In 1789, Congress created three separate executive departments tasked
with handling foreign affairs, printing money and national defense. You
could make a case that the size of the federal government today
effectively began with that Congress.
That’s because in 1789, just months after our country won its
independence from Great Britain, American lawmakers were already
constructing the apparatus for delegating their congressional authority
to unaccountable, unelected bureaucrats hidden away in obscure offices
within agencies that have done nothing but grow ever since. Each time an
agency grew, more unaccountability inevitably followed.
A few years after creating what is now the State Department,
congressmen and presidents began floating the idea that if the country
had a special department to handle foreign affairs, surely one was
needed to handle domestic issues. It never dawned on legislators
that they were elected to handle both “foreign and
domestic affairs,” not delegate them to unanswerable bureaucrats.
Furthermore the original Constitution never really provided for the
creation of the hundreds of federal agencies taxpayers now have to
finance with about 50 percent of their earnings.
One such agency that was eventually born from this mentality and has
long outlived its usefulness was the Department of the Interior. On
March 3, 1849, during the last day of the 30th Congress, the department
was created “to take charge of the nation’s internal affairs.”
“Take charge of the nation’s internal affairs?”
According to Interior’s website,
the agency had “a wide range of responsibilities entrusted to it — the
construction of the national capital’s water system, the colonization of
freed slaves in Haiti, exploration of western wilderness, oversight of
the District of Columbia jail, regulation of territorial governments,
management of hospitals and universities, management of public parks,
the basic responsibilities for Indians, public lands, patents, and
“In one way or another all of these had to do with the internal
development of the nation or the welfare of its people,” Interior says.
Oh, sure — private industry and entrepreneurial spirit had nothing to
do with the “internal development of the nation or the welfare of its
It is precisely this kind of mentality that has allowed Interior —
and most other federal agencies — to grow so much. In the case of
Interior, for example, Bruce Babbitt, the current Secretary of the
Interior is now so empowered he believes presidents no longer have to
defer to Congress decisions and actions the agency feels are important.
The Washington Times reported yesterday that Babbitt, “frustrated”
with the congressional process of addressing his recommendations to
proclaim more than a million acres of land as new monuments in over half
a dozen western states, wants President Clinton to “use his executive
authority to bypass Congress” and declare these lands monuments on his
According to the Times, “Western lawmakers are outraged over what
they call ‘the latest war on the West’ and say the administration is
hypocritical in disregarding public laws and the public process for
The “outrage” of western lawmakers is probably genuine, as well as
their charge that public laws and the public process are being violated
and “disregarded.” But my question is this: What do these lawmakers
expect, considering the amount of power they and their predecessors have
given to presidents and unaccountable federal bureaucracies like the
For well over 200 years lawmakers have steadily surrendered their
authority to these bureaucracies. The Interior Department alone has
eight “divisions” within it, including the Bureau of Land Management,
the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Geological Survey, and that favorite
holdover of a century ago, the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Within those divisions are at least another 13 agencies, including
the U.S. Park Police, Insular Affairs (whatever that is), and even an
office of International Affairs.
Why would the nation’s premier domestic agency even need an
Office of International Affairs?
Why, “as part of its mission as the
primary conservation agency of the United States,” of course.
Oh. The Department of the Interior today is really nothing more than
an activist conservation agency? And what do other countries even have
to say about domestic conservation?
To me, this huff being blown off as “outrage” by western lawmakers is
insincere. Their earnestness was lost long ago when so many of their
predecessors created agencies like Interior and then gave them so much
autonomy and unaccountability. Modern American politicians have done
little to correct this imbalance and in fact have enlarged the scope of,
and their reliance on, such agencies.
As he did in Utah with the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument in 1996
— allegedly a thinly veiled effort to give the Indonesian billionaire
Mochtar Riady a leg up in the “clean” coal industry — Clinton will, if
he wants, act on Babbitt’s requests. As I see it, there isn’t a thing
Congress can do except blow off more hot air — at this point.
What they can do, if they have the guts and the foresight, is
eliminate the threat to their power posed by agencies like Interior by
defunding them. They will, at the same time, eliminate the
temptation by future socialist presidents and their congressional
sympathizers to use those agencies to circumvent proper elected
authority. Voters, in turn, will love the billions they’ll save in
No one ought to seriously believe that power-hungry bureaucrats will
willingly surrender their turf.
As a taxpayer I would rather fund a hundred congressional advisors —
each specializing in one aspect of policy — than a hundred shiftless