Constitutionality of Statute Requiring Executive Agency to Report Directly to Congress

Headnotes: 

Statute requiring the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to transmit concurrently to Congress any budget information and legislative recommendations that are transmitted to the Secretary of Transportation, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and the President, would, if interpreted strictly, on its face violate the constitutional principle of separation of powers.

Separation of powers requires that the President have ultimate control over subordinate officials who perform purely executive functions, which includes the right to supervise and review the work of such officials; this principle, coupled with the constitutional protection afforded the deliberative process within the Executive Branch, creates an area of executive prerogative that may not be invaded by a coordinate branch of government absent a very compelling and specific need.

Disclosure to Congress of unreviewed recommendations by subordinates within the Executive Branch would disrupt the normal interchange between agency heads and the President in connection with the decisionmaking process, and interfere with the President’s ability to supervise the actions of his subordinate officials while this process is going on, thus adversely affecting the President’s ability to carry out his responsibilities.

Because there appears to be no specific or compelling congressional need for the information at issue in this case, the concurrent reporting requirement can and should be construed so as to avoid constitutional infirmity, by allowing the FAA Administrator to provide Congress with budget data and legislative comments only after they have been approved by the Administrator’s superiors in the Executive Branch, including, where appropriate, the President and OMB.

Updated July 9, 2014