Uncle Sam's Spare Tire

Monday - 9/20/2010, 4:00am EDT

It is hard to understand all the fuss about getting rid of stupid, useless, redundant government programs. Just look around you. It's everywhere, correct?

In the 1970s, cost-cutting senators convinced their House colleagues to go for a total freeze in government hiring. Nobody in.

The idea was that over time, normal attrition would trim thousands of jobs. Those left behind would pick up the slack and the taxpayers would get a break.

It was simple. For awhile.

But there were problems.

Congress decided that only non-essential operations would be subject to the hiring freeze. Which made some sense when you think about it.

So they exempted the Department of Defense (at the time, about half the federal civilian workforce) from the freeze.

Then somebody pointed out that the Postal Service was pretty important too. This was before e-mail. So the second largest federal operation was exempted too.

Then they discovered that people who got Social Security payments (mostly in the form of checks delivered by the Postal Service) can be politically testy. So they exempted the Social Security Administration, the largest component of the HEW, which became HHS.

Since members of Congress eat and pay rent too, somebody pointed out that the Internal Revenue Service brought in the money to run the government, and pay members of the House and Senate. And the rest of you. And those who get Social Security checks, etc. So the IRS was exempted. Customs, also a money-maker, was added to the exempt-from-the-freeze list shortly thereafter.

Pressure groups representing people who had served, been wounded or died protecting their county got an exemption for the Veterans Administration. It was the third largest federal agency.

Can you see where this is going?

Since people seem to prefer eating untainted meat and poultry, major portions of the Agriculture Department were allowed to keep filling vital jobs. Like inspectors.

Then the Food and Drug Administration said "what about us?" Good point!

And there was the issue of the National Institutes of Health. And the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Okay, them too.

Because politicians spend so much time in the air, somebody exempted the Federal Aviation Administration (can you say air traffic controllers and inspectors?) too. The fact that it was the largest component of the Department of Transportation, with many other critical functions, was noticed by many. So they were exempted.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, Bonneville Power Administration and other operations pointed out that Americans had grown fond of having electricity. So them too.

Interior said it might have to shut down or restrict visitors to the national parks. Oh, and the Washington Monument at the height of tourist season.

Also, they decided to keep the CIA, FBI, DEA, NSA up and running. Just in case of trouble.

And so it went.

In the end, once all the essential, critical services were exempt, the freeze thawed.

Eventually there were only about a dozen federal operations (like the State Department) left that didn't have friends in the public, the lobbying community or among the voters.

And so it went.

The freeze melted like a block of ice in St. Louis in August.

Which is a sneaky way to introduce this e-mail from a Social Security employee who is all for cutting fat and waste. His plan is simple get rid of any and all programs you (me) don't need.

Here's his grand design:

    "Even though they are technically part of a semi-private enterprise, the Post Office is always the setting for my favorite retort to those who somehow think all feds are overpaid, worthless pedants. When the line backs up at the local Post Office and everyone in line starts grumbling, I love to turn to them and remind them that this is the government they want, this is the level of service they want when they rant about how all feds should be laid off or have their salaries cut in half, all budgets cut to the bone, etc. Interestingly, everyone starts singing a different tune then, saying 'Oh, I didn't mean something like this.'

    "It's always the same thing with these hypocrites, cut everything UNLESS it's my Social Security, my grandson's student loan, my brother's crop support payment for his farm, my daughter's small business loan, etc., etc. We feds like to say the same talk radio hosts who belittle us every day would be elbowing each other aside to get in front of the line if we announced a job opening the next day.