What We’re Talking About When We Talk About Big Government
Last week’s largest domestic, non-security focused storyline left the public consciousness without significant — or sufficient — spotlighting. The General Accountability Office, or GAO, found a massive amount of overlapping and even duplicative programs amongst federal agencies. The GAO did not release a figure regarding the total amount of such waste, but Senator Tom Coburn — who pushed for the report to be conducted — estimated that the report identified between $100 billion and $200 billion in redundancy. Coburn’s figure does not include spending that is neither duplicative nor overlapping but simply ridiculous, as judged by rational men, and as such the actual figure of federal program waste is quite more disgusting.
Conservatives — Originalists — speak of Big Government always: an aversion to it is deservedly the driving intellectual thesis behind conservatism. We despise Big Government, more than anything, and I can’t emphasize strongly enough that I don’t believe the left has any clue why. They have theories about guns and fear, psychological weakness, bigotry, and the like, and these are all weak arguments against Big Government, which makes them easy to dismiss and continue to be a leftist. They are not, of course, our arguments. There is a disconnect between what we say, what we mean when we protest Big Government and what we are thought to mean by our political opposition.
Fighting Big Government is not just about Don’t Tread on Me, although it is much about that; it is not just about national security, though it is fractionally about that. Perhaps we can transmit a better explanation via this GAO report and the below examination of the actual agencies of our current government, or I hope we can, and then I’d like to ask a question of the non-conservatives, because conservatives also do not understand a key plank of the left and the West would benefit from a clear answer.
The Federal Highway Administration
A healthy nation requires public roads for ease of commerce and the movement of the military — a truth acceptable even to most libertarians, and evidenced by a frequent PJM contributor who lives in Central America separated from the town by a private road he cannot use, requiring him to ride a horse through jungle to see the orthodontist.
So America requires a governmental agency funded by public dollars facilitating this essential public service, the movement of the military being the strongest argument for “essential.” How does such a thing get created? The elected representatives of the people, once realizing that such an agency is necessary, name the thing something sufficiently Washingtonian — let’s call it the “Department of Transportation” — and they craft a mission statement, a mini-Constitution, to ensure that the agency does not overstep its bounds and trample liberty: control of transportation puts an agency in position to violate the trust given it in the form of public wealth. Here it is, the DOT mission:
Serve the United States by ensuring a fast, safe, efficient, accessible and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people, today and into the future.
Further: that agency should be held accountable to the public trust via an inspector general and freely available financial records and salary structure, its actions superbly documented and accessible.
If you are an American born after the publication of Das Kapital, you know this fine idea would derail at “Serve the United States” and go Alec Baldwin bats*** at “safe.”
“Enhance the quality of life of the American people”? Hide the silver, and hit up Stephen Green for the top-shelf stuff.
What actually transpired? The Department of Transportation was so established in 1966, by an order of Congress, presumably because there was nothing else at the time fulfilling this necessity. Right?
The Federal Highway Administration was founded in 1893, as the Office of Road Inquiry. The ORI begat the Office of Public Roads, which fell under the purview of the Department of Agriculture, because that made perfect sense at the time, but in 1915, the Office of Public Roads became the Bureau of Public Roads, as bureaus were fashionable in the teens.
The Bureau of Public Roads became the Public Roads Administration under FDR — he was fond of the words “public” and “administration” — but FDR then became enamored of the word “federal”: you can’t spell “federal” without FDR. He placed the Public Roads Administration under the rule of the Federal Works Agency, which was responsible for, amongst other things, “works.”
Ironically, or not at all, the Federal Works Agency was created to combat perceived inefficiency in the executive branch, so it was preordained that the Federal Works Agency would disband ten years later.
The PRA then became the Bureau of Public Roads again (it sounded “Mid-Century Modern”), and it was put under the supervision of the Department of Commerce, which was mildly less silly than putting it in the Department of Agriculture.
Eventually, the Bureau of Public Roads became the Federal Highway Administration, known as the FHWA, because there was already an FHA elsewhere in the government, which wasn’t really fair because that FHA had already acquired the cool nickname “HUD.”
The FHWA, now under the newly created Department of Transportation, adopted the following mission statement:
Improve Mobility on our Nation’s Highways Through National Leadership, Innovation, and Program Delivery.
Which I can’t much distinguish from the DOT mission.
Point being, the FHWA had been around long before the Department of Transportation was created to swallow it up, even though the FHWA mission seemed to be the same as that of the DOT, and the FHWA was not disbanded, and hold your nose because Big Government was just getting started.
Heard of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration? I had not, but being a rube, I was also not aware of the Federal Transit Administration. I had definitely heard of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, though I cannot distinguish its purpose from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Baffled, I put in a call to the National Transportation Safety Board, whence I was transferred to the Surface Transportation Board. They suggested I take a long walk off a short pier — an unauthorized threat which most properly fell under the authority of the DOT’s Maritime Administration — prior to informing me of the existence of the Research and Innovative Technology Administration of the Department of Transportation (a rube twice over, I thought “innovation” was part of the FHWA’s responsibilities). Here, at the administration requiring greater security due to the innovative and necessary asphalt blends, I was handed over to the Transportation Security Administration, whence I turned down a full body scan and with whom I am no longer “just friends.”
The Biggest Government
In a century, Big Government transformed an essential and minimalized service, the Federal Highway Administration, into the Department of Where the F*** Do You Think You’re Going, and the above fog machine is just the genetics of one department. I noted earlier that the GAO had “found” massive amounts of redundancy; it was a poor word. The GAO simply took the time to report on the disgust. Any rational man could look at the following, which is nothing more than a collection of current federal agencies, and understand the waste is of a scale difficult to comprehend and inspiring of our worst tendencies to rage.
This is your Big Government, perhaps the biggest Big Government there ever could be. The problem is not one or several agencies, but the whole damned thing: believe it, it is true — this is the actual structure of the United States. See if you can spot the redundancies:
· Advisory Council on Historic Preservation· American Battle Monuments Commission · Architect of the Capitol · Botanic Garden · Capitol Visitor Center · Constitution Center · National Capital Planning Commission · National Cemetery Administration (Veterans Affairs Department) · Smithsonian Institution · White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance
· Archives (National Archives and Records Administration) · Administrative Committee of the Federal Register · Library of Congress
· Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) · Administration for Native Americans · National Indian Gaming Commission
· Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (Justice) · Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade (Treasury) · Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) · National Drug Intelligence Center · Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP)
· Bureau of Justice Statistics · Bureau of Labor Statistics · Bureau of Transportation Statistics · Congressional Research Service · Federal Interagency Council on Statistical Policy · National Agricultural Statistics Service
· Agricultural Marketing Service · Agriculture Department (USDA) · Marketing and Regulatory Programs (Agriculture Department) · Research, Education and Economics (Agriculture Department) · Risk Management Agency (Agriculture Department)
· Agency for International Development · African Development Foundation · Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission)
· Federal Highway Administration · Department of Transportation (DOT) · Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration · Federal Transit Administration · Maritime Administration · National Highway Traffic Safety Administration · National Transportation Safety Board · Research and Innovative Technology Administration (Transportation Department) · Surface Transportation Board · Transportation Security Administration
· Environmental Management (Energy Department) · Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) · Natural Resources Conservation Service
· Farm Credit Administration · Farm Service Agency · Land Management, Bureau of
· Export Administration (now the Bureau of Industry and Security) · Export-Import Bank of the United States
Below, how Big Government handles money:
· Commerce Department · Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States · Commodity Futures Trading Commission · Comptroller of the Currency Office · Council of Economic Advisers · Department of the Treasury · Disability Employment Policy Office · Economic Adjustment Office · Economic Analysis, Bureau of · Economic Development Administration · Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) · Economic Research Service · Economics & Statistics Administration · Engraving and Printing, Bureau of · Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity · Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board · Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council · Federal Financing Bank · Federal Reserve System · Financial Management Service (Treasury Department) · Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission · Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, National Commission · Government Printing Office (GPO) · Government National Mortgage Association · Mint (Treasury Department) · National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform · National Credit Union Administration · National Economic Council · Office of Management and Budget (OMB) · Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) · Small Business Administration (SBA) · Taxpayer Advocacy Panel · U.S. International Trade Commission · U.S. Trade and Development Agency · U.S. Trade Representative
· Administration on Aging (AoA) · Administration on Developmental Disabilities · Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) · Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry · Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Interagency Coordinating Committee · Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion · Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) · Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board · Civilian Radioactive Waste Management · Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled · Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) · Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) · Health Resources and Services Administration · Indian Health Service · National AIDS Policy Office · National Council on Disability · National Institutes of Health (NIH) · Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) · Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission · Rehabilitation Services Administration (Education Department) · Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences
· Education Department (ED) · Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) · Federal Interagency Committee on Education · National Institute for Literacy · National Science Foundation
· Energy Department (DOE) · Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy · Energy Information Administration · Federal Energy Regulatory Commission · Fossil Energy · National Laboratories (Energy Department) · Power Administrations · Science Office (Energy Department) · Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology · Nuclear Regulatory Commission · Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board
And your food:
· Food and Drug Administration (FDA) · Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services · Food Safety and Inspection Service · Food and Nutrition Service · Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration · National Institute of Food and Agriculture
And your retirement:
· National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare · Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration (now the Employee Benefits Security Administration) · Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation · Railroad Retirement Board · Social Security Administration (SSA) · Social Security Advisory Board
· National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) · National Ocean Service · National Weather Service (NOAA) · National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) · Office of Science and Technology Policy · Office of Scientific and Technical Information
And the border:
· Office of Refugee Resettlement · U.S. Border Patrol (now Customs and Border Protection) · U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services · U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement · Executive Office for Immigration Review
And this … this is how Big Government attempts to make everything better:
· Arctic Research Commission · Appalachian Regional Commission · Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) · Chief Acquisition Officers Council · Chief Financial Officers Council · Chief Human Capital Officers Council · Chief Information Officers Council · Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee · Commission of Fine Arts · Commission on International Religious Freedom · Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements · Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) · Community Planning and Development · Corporation for National and Community Service · Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention · Council on Environmental Quality · Delaware River Basin Commission · Denali Commission · Domestic Policy Council · Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy · Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) · English Language Acquisition Office · Federal Citizen Information Center (FCIC) · Federal Consulting Group · Federal Executive Boards · Federal Geographic Data Committee · Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight · Federal Housing Finance Board · Federal Interagency Committee for the Management of Noxious and Exotic Weeds · Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer · Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service · Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board · Foreign Agricultural Service · General Services Administration (GSA) · Indian Arts and Crafts Board · Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor Commission · Innovation and Improvement Office · Institute of Peace · Interagency Alternative Dispute Resolution Working Group · Inter-American Foundation · Interagency Council on Homelessness · Japan-United States Friendship Commission · Joint Board for the Enrollment of Actuaries · Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies · Joint Fire Science Program · Legal Services Corporation · Marine Mammal Commission · Merit Systems Protection Board · Millennium Challenge Corporation · Minority Business Development Agency · Mississippi River Commission · Morris K. Udall Foundation: Scholarship and Excellence in National Environmental Policy · Multifamily Housing Office · National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency · National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) · National Mediation Board · National Technical Information Service · National Telecommunications and Information Administration · Northwest Power Planning Council · Office of Compliance · Office of Government Ethics · Office of Personnel Management · Office of Thrift Supervision · Open World Leadership Center · Overseas Private Investment Corporation · Peace Corps · Presidio Trust · Regulatory Information Service Center · Rural Business and Cooperative Programs · Rural Development · Rural Housing Service · Rural Utilities Service · Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation · Southeastern Power Administration · Southwestern Power Administration · Stennis Center for Public Service · State Justice Institute · Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement · Susquehanna River Basin Commission · TRICARE Management · Trustee Program (Justice Department) · Western Area Power Administration · White House Commission on Presidential Scholars · Women’s Bureau (Labor Department)
What are we talking about when we talk about Big Government?
What is Big Government?
It is our time: It is oxidizing, the aging process applied to civilization and turning us to dust. Big Government is nothing less than the consumption of our very moment here on Earth, our lives spent creating and producing. Take our works and humanity, skim from the top, then the middle until we were not here.
No man’s time is another’s to waste, not politics but morality. This stupid, stupid list is our government, and the creators of this owe an answer to their benefactors — an answer to a question neither about the politics or the theory, as none of that is relevant to the actual government that exists as people working at the above agencies, being paid from the profits, and then the principal, of civilization. Simply, they owe us this question answered:
Are you proud?
Because you seem to be proud. Conservatives did not want a government made of these agencies, you did, and we now have them, a hundred years of liberal lifetimes spent creating. It’s yours and we deserve to know if you are proud of this structure — not the principles behind the structure, the ideals, but the actual structure. This is the government, now, crushing and wasting us, and rational men cannot be proud of what you have done here. Are you, and do you understand us?
David Steinberg is the New York editor for Pajamas Media.