Symposium 2011: The Republican candidates for president often state that the size of government is too big. There are hundreds of departments, agencies, boards, offices, and programs. Which ones, if any, should we eliminate?

Michigan:  We can debate this forever.  What elected official is going to vote to eliminate any agency or department?  Everyone talks about it but until we let our elected officials know who they are working for, nothing will happen.

 

Sydney:  I think the main problem in eliminating, or reducing the size of Government is the fact that the people in these positions are very highly paid, and they are not likely to give up their jobs easily. They also probably create jobs for their friends that aren’t necessary.

 

There’s no doubt that there are plenty of agencies and departments that could be eliminated. I found a website that listed all the Federal Government boards, agencies etc. (http://www.usa.gov/directory/federal/index.shtml ). A few that seem to be a waste of money include: the Architect of the Capitol (yes, it exists), Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the list goes on. There are also a number of Bureaus of Statistics, surely these could be merged into one. On top of this there are plenty of agencies that could be handled by the States. An example is the Bankruptcy Courts.

 

Cartwright:  I don’t think anyone that has half a brain can say that the government isn’t too big.  We’ve become a bloated bureaucracy.  Talk about getting fat and lazy.  The federal government is the biggest culprit of gluttony.

 

I think the only three departments that we actually need are the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of the Treasury.  If we’re all dead because the terrorists nuke us, nothing else really matters.  If we don’t have a functioning financial system and money, we’ll descend into anarchy.  I support more funding for the Department of Defense and Homeland Security.  We need a strong military, we need to be protecting the border, and we need to be guarding against terrorist attacks.  Historically, no country has been a superpower or stayed a superpower without a strong military.  That’s just a basic fact.

 

Everything else can basically go or be substantially reduced.  I certainly agree that the Department of Education and the Department of Energy and Department of Labor could be eliminated and other departments cut to the bare bones.  It’s apparent that the government’s scope has creeped into areas where it doesn’t belong and that isn’t consistent with what our founding fathers intended, so I think we need a careful examination of what we need and don’t need.  It wouldn’t be easy or politically popular, but it’s something that needs to be done.

 

Let me give you an example of how messed up the government really is.  Has anyone here ever attempted to register a trademark with the USPTO, the Patent and Trademark Office?  Well, if you have, you know that this is a fine example of government bureaucracy.  You fill out all the paperwork which is itself extensive and excessive and send it to Washington.  Months later you get a letter informing you that you’re application has been denied.  However, they can put you in touch with a law firm to help you resubmit the paperwork and get it approved.  Let’s see, we’re paying people to sit in an office in Washington and reject these applications and send out the rejection letter and the information on law firms that can help.  These are obviously people who couldn’t find work anywhere else in the private sector.  So, they jerk you around and ultimately tell you that a law firm has to extort money from you to get the patent or trademark approved and registered.

 

It’s absurd!  In this day with the technology we have, there’s no need for this bureaucracy.  It’s nothing more than a justification of someone’s job and graft or kickbacks to law firms.  Why isn’t this person at the USPTO in Washington contacting the applicant and saying this is what’s wrong with the form and this is how you fix it and then well approve it.  I’d like to know how many applications that are submitted by an individual without an attorney are actually approved.  I suspect the number is quite small or zero.

 

But here’s the reality, and I apologize for going off on that tangent.  I don’t think most people realize this.  All these departments that we mentioned make up the discretionary spending of the federal budget.  Collectively, this discretionary spending accounts for only about 40% of the total federal budget.  The remaining 60% is for mandatory spending programmes like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, Unemployment, etc.  So really, when we’re talking about cutting departments, they only account for a small amount of the annual federal budget.  The only way we’re going to make substantial gains in cutting the size of the federal government is to reform these entitlement programmes.  Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a will in the Congress to attack these issues.  Until the elected leaders get some guts to stand up and say this is what we’re going to do for the good of the country and our future, nothing is going to get accomplished.  They’re a bunch of cowards who are more concerned with their re-election prospects and protecting their positions than they are with the good of the country and our future.

 

RMC:  This is another pretty easy one for me. I take a rather simplistic view of the federal government’s responsibilities—national defense, promote a functioning monetary or banking system, and ensure level competition for businesses.  That’s just generally speaking.

 

A couple of the first departments to go are the Department of Education.  We’re consistently ranking low among developed countries when it comes to education, and I think we’ll all agree that our education system has some problems.  One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the number of people who don’t realize that the federal Department of Education has something like five thousand employees.  What are these people doing?  They’re certainly not teaching our kids.  No one seems to know what these federal employees do.  Evidently, they’re paper pushers handling student loans.

 

I think we need a national board that meets every four years to set the standards for school curriculums.  You know, at a minimum kids need to know these things in first grade.  They need to know these things in seventh grade.  They need this, this, and this in tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades.  That shouldn’t take too long to figure out.  I suspect that all of us here could come up with a full curriculum for students from first to twelfth grades by the end of the afternoon today.  Once we have that, we let the local schools decide how to best teach that curriculum.  We need to make sure schools have adequate resources, the ability to fire teachers who don’t teach, and not be afraid to fail students.

 

The Department of Energy would be on the chopping block too.  Let’s see, the sixteen thousand employees there haven’t solved our energy problems since they were formed in 1977.  We’re still dependent on foreign oil, gas prices continue to climb, so I’m not sure what they’re doing up there in Washington.  They can turn over the nuclear weapons oversight to the Department of Defense.

 

Let’s get rid of the EPA.  They’re just messing things up and making things more difficult for businesses.  Look, I’m all for protecting our land, forests, lakes, rivers, oceans, etc. but the EPA has overreached their bounds.

 

The Department of Labor can go.  Unemployment is well over 8%.  Evidently, the seventeen thousand folks at the Department of Labor aren’t doing their jobs.

 

How about Housing and Urban Development?  Let’s see, over ten thousand employees that no one can tell me what they do.  Do we really want more government involvement in the housing markets?  Isn’t that part of what got us in the mess we’re in now with housing?

 

Then there the over one hundred thousand employees at the Department of Agriculture.  What are they doing?  They’re not farming.  Hell, we don’t even get pineapples from Hawaii anymore.

 

Look, I’m being hard on a lot of these departments, but they’re bloated.  There are programmes within each department that we can use at the federal level but I don’t think we need it at quite the levels we have today.

But let’s be real about this.  Even eliminating these departments only save a drop in the buck compared to the costs of the entitlement programmes, so let’s keep that in perspective.  I think we need a very aggressive reorganization of the federal government to eliminate its size and scope.  We need to drastically cut departments and programmes and actually shrink the size of the federal government instead of just trying to shrink the increase in spending.

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