What You Don’t Know About Federal Government Agencies

There are certain government agencies that come to mind when we think of federal agencies. Certainly the EPA, OSHA, IRS, DHS, Treasury, among others, spring to mind. What about Architect of the Capitol? Or The Bureau of Economic Analysis? Yeah, me neither lol.

A friend of mine said he intended to print out a list of all the agencies under the Executive branch, just to show the insanity. He stopped when he discovered it would have taken 27 pages in 12 pt. font. Not a list of all their functions and heads, just the names of the agencies.

The Federal Register indicates there are over 430 departments, agencies, and sub-agencies in the federal government.” The online Federal Register Index depicts 257. USA.gov has a list with links to each, including its contact info and who heads the agency.

Former Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma went to Washington to make a difference in whatever way he could. One of his more famous efforts was outlining annually the government waste he could identify and multiple agencies that had the same mission-  wasteful projects and such. He called his annual report the “Wastebook.” The Washington Times wrote about his final effort in 2014 before his retirement.

If one were to look at the Enumerated Powers listed in our constitution, they would be hard-pressed to find more than a handful that would fall within the jurisdiction of those powers.

So, why do we have so many? Why do they have so much power? What can we do?

As the nation grew in size and population, there were departments added to the original departments of State, War, Navy and Treasury. One might note that these agencies all dealt with national issues, not the people directly. In 1849 the Department of the Interior, 1870 the Department of Justice and the Post Office were instituted.

Already in the late 19th century, the public began to cry out for the government to do something. I would note here that prior to this time, we each viewed our states as sovereign entities and the people would have sought redress for issues directly with their state and local government. After the Civil War, the Federal government had squashed the idea that states had any real power and people began to look to Washington to solve their problems.

Agencies began to adopt formal operating standards and rules in response to criticism of the abuse of power under the spoils system. In 1868 the Treasury published its customs decisions, followed by the Patent Office in 1869.

Between 1865 and 1900, independent regulatory commissions were born. Created by Congress to set rates and bring order to industry competition. Does this sound more like a free market or socialism? The first was the Interstate Commerce Commission established in 1887 in response to charges that farmers and businesses were being overcharged in railroad rates to ship goods to market.

The camel now had his nose fully under the tent.

Progressives, of course, believed that “independent” commissions would bring greater expertise, continuity, and specialization on economic problems than Congress could. They also believed these commissions or agencies could and would operate in a dispassionate, non-political environment. Right. And I have unicorns for sale, 3 for $99.

It was not long before these commissions had dual and often contradictory objectives- controlling a specific industry while also promoting it. Soon, these “independent” regulators became captives of the industries they were supposed to regulate. The industries, in fact, saw these commissions as their personal “protection” racket to avoid competition. Who would have seen this coming? (sarcasm)

In the early 20th century, social concerns, such as public health and safety joined the growing government monster. Upton Sinclair’s book “The Jungle” brought national attention to practices in the meat industry. Now to me, this is how it works. A reporter, journalist or writer brings attention to an issue, and the people will demand a change in the industry. To a progressive, this cries out for another agency. Congress, of course, was compelled to act, passing the Food and Drug Act in 1906, bringing broader authority to administering agencies. The Bureau of Chemistry, which eventually became the Food and Drug Administration assumed the role of protector of the public.

The Depression years, of course, brought even greater leaps into the social issues of the nation. FDR’s New Deal brought a vast expansion in programs and agencies. Of course, while these were to deal with the specifics of the depression, once the depression was over, the agencies were not.

In the 1960s and 1970s, we saw another expansion, again all social in nature. OSHA, Consumer Protection Agency, and the EPA all came to life. The increase in regulations and agencies were soon blamed for rising interest rates and compliance expenses driving businesses into bankruptcy and making international competitiveness difficult. Interference in the marketplace, red tape, big government, and “faceless, nameless bureaucrats” became common complaints. The volume of federal rules and regulations were adding complexity, expense, and delays leading to public frustration and impatience with the federal government.

And here we are 40-50 years later, still complaining, and doing nothing. News flash, it is not slowing down. “Hey, how did that camel get in the tent?”

2015 ended with a record additional 81,611 pages of regulations, surpassing the previous record from 2010 of 81,405. I’m sure 2016 will be no different.

What will a Trump administration mean to the size, scope, and jurisdiction of the federal government? Only time will tell. But why should we wait any longer? We shouldn’t. We should follow Tom Coburn’s lead.

Tom left the Senate when he came to the realization the Washington was too big and too pervasive for the handful of constitutional conservatives to ever make a difference and challenge the power brokers. He knew it was time to return power to the states and the people, and let them put handcuffs on the federal monster. Even if Trump does reduce the size and power of the government, as history has shown, it will just be a matter of time before another administration adds to it again.

The Convention of States Project is dedicated to accomplishing this goal. Madison’s CPC proudly endorses this organization and its mission. To learn more and become involved go to www.conventionofstates.com.

This is a grassroots effort; the republic will be lost if we leave it to the bureaucrats and politicians. Simple things like making phone calls and emails are vital to the effort, sign up to help today!

Photo Credit: “Bureaucracy illustration,” © 2009 Harald GrovenFlickr | CC-BY-SA

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