is a term that became popular
in the 1960s and that served as the title of a 1973 volume by
historian Arthur M.
describe the modern presidency of the United States. The author
wrote The Imperial
out of two concerns; first that the US
Presidency was out of control and second that the Presidency had
exceeded the Constitutional limits.
It was based on a number of observations. In the 1930s the
President of the United States had few staff, most of them based in
the U.S. Capitol, where the President traditionally had an office.
The office is no longer used except for ceremonial occasions, but
in 19th and early 20th century, presidents were regularly based
there with a small staff. However Franklin D. Roosevelt
's leadership during the
and World War II
changed the presidency. His leadership in the new age of electronic
media, the growth of executive agencies under the New Deal
, his Brain Trust
, and the creation of the Executive
Office of the President
in 1939 led to a transformation of the
President has a large executive staff who are most often crowded in
Wing, basement of the White House, or in the Eisenhower
Executive Office Building, which is beside the White House and used by
the Departments of Defense and State.
overcrowding in the West Wing led President Richard Nixon
to convert the former
presidential swimming pool into a press room.
Arguments that the United States have become an imperial presidency
- As staff numbers increased, many people were appointed who held
personal loyalty to the person holding the office of
president, and who were not subject to outside approval or
- The Senate does not "advise
and consent" to appointments to the Executive
Office of the President (with only a handful of exceptions), as
it does with cabinet appointments. A corollary of this is that EOP
personnel may act independent of, without regard for, and without
accountability to Congress.
Some have suggested that the range of new agencies, the importance
of the Chief of Staff, and the large number of officials created a
virtual 'royal court' around the President, with members not
answerable to anyone but the President and on occasions acting
independent of him also.
The presidencies of Richard Nixon
described as surrounded by "courts", where junior staffers acted on
occasions in contravention of executive orders or Acts of Congress.
The activities of some Nixon staffers during the Watergate
affair are often held up as an
example. Under Reagan (1981–1989) the role of Colonel Oliver North
in the facilitation of funding to
in Nicaragua, in explicit
contravention of a United States
ban, has been highlighted as an example of a
"junior courtier's" ability to act, based on his position as a
member of a large White House staff. Howard
, who served as Reagan's last Chief of Staff, was critical
of the growth, complexity and apparent unanswerability of the
House Committee on the Judiciary Report
On January 13, 2009, the House Committee on the Judiciary, led by
Chairman John Conyers, Jr.
released "Reining in the Imperial Presidency: Lessons and
Recommendations Relating to the Presidency of George W. Bush" a
486-page report detailing alleged abuses and excesses of the Bush
administration and recommending steps to address them.
Those that believe the presidency is not imperial in nature argue
- the Executive Office of the President makes up only a very
small part of the federal bureaucracy and the President has very
little influence as to the appointment of most members of the
- the number of people within the EOP is tiny and there is no
institutional continuity at all;
- the organization and functioning of most of the Federal
government is determined by federal law and the President has
little power to reorganize most of the federal government.
It has also been argued that the concept of the imperial presidency
neglects several important changes in the context of governance
over the last three decades, all of which tend to restrict the
actual power of the President. These include:
- Growth in the size and complexity of the federal
- A battery of post-Nixon controls on executive power, including
transparency rules and "watchdog bureaucracies" such as the federal
Inspectors General, a strengthened Government Accountability
Office, and the Congressional Budget Office;
- The increased willingness of bureaucrats to protest or "blow
the whistle" on policies with which they disagree, and stronger
protection for such behavior;
- Changes in information and communication technologies that
amplify the effect of official dissent, and increase the capacity
of opponents to mobilize against executive action;
- Declining public trust in, and deference to, federal
- Declining executive discretion over the use of federal funds,
which are increasingly committed to mandatory programs;
- Declining capacity to regulate the private sector, as a
consequence of the post-Reagan shift to neoliberal policies,
economic globalization, and the growth of corporate lobbies.