Downsize the Federal Government

The size of the federal government has exploded over the last century. The legislative and judicial branches of government have grown to serve the increased number of states and its growing population. The size and scope of the executive branch has grown to reflect an expanded role of the federal government over the last 100 years. Apparently the staffing of fourteen separate cabinet departments were not enough to manage the current executive branch, so Barack Obama felt the need to appoint a number of “czars” to focus on special emphasis areas. Recent studies have found that economic growth rates decline when relative government spending exceeds 26% of GDP, and the United States government current spending is close to 40% of GDP. The Republican Party claims the core principle of limited government, but has actively participated in this growth in both size and scope of the federal government. There is still the question of constitutionality why the federal government has expanded into areas not explicitly called out for in the 10th Amendment. Ronald Reagan diagnosed this problem with “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem

The executive branch of government has grown over time with it greatest growth period last century. George Washington appointed a cabinet of four departments: State, Treasury, War (now Defense), and Attorney General (now Justice). Departments of Interior (1849) and Agriculture (1862) were added in the 19th century. In the first half of the 20th century, Commerce (1913) and Labor (1913) were added. In the second half of the 20th century, the executive branch exploded well beyond the original enumerated powers with Health and Human Services (1953), Housing and Human Development (1965), Transportation (1966), Energy (1974), Education (1979), and Veterans Affairs (1989). Homeland Security was created in 2002. The role of these departments has also increased from overseeing industry, to participating in select niches of industry, and even virtual nationalization of select industry segments. Government monopolies are notoriously inefficient. Revenues are collected not just to pay for government services, but now departments redistribute funds between people, between states, and even between countries. The problem is that government execution gets worse the bigger it gets. The federal budget deficits have caused the national debt to skyrocket over $18 trillion, with no end in sight.

If our federal government is really too large, where to begin? The first step is to convene a Committee Against Government Waste, much like under President Reagan, to develop plans to eliminate duplication, inefficiency, and waste.  For example, there is no reason for 24 education and job training programs to be scattered among seven different federal departments and agencies. The next step is to reorganize the Executive branch to eliminate duplication and waste between departments, such as folding Veterans affairs into Defense, and moving the Coast Guard from Homeland Security into Defense. Homeland Security could then be folded under Justice to focus on enforcement. The next step is to privatize work done by the public sector that should rightly be in the private sector, such as: Federal Reserve Banks, Export-Import Bank, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Ginnie Mae, PBGC, Amtrak, TSA, TVA, Medicare, and Social Security. The federal government does not need to own so much park land, and should devolve this land back to the states so they can manage its use for parks and resource exploitation. The next step is to eliminate transfer (redistribution) payments between states to decentralize investment decision making back to the states, which represents 17% of the federal budget. Finally, plans must be put in place to dismantle or devolve the functions of the Departments of Education, Energy, Transportation, Housing and Human Development, and Health and Human Services. The 80-plus means-tested welfare programs are so vast and complex, that they are unmanageable from a system-wide perspective.  Cabinet secretaries should be measured by how much they downsized their departments and how many regulations have been repealed. Republicans have talked a good game of limited government, but pragmatic leadership is missing. Constitutional grounding will provide the framework for long overdue downsizing of our federal government beginning now.

The American people have identified government as our most important domestic problem, so maybe it is time to relook at the size and scope of the federal government. After all of these changes are made, there should be half as many cabinet departments and the cost of the federal government could also be halved. This is the vision I would like to see in a presidential candidate campaign because it is transformational and returns to the fundamentals outlined in our original Constitution. We can hope that Ted Cruz will not be the only presidential candidate who will offer radical reform ideas to begin the repair and realignment of our federal government.

David Coughlin is a political pundit, editor of the policy action planning web site “Return to Common Sense,” and an active member of the Westchester County Tea Party. He retired from IBM after 31 years in 2009, after a short career in the U.S. Army. He currently resides with his wife of 43 years in Hawthorne, NY. He was educated at West Point (Bachelor of Science, 1971) and the University of Alabama in Huntsville (Masters, Administrative Science, 1976).