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Why Stop with Truman?


The RMS Titanic left Southampton, United Kingdom, on April 10, 1912, headed west to New York. It was the ship’s maiden voyage. There were an estimated 2,224 passengers and crew on board.

Four days later, and only about 375 miles south of Newfoundland, the ship hit an iceberg and sank within three hours. More than 1,500 people died.

The wreck of the Titanic was not discovered until 1985, and remains on the sea floor at a depth of about 12,400 feet. Thousands of recovered artifacts are on display at museums and exhibits around the world.

Reorganizing the U.S. government is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It is a pointless, futile, and wasted effort, and it contributes nothing toward a real solution for the serious problem of the size and scope of the U.S. government.

But that has never stopped conservatives from coming up with their chair-reorganization schemes.

Back in June, the Trump administration released its plan to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. It was called “Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century: Reform Plan and Reorganization Recommendations.”

Some of its major proposals are:

  • Merge the Departments of Education and Labor into a single Cabinet agency, the Department of Education and the Workforce.
  • Move the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) Civil Works out of the Department of Defense (DoD) to the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Department of the Interior (DOI) to consolidate and align the Corps’s civil works missions with these agencies.
  • Reorganize the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the food-safety functions of HHS’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) into a single agency within USDA that would cover virtually all the foods Americans eat.
  • Reorganize the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics under Commerce to increase cost-effectiveness and improve data quality, while simultaneously reducing the respondent burden on businesses and the public.
  • Pursue a Next Generation (Next Gen) Financial Services Environment as a new approach to Federal Student Aid (FSA) processing and servicing with a modernized, innovative, and integrated architecture.
  • Consolidate and streamline financial education and literacy programs currently operating across more than 20 federal agencies to ensure effective allocation of federal financial literacy resources and avoid unneeded overlap and duplication.

Although he was initially skeptical, James C. Capretta — a resident fellow and holder of the Milton Friedman Chair at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) — calls the Trump administration’s reform plan “the most far-reaching plan for government reorganization in many years.” He considers it “ambitious and credible,” with “some compelling proposals that deserve to be taken seriously,” although, “absent a major change in tactics by the administration, most of this agenda won’t be considered in Congress, much less passed by it.”

“To get most Republicans as well as some Democrats interested in this reorganization agenda,” the Trump administration should “study how President Truman succeeded with the most far-reaching government reforms in the post-war era.” You see,

The key to Truman’s success was his partnership with former Republican President Herbert Hoover, who chaired the Commission on the Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government (popularly known as the Hoover Commission). The commission was charged with making recommendations for reorganizing the government, and also with finding a legislative vehicle that would allow the reorganization to occur.

After Harry Truman won reelection in 1948, “Hoover abandoned his previous efforts to use the commission to call for a general downsizing of the federal government” and instead “recommended reorganizing the existing functions of government, so that they would be carried out in a more efficient and effective manner.”

A key feature of the Truman-Hoover effort “was the delegation of fairly broad reorganization authority to the president.” Truman “used the authority granted to him to submit 41 separate reorganization plans to Congress, of which 30 went into effect.” Congress “also passed its own versions of separate reorganization plans, which Truman also signed into law.”

Capretta believes that the best hope for making sure that Congress does not ignore the Trump administration’s “reorganization agenda” is “to copy the Truman-Hoover model, which means giving up some control of the agenda to a bipartisan commission charged with producing consensus reorganization recommendations and with petitioning Congress for circumscribed reorganization authority to implement the agreed-upon reforms.” This approach is “worth trying,” and “just might lead to surprising breakthroughs and begin to rationalize a federal bureaucracy badly in need of modernization.”

But why stop with Truman?

True, the federal government was much smaller when Truman was the president than it is now.

There was no Department of Homeland Security, Education, Transportation, Energy, Health and Human Services, or Housing and Urban Development. (Note, though, that some current functions of those agencies were performed by other agencies prior to their creation; e.g., some functions of the Department of Transportation were once performed by the Commerce Department.)

There were no federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Small Business Administration (SBA), Legal Services Corporation (LSC), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), or Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS).

There was no Medicare; Medicaid; Women, Infants and Children (WIC); Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP); or food stamps.

However, there was a federal assistance program called Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) that is now called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). There existed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae). The cornerstone of the welfare state (Social Security) had been laid by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Military conscription was in effect. And of course, there was an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and an income tax.

But even worse, it is under Truman that we see the beginnings of the national-security state. Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 that created the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the U.S. Air Force (previously the Army Air Force), and the National Military Establishment (NME). In 1949, the departments of War, the Navy, and the Air Force were united as the Department of Defense — which has majored in offense ever since. The National Security Agency (NSA) — which spies on all forms of Americans’ communications — was established by Truman in 1952. And who can forget that it was Truman who ordered the atomic bombing of Japan and sent American boys to their deaths in Korea?

The Truman years should be skipped over by anyone who favors individual liberty and limited government.

If the federal government is to be meaningfully reorganized, then it should be reorganized on the early American model. As recently explained by Future of Freedom Foundation president Jacob Hornberger,

Consider the first 100 years or so of American history. From the late 1800s through the early 1900s, Americans lived under a political-economic system that had no income taxation, IRS, Federal Reserve, immigration controls, drug laws, Social Security, Medicare, farm subsidies, welfare, minimum-wage laws, paper (i.e., fiat) money, Pentagon, CIA, NSA, FBI, and most of the federal departments and agencies that exist today.

The federal bureaucracy doesn’t need to be reformed, reorganized, modernized, or made more efficient. It needs to be eliminated. Anything less is simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

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