In the wake of the Senate's confirmation of the appointment of Betsy DeVos, the protests from the left prompted Republican Congressman Thomas Massie to offer them a way to get rid of DeVos: eliminate the Department of Education.
According to Massie, he'd been planning to introduce the bill for more than a year, and the controversy over DeVos appeared to be as good a time as any.
There's no harm in Massie introducing the bill, of course, although as I've noted here, the odds of Republicans offering much help to Massie in passing the bill are pretty low.
But as long as we're identifying cabinet-level agencies for the chopping block, why stop with the Department of Education?
There are plenty of other Departments which oversee activities that could easily be done by state and local agencies, or which should just be reduced to their former less-exalted positions in the federal ecosystem.
For starters, we'll just address some of the low-hanging fruit. Here are agencies that can be eliminated with relative ease, either because they are recently-created, redundant, or utterly unnecessary.
One: The Department of Homeland Security, $51 Billion
Somehow, the United States managed to get along for more than 225 years before this Department was created by Congress and the Bush Administration in 2002.
The Department quickly became a way for the federal government to spread federal taxpayer dollars to state and local law enforcement agencies, thus gaining greater control at the local level. The DHS administers a number of grant programs that have helped to purchase a variety of new toys for law enforcement groups including new weapons, and new technologies. Also included in this is the infamous military surplus program which is supplies tanks and other military equipment to police forces everywhere from big cities to small rural towns. The crime-free town of Keene, New Hampshire made sure its police received a tank through this program as have many larger cities.
When the Orlando gunman opened fire in the Pulse nightclub in 2016, the police eventually rolled up in a tank — which did nothing to stem the bloodshed inside the club.
Police claim they need these half-million-dollar vehicles from the DHS to deal with civil unrest. Never mind, of course, that every state already has a National Guard force specifically for that purpose.
While the Department was created in response to the 9/11 attacks, the Department does nothing to address anything like a 9/11-style attack, and all the agencies that were supposed to provide intelligence on such attacks — the FBI for instance — already exist in other departments and continue to enjoy huge budgets.
DHS also includes agencies that already existed in other departments before, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the agencies that handle immigration and customs. Those agencies should either be returned to the departments they came from or be abolished.
And, few would miss the Transportation Security Administration — an agency that has never caught a single terrorist, but has smuggled at least $100 million worth of cocaine.
Two: The EPA, $8.3 billion.
It seems at least one member of Congress already beat me to this one, and a bill to "terminate the Environmental Protection Agency" was introduced on February 3.
Created under Nixon in 1970, this agency largely exists today to push around small-time business owners, entrepreneurs, and mom-and-pop organizations that run afoul or some obscure federal regulation. More recently, The EPA dumped three million gallons of toxic sludge into a Colorado river, poisoning the Navajo Nation's watershed. Meanwhile, the agency is suing a city in Colorado because the city's storm drains aren't exactly right.
Local property owners and local governments already have a large incentive to avoid the destruction of rivers and air used by local communities. In the modern era of nature-based recreation, destroying a mountain river — as the EPA has done — is an easy way to destroy the local economy.
Moreover, most of the environmental cleanup we attribute to federal regulation today was simply the result of growing wealth in the US. As Americans became wealthier, they began to value clean air and water more than the jobs associated with the "dirty" industries. Does anyone seriously believe that the Cuyahoga River would start catching on fire again without an EPA? It's not going to happen.
Three: Department of the Interior, $14 billion
The most notorious agency within the Department of the Interior is the Bureau of Indian affairs. The BIA controls 55 million acres of land which is — to use the darkly euphemistic term employed by the Feds — "held in trust" by the US government. That means the Indian tribes can't control their own land unless a bureaucrat at the Department of the Interior says so.
Given that the tribes should be totally independent of federal regulation, the BIA should be abolished immediately. Any relations between the tribes and US government should be handled by the State Department, which is the appropriate place to deal with organizations that are supposed to be governed primarily by treaties with the United States.
The other main purpose of the Interior is the control of immense amounts of "public lands" including national parks. The Department is unnecessary here as well, given that public land should be administered by the communities that are economically dependent on those lands. Moreover, whether we like the idea of public lands or not, the chances of public lands being privatized — even after being made into state lands — is approximately zero. State parks, national forests, and national parks are very popular with voters and moving them from federal control to state control won't change this.1
Four: The Department of Agriculture, $153 billion
This is the most expensive of the Departments funded here — primarily because the USDA oversees the Food Stamp program — now known as SNAP — which costs more than $70 billion. The reason the SNAP program is in the USDA is that SNAP has always largely been a subsidy program for farmers. One of its original selling points was that it would get people to buy more food. SNAP could be rolled into the Department of Health and Human Services this afternoon, and virtually no one would notice or care. the USDA bureaucracy simply adds more cost.
That wouldn't do anything to eliminate that $70 billion food stamp spending, of course. But it would make it much easier, politically speaking, to get rid of the remaining 80 billion of the USDA's budget.
The rest of the USDA is composed of pork projects for farmers, researchers, and other corporate interests that continually receive the taxpayer's largesse.
The USDA also administers its own affordable housing programs, even though several major programs for affordable housing already exist in the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Problem with Cabinet Level Agencies
A lot of what we've discussed here falls short of totally abolishing the government spending associated with these Departments. These are all extremely mild reforms and mere baby steps toward a more human-sized federal government.
But ending cabinet level status for many of these agencies is a crucial first step in cutting these agencies down to size. It is likely not a coincidence that no cabinet-level agency, with the exception of the Postal Service, has ever lost its cabinet-level status, and certainly none have ever been abolished.
When a government agency is lifted to the cabinet level, it gains political prestige, permanence, and direct access to the President. In other words, it makes that agency more easily able to lobby Congress, the White house, and to fight budget cuts. The fact that abolishing the Department of Education — without even abolishing all its programs — is now seen as some sort of wildly radical position — illustrates the power of the cabinet-level agency.