulatory program involving commercial licenses, recreational takes, or any type of nonconsumptive recreational use, such as wildlife viewing or photography.  The Refuges Rule is a conservation regulation, which is not included among Section 808’s exceptions.

FWS is clear about this in its final rule.  In response to a commenter concerned that the regulation would impact ecotourism, FWS responded: “Although this rule may result in slight changes in refuge visitor experiences, we do not expect this rule to significantly impact visitors engaged in either hunting or nonconsumptive uses like wildlife viewing.”[22]  FWS also wrote that “there may be slight effects to recreational big game hunting on refuges by eliminating a hunter’s ability to use a few specific methods and means of take.  However, until recent years, many of these methods and means were prohibited Statewide.”[23]  FWS inclusion of passing references to “slight changes” and “slight effects” to recreational activities demonstrates that the Refuges Rule does not establish, modify, open, close, or conduct “a regulatory program” related to commercial or recreational activities.  At most, it may have slight impacts on other regulatory programs not included in this rule.[24]

Therefore, the Refuges Rule does not qualify for the CRA’s Section 808 exception and all of Center for Biological Diversity’s arguments that follow from that characterization (i.e., that the Refuges Rule is not eligible for the look-back provision) must fail.

James Valvo is Counsel & Senior Policy Advisor at Cause of Action Institute and you can follow him on Twitter @JamesValvo.


[1] 5 U.S.C. § 802(a).

[2] Id. § 801(d)(1).

[3] Id.

[4] U.S. Const. art. 1, § 5, cl. 2.

[5] Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 217 (1962).

[6] 675 F.2d 1282, 1287 (D.C. Cir. 1982) (citing Exxon Corp. v. FTC, 589 F.2d 582, 590 (D.C.Cir.1978)); see also Christoffel v. United States, 338 U.S. 84, 88–89 (1949) (“Congressional practice in the transaction of ordinary legislative business is of course none of our concern, and by the same token the considerations which may lead Congress as a matter of legislative practice to treat as valid the conduct of its committees do not control the issue before us.”); Mester Mfg. Co. v. INS, 879 F.2d 561, 571 (9th Cir. 1989) (“In the absence of express constitutional direction, we defer to the reasonable procedures Congress has ordained for its internal business.”).

[7] Metzenbaum, 675 F.2d at 1287.

[8] Id.; see also United States v. Rostenkowski, 59 F.3d 1291, 1305 (D.C. Cir.), opinion supplemented on denial of reh’g, 68 F.3d 489 (D.C. Cir. 1995) (The “Rulemaking Clause is not an absolute bar to judicial interpretation of the House Rules.”).

[9] United States v. Sitka, 845 F.2d 43, 46 (2d Cir. 1988) (citing United States v. Thomas, 788 F.2d 1250, 1253 (7th Cir. 1986)).

[10] 143 U.S. 649 (1892).

[11] 5 U.S.C. § 802(g).

[12] Id. § 805.

[13] Id. § 801(a)(1)(A).

[14] Id. § 808(1).  This section also exempts “any rule which an agency for good cause finds (and incorporates the finding and a brief statement of reasons therefor in the rule issued) that notice and public procedure thereon are impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest[.]”  Id. § 808(2).  Although the CRA’s legislative history makes passing reference to the section 808(1) delay, it does not provide a reason for why Congress included this provision.  See 142 Cong. Rec. S3683-01, S3685 (Apr. 18, 1996).

[15] CBD Compl. ¶ 58 (citing 5 U.S.C. § 808).

[16] “Non-Subsistence Take of Wildlife, and Public Participation and Closure Procedures, on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska,” 81 Fed. Reg. 52,247 (August 5, 2016) (the “Refuges Rule”); Id. at 52,247 (“This rule does not change Federal subsistence regulations or restrict the taking of fish or wildlife for subsistence uses under Federal subsistence regulations.”).

[17] CBD Compl. ¶ 37 (“The regulations do not change Federal subsistence regulations or otherwise restrict the taking of fish or wildlife for subsistence by federally-qualified subsistence users.”).

[18] Refuges Rule, 81 Fed. Reg. at 52,247.

[19] Id.

[20] Id. at 52,252.

[21] Id.

[22] Id. at 52,260.

[23] Id.

[24] 5 U.S.C. § 808(1).

The Center for Biological Diversity’s Flawed Legal Challenge to the Congressional Review Act – Part I

On April 20, 2017, the Center for Biological Diversity (“CBD”) filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska challenging the Congressional Review Act (“CRA”) and Congress’s use of the CRA to invalidate the so-called Refuges Rule.[1]  The suit claims the CRA violates the separation of powers and that it is ultra vires (illegal) for the Department of the Interior to honor the disapproval resolution.  As explained below, these claims have little merit and although the litigation will likely not end until the Supreme Court has spoken, we believe the courts will ultimately rule the CRA is constitutionally valid.

CBD fails to acknowledge that Congress intentionally included, as a direct result of the Chadha decision, the constitutional mandates of bicameralism and presentment in the Congressional Review Act disapproval procedure.  

Bicameralism and presentment is the Constitutional requirement that both Houses of the Congress pass a bill and that it be presented to and signed by the President.[2]  The CRA satisfies the constitutional mandates of bicameralism and presentment two-fold.  First, both Chambers of Congress passed the CRA and presented it to President Clinton, who signed it in March 1996 – satisfying the requirements of bicameralism and presentment when enacting the statute.  Second, the CRA disapproval process requires that each joint resolution be an enacted law that is passed by both Chambers and signed by the President.[3]  Until 2017, the CRA’s disapproval procedure had only been successfully used once because the bicameralism and presentment requirements make it difficult to pass without a unified legislative and executive government.  Historical attempts to use the CRA resulted in three joint resolutions failing to pass both Chambers and five joint resolutions being vetoed by the President.  These constitutional safeguards continue to restrain the unfettered use of the CRA to avoid separation-of-powers claims.

CBD refuses to acknowledge that CRA joint resolutions of disapproval conform to these constitutional requirements and are duly enacted laws.[4]  CBD repeatedly claims that a CRA disapproval resolution’s constraint on future rulemaking activity violates INS v. Chadha because Congress must use the constitutionally-mandated process of bicameralism and presentment to amend underlying statutes.[5]  That is, it argues that the CRA’s prohibition on the Department of Interior issuing the Refuges Rule in substantially the same form is an invalid attempt to restrain the agency.  CBD’s reliance on Chadha is misplaced because Congress enacted the CRA in the aftermath of Chadha, and crafted the CRA disapproval process with Chadha in mind.  While CBD is correct that the Chadha holding reiterates Congress’ obligation to use bicameralism and presentment to enact laws; CBD ignores the distinguishing facts of Chadha.  In Chadha, Congress used a “single-chamber legislative veto” to overturn a presidential immigration enforcement decision.  By its very name, a “single-chamber legislative veto” does not satisfy the bicameralism requirement.  The legislative history of the CRA specifically mentions Congress’ decision to require the enactment of joint resolutions to avoid future Chadha-based challenges.[6]  According to CBD, Congress failed to disapprove of the Refuges Rule in conformity with bicameralism and presentment.  But the lawsuit details when the joint resolution was passed by each Chamber and states that “[a]fter presentment on March 27, 2017, President Trump signed the Joint Resolution on April 3, 2017.”[7]

CBD’s separation-of-powers claim must fail because, as with any other enacted law, the joint resolution disapproving the Refuges Rule satisfied the constitutional mandates of bicameralism and presentment.  Having refuted CBD’s claim that CRA and the disapproval resolution for the Refuges Rule did not satisfy the requirements of bicameralism and presentment, we move to its claim that agency rulemaking authority can only be restricted by Congress when it amends the underlying authorizing statute.

CBD fails to acknowledge numerous administrative law procedural statutes that constrain agency rulemaking authority without amending an agency’s underlying authorizing statutes.

The CRA prohibits agencies from issuing subsequent rules in “substantially the same form” as a disapproved rule.  This ban acts as an additional constraint on agency rulemaking authority similar to other procedural statutes found throughout administrative law.  The Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), the Regulatory Flexibility Act (“RFA”), the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (“UMRA”), and the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (“SBREFA”) all restrict agency rulemaking authority by creating procedural requirements that can restrain agencies by requiring them to regulate using different alternatives based on the predicted outcomes.[8]  These constraints on agency rulemaking authority help reduce separation-of-powers concerns from the other side of the coin–that Congress unconstitutionally delegated too much authority to the agency.  To avoid an unconstitutional delegation of power, courts have been supportive of enforcing these procedural restraints on agency rulemaking.[9]  Here, through the CRA, Congress is constraining its previously delegated legislative authority to Interior.  Therefore, CBD’s claim that agency rulemaking authority may not be constrained without amendment of the underlying statute must fail.

CBD fails to acknowledge Congress’ constitutional authority to constrain agency rulemaking authority using its power of the purse.

Alternatively, Congress may approve or disapprove of agency action by using its taxing and spending powers to decide whether to appropriate funds to an agency program.[10]  Appropriations riders can be tacked on to bills being considered by Congress without being related to the goals of the underlying bill.  One type of these is limitation riders which often specifically prohibit the use of funds for specific agency activities or programs.  Using its power of the purse, Congress can use limitation riders to prevent agencies from using any funds on programs that Congress does not approve of – without amending the underlying authorizing statute that might prescribe the agency take that action.[11]  In 2000, Congress used an appropriations rider to restrict Interior’s ability to promulgate final rules concerning hard rock mining–without amending Interior’s underlying statutory authority to prescribe rock mining restrictions.[12]  No limitation rider has ever been successfully challenged in court as violating the separation of powers.

The CBD lawsuit repeatedly asserts that the CRA prohibition on subsequent rules in “substantially the same form” violates the separation of powers because Interior’s underlying authorizing statute was not amended.  This argument fails because it does not consider that Congress is the genesis of agency rulemaking authority.[13]  These assertions ignore all prior procedural statutes that constrain agency rulemaking authority without amending the agency’s underlying authorizing statute.  This argument also ignores Congress’ authority to constrain agency rulemaking authority by passing appropriations riders.  Because Article I legislative authority is vested solely in Congress, the executive branch has little or no inherent authority to promulgate rules.  Congress is the only branch that may enact laws to create, delegate authority to, or abolish agencies as it deems appropriate to carry out the legislative function.[14]  Congress, then, may rescind the authority it delegates to agencies by enacting or repealing laws.  Indeed, federal agencies, not Congress, violate the separation of powers when they usurp the essential legislative function of Congress by continuing to promulgate regulations in direct contravention of enacted laws.  Therefore, CBD’s claim that Congress has “expanded its own power at the expense of the executive branch” is incorrect because agency rulemaking authority flows from Congress alone and has been constitutionally constrained by numerous prior statutes and appropriations riders.[15]

Travis Millsaps is a counsel at Cause of Action Institute.  You can follow him on Twitter at @TravisMillsaps.

[1] Non-Subsistence Take of Wildlife, and Public Participation and Closure Procedures, on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska, 81 Fed. Reg. 52,247 (Aug. 5, 2016) (the “Refuges Rule”).

[2] U.S. Const. art. 1, § 7, cls. 2, 3; id. art. 1, §§ 1, 7, cl. 2.

[3] 5 U.S.C § 801(b)(1) (referring to § 802 disapproval process).

[4] CBD Compl. ¶ 45 (claiming that any reliance by Interior on enacted joint resolution of disapproval is “contrary to law”).

[5] E.g., CBD Compl. ¶¶ 4, 21-23, 27, 44 (citing 462 U.S. 919 (1983)).

[6] CRA Legislative History, 142 Cong. Rec. at S3684 (bill sponsors citing Chadha and resolving that the case “narrowed Congress’ options to use [the CRA’s] joint resolution of disapproval”).

[7] CBD Compl. ¶ 39 (emphasis added).

[8] E.g., Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 551 et seq.; Regulatory Flexibility Act, §§ 601-12; National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq.; Unfunded Mandates Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-4; Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act, Pub. L. No. 104-121 (1996); see generally 42 U.S.C. § 4332.

[9] See United States v. Henry, 136 F.3d 12 (1st Cir. 1998) (discussing that existence of multiple constraints on delegated legislative authority to EPA supports finding of constitutional delegation of power).

[10] U.S. Const. art. 1, § 8, cl. 1.

[11] Id. § 9, cl. 7.

[12] Pub. L. No. 106-291, § 156, 114 Stat. 922, 962-963 (prohibiting Secretary of Interior from using any funds “to promulgate final rules to revise 43 C.F.R. subpart 3809[.]”).

[13] CBD Compl. ¶¶ 2, 5, 40-42, 44.

[14] U.S. Const. art. 1, § 8, cl. 18.

[15] CBD Compl. ¶ 4.