7 on the 7th: Sequestermageddon Edition (Plus Free Bonus!)

So the sequester approached like the screaming meteor of Chelyabinsk, startling everyone and convincing most to run for the hills, to grab cans of green beans and ammo to survive the coming collapse in society…only for it to pass by as just another oxygen particle, sucked up into our collective noses.

As everyone on Capitol Hill flailed around with their messaging (“Oh jeez, maybe we shouldn’t have hyped that up after all…”) Mike Riggs at reason noted that the OMB report summarizing the cuts to government, as part of the sequester, included cuts to an agency that no longer even exists. Curious as to what other nuttery there may be within the report, I’ve decided to make it the centerpiece of this month’s edition of 7 on the 7th, where I list 7 agencies, offices, departments, programs…whatever…that we should cut from the federal government. Here, we have them being trimmed in a very tiny, minuscule way….why not gut them entirely?

1. Capitol Police (And the Mint Police. And the FBI Police. And the….)

The first item I came across in my look was the Capitol Police. The Capitol Police are the men and women who guard the literal US Capitol, where Congress meets, and the National Mall (where sadly, the only products are overly expensive hotdogs and legislators) I’m not saying their job is unnecessary, but when you walk around DC, you see things. Like…we have a Capitol Police. And a Mint Police. And an FBI Police. And a Smithsonian Police. And the Federal Protective Service. And….

It seems to me there is a lot of duplication here. The Federal Protective Service, whose job it is to protect federal property, should be the only one really necessary for this sort of thing. I can see certain specialized agencies for specific tasks—the Force Protection guys for the Pentagon, the DoD police for military bases, and maybe a special force for dealing with security around nuclear weapon storage areas—but come on. Do we need to be spending all this money on fifty different logos and decals? On fifty different administrative bureaucracies? On fifty different security forces?

And look at the Capitol Police budget. $277 million spent on the salaries of 2,145 employees. That comes to roughly $130,000 per person. The point of public service is not to get rich, it’s to serve your country. This is absurd. I can’t see the point of spending so much on so few employees—and you know that the guys running the Capitol Police are making a lot more than the guys below. Let’s merge these agencies together, streamline security, and make things work better at a lower cost. It’s not that hard to do.

2. Department of Agriculture

Again, going for the low-hanging fruit, here, but have you seen some of the entries underneath the USDA? For instance, there is a “Food Safety and Inspection Service.” Um….isn’t that the purview of the Food and Drug Administration, underneath the Department of Health and Human Services, is for? And if that’s the case, why are we spending over a billion dollars annually on it?

Or the “National Institute of Food and Agriculture”? I’ve looked up its website…and I honestly can’t figure out what its function is. It’s Google blurb says “Aims to improve economic, environmental, and social conditions in the United States and globally.” Well, isn’t that the entire function of the USDA, at least domestically? Why around the globe?

And what’s this about an “Agricultural Marketing Service” or the “Farm Service Agency,” which is a government loan provider? The government shouldn’t be issuing loans to anyone, and it shouldn’t be marketing their products either. That’s not its function. Farmers can market their own products—I mean, how hard is it to market food?—and can get loans from a bank. (Oh, and don’t forget the $960 million spent on the “Tobacco Trust Fund,” as if Uncle Sam needs to set up a trust fund for the smoking industry.)

Or the “Foreign Agricultural Service.” Why? Why the hell should we be spending over $1.5 billion a year on improving agriculture in other nations? It doesn’t make any sense. If other countries care so much about their agriculture, they should handle it on their own. That’s not our job, and this taxpayer wants that money back.

The entirety of the USDA is chock full of expensive, useless programs of dubious importance. Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute has written a proposal to cut the Department’s budget by 90%, leaving intact “animal and plant health inspections, food safety, grain and packing inspections, and conservation activities.” While I would like to see the entire department go the way of the dodo, I would be more than happy if Congress adopted the Edwards’ plan.

Why, under the sequester, did these only take small cuts? They should have been junked.

3. Department of Defense

Naturally, in a department that has an annual budget of over $700 billion, and can’t truly be questioned or investigated because of “national security” concerns, there is going to be waste. Already a few things stand out.

First is the $1.6 billion annually spent on “Drug Interdiction and Counter-Drug Activities.” That should be completely cut; it is wrong for the government to tell people what they can and can’t put in their bodies. From a purely “does it work?” standpoint, it’s also a complete failure, with millions of Americans still using marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and other substances. So that’s $1.6 billion we can cut immediately.

The wars obviously should be ended, but those aren’t agencies or programs per se. But these are the next chunk of line items that should be cut and removed from the budget.

Then there’s the “North Atlantic Treaty Organization Security Investment Program.” Excuse me, but why are we spending $256 million annually on NATO? Why are we wasting a single taxpayer dollar in investing in security in Europe? Those are mature democracies, even if they are horribly misguided; why can’t they invest in their own security? Long ago, when I first joined United Liberty, I wrote we should just cut Europe free. We are subsidizing Europe’s defense, both through this program and military bases in Europe, which allows them to reduce defense spending and instead put that into serious wealth redistribution and socialist programs. I say we let Europe lay in the bed they it made, and stop subsidizing NATO completely. NATO is outdated, it’s joint defense point only used once after 9/11, and I’ll be honest: I don’t know how helpful NATO has been to us. American soldiers are still conducting most of the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, where we shouldn’t be anyways (especially not in 2013).

Most of the other line items are for procurement and supporting the military, which is an essential function of government. But that doesn’t mean we should be spending $700 billion a year on them. As this Cato Institute infographic shows quite clearly, we outspend every other nation on the planet. We don’t need to spend all that money. We can easily chop two-thirds of military spending off and still be safe.

We can’t end the Department of Defense (though maybe it should be changed back to the Department of War.) But we can shrink it considerably, and we should.

4. Department of Energy

There are many questionable things about the Department of Energy, but here’s one that stands out: $7.3 billion spent on the “Power Marketing Administration.” Excuse me, but since when does anyone have to “market” power? This is just like the Agricultural Marketing Service in the USDA—it’s completely useless. This is not a function of the government. If power companies want to market their own products, they can very well do so on their own.

Or what about the $6 million in the “Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program Account”? We’re making loans now to vehicle manufacturers? Why? It’s just another example of cronyism and corruption. It’s not the job of the government to fund manufacturing and industry. That’s what private capital is for, and what the free market is supposed to do. The same goes for the $38 million under the “Title 17 Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program,” which is where Solyndra was funded. If there is ever a reason to gut these two line items, it’s the corruption-filled deal that was the Solyndra loans.

Then there’s the “Energy Information Administration,” which pushes energy “statistics.” Does that really require $181 million a year to run? And why can’t these statistics be provided by a central statistics agency? This is something I’ll get to at the end.

Finally, what is it with all these various research operations? Look at them, it’s a veritable cornucopia of names: “Fossil Energy Research and Development,” “Science,” (one assumes that department is headed by Vulcans), “Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy,” and the “Ultra-deepwater and Unconventional Natural Gas and Other Petroleum Research Fund.” Private companies can certainly invest their own money into researching how to make money, they don’t need to take taxpayer dollars to do that. These aren’t research programs, they’re corporate subsidies to the largest companies in America.

Again, Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute says we should eliminate these research programs and move the majority of Energy projects, which are defense-related, to the Department of Defense. Great idea. I support it.

5. Department of the Interior

Just what is the function of the Department of the Interior? Ostensibly, it is to manage government-owned real estate and deal with Native American nations and to manage the reservations. But really, the Department of the Interior is an obsolete money-waster whose time has passed.

First off is the Bureau of Land Management, which takes $1.7 billion a year to run. It spends $175 million of that on a “Helium Fund.” Pray tell, why are we spending so much money on such a fund? Is there going to be a possible shortage of people with squeaky voices in the future? Is this for the children’s animation industry? Who knows, but it doesn’t make any sense. Same for the rest of the Bureau, which is the face of the tragedy of the commons. If we really wanted to keep lands managed well and preserved, we would sell them off to private owners. On top of this, BLM agents have been noted to act wildly out of control in arresting people for no reason.

There’s then the “Bureau of Ocean Energy Management” and the “Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.” These used to be part of the old “Mineral Management Service,” which was caught red-handed during the BP oil spill in 2010 being far too close to business leaders and being an example of “regulatory capture.” It was renamed, then split, then combined, then split again. And I still ask: why? Most of this is leasing mineral rights to companies. We don’t need the federal government to do that. Let’s eliminate these agencies and return their functions to the states, who already have their own departments of environmental conservation.

Quit spending $30 million a year on the “Central Utah Project.” If people want water out there so badly, they should go get it themselves and not force taxpayers in other states to fund it. The same thing can be said for the “Bureau of Reclamation,” which is a pork bureau if there ever was one. Eliminate that and you save $2.2 billion a year. There is simply no reason for the federal government to be involved in water reclamation. The states can handle that if there is a pressing need, and for the most part, this can be turned over to private property owners. And let’s do the same for the $733 million “Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.” This is again something that can be done by state agencies, not the federal government, if it’s even truly required. To think in this social climate mining companies would just leave with the ground looking all torn up is ridiculous. The bad PR alone would convince them to clean the place up after the left.

There’s also the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Pray tell, why do we have these guys, the Forest Service, and a separate National Park Service? In my mind, these should all be combined into one effective, streamlined organization, with most of the federal parks either sold off to states or private owners (and to appease environmentalists, conditions can be made on the sale that private owners must still treat the parks as, well, parks, but can make money from charging people entrance fees and selling them souvenirs, gas and other goods and services.) Privatizing lands gives incentives to keep them clean and protected, incentives that simply don’t exist today. If they did, we might not have such a huge environmentalist movement in America today.

6. Department of Labor

Looking through the Department of Labor, the very first thing that pops out at me is a line item called “Information Technology Modernization.” It charges $20 million. What I want to know is: is this the department’s budget for buying iPhones? I don’t know about you, but information technology has modernized massively in the past ten years. It didn’t require millions of taxpayer dollars to do it, either. Twitter, Facebook, the iPhone, Skype, Google, Instagram, touchscreens, 4G wireless, and myriad other technologies, goods, and services all came from the free market, from the desire to make a profit—and in the process, serve your fellow human. So I think it’s safe to say we can scratch this off the budget completely.

Then there’s the $93.4 billion “Employment and Training Administration.” First, it’s not clear that the government should be in the business of training people for the civilian workforce. Second, it hasn’t helped employment at all, judging by the jobless “noncovery” we’ve had the past several years. Third, as Tad DeHaven from the Cato Institute notes, job training programs have failed for over 50 years. They don’t work. So let’s cut these nearly $100 billion waste from our budget and focus on things that do work, like the free market.

There’s the $567 million spent on OSHA, the “Occupational Safety and Health Administration,” widely regarded as a joke in most places for the giant posters they make everyone put up. There’s the $8.7 billion in the “Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation,” and the $105 million in the “Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.” Governments are not supposed to guarantee anything for you aside from safety from predators, whether foreign or domestic, and I surely think the “Federal Contract Compliance Programs” belong under Justice, in a legal and judicial role to ensure people are obeying the contracts they have written.

And for laughs, there’s the $6 million spent on the “Panama Canal Commission Compensation Fund.” The Panama Canal Commission isn’t even around anymore, it’s operations having been taken over by the Panamanian government in 1999.

This department is a joke.

7. Other Programs

Let’s start with the $22 million spent on the “Selective Service System,” where young men are forced to sign up for the quote unquote “draft”. Since we don’t have a draft and won’t have one soon, this is $22 million of pure waste.

In the Executive Office of the President there are things can be wiped out of the budget. For instance, why are we spending $13 million on the “National Security Council and Homeland Security Council”? Aren’t those the same things? And why are we spending so much? It is purely on salaries? Then there’s the $25 million spent on the “Office of National Drug Control Policy,” aka the “Drug Czar.” Since the War on Drugs shouldn’t even be happening, that’s $25 million that is also pure waste. There’s also the $5 million spent on the “Office of Science and Technology Policy,” which is odd because after the sterling success of the information technology industry in the past decade, without any sort of oversight or management from the government, we shouldn’t have a “science and technology policy” of any sort. So cross that off. Also make sure to throw the $3 million spent on the “Council on Environmental Quality and Office of Environmental Quality” in the bin. Again, these functions can be returned to the states, if we need them at all. (And wasn’t the EPA suppose to do this kind of stuff? Huh?)

Then there’s the International Assistance Programs. I counted them all up to a grand total of around $15 billion. We don’t need to be “assisting” internationally, when we have enough problems to deal with at home. So eliminate that and save the money.

There’s also $3 billion in Multilateral Assistance. Ditto as above. Ditch it. Oh, and the $6.2 billion on the “United States Agency for International Development?” Second verse, same as the first. And the $222 million spent on the “Overseas Private Investment Corporation.” Etc, etc, etc. I can say the same for the “Trade and Development Agency,” the “Inter-American Foundation,” the “African Development Foundation,” the “Military Sales Program” (which costs over $41 billion).

Or what about the $76 million on the “Appalachian Regional Commission”? What good is any of that? Or the $448 million on the “Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection,” which has been lambasted as yet another waste of money in many outlets? Or even the relatively piddling, yet still completely wasteful, $4 million spent on the “Commission of Fine Arts”? Since when do we need to spend taxpayer dollars on things like the “Piss Christ”? Or $5 million on the “Vietnam Education Foundation”?

There are literally so many organizations and agencies and line items in the federal budget I can’t count them all. I have left out a few major departments, namely HHS, HUD, DOJ, and the Department of Education, as well as other major programs. I want to save those for future updates, but believe me, I will give them a thrashing.

Bonus: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics (Agencies)

There’s one last question I want to ask, though: why do we have so many statistics agencies? Here are the ones I found:

  • National Agricultural Statistics Service
  • Office of Justice Programs, Research, Evaluation, and Statistics
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • Energy Information Administration
  • Bureau of Economic Analysis
  • Bureau of Justice Statistics
  • US Census Bureau

There may be others I don’t know about. But in any case, why are we duplicating statistical analysis? Why can’t we have one statistics agency, something like a “Statistics USA,” led by a statistics scientist, to run all statistics for the government, and have them all available to the public in one easy to find location. I don’t get it. This to me smacks of the waste and duplication that we always talk about. I’m not the only one who thinks this; a former Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce had the same idea.

Let’s combine these agencies into one, weed out waste, and have a single, streamlined source for publicly available statistics of all kinds.

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