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Harris Sherline: ‘I’m from the Government, and I’m Here to Help’

The more the federal government expands, the more it intrudes into the lives of Americans

“I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

Harris Sherline
Harris Sherline

President Ronald Reagan called that statement “the nine most terrifying words in the English language.” His comment is still cited today. It illustrates the maxim that the more government expands, the more intervention there is into the lives of the people.

“With more than 1.8 million civilian employees, the federal government, excluding the Postal Service, is the nation’s largest employer. About nine out of 10 federal employees work outside the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.” (Wikipedia)

The following list of federal administrative departments and regulatory agencies illustrates the point (source: U.S. Office of Personnel Management):

» Agriculture Department — 92,000 employees

» Commerce Department — 39,000 employees

» Defense Department — 623,000 employees

» Education Department — 4,000 employees

» Energy Department — 15,000 employees

» Health and Human Services Department — 60,000 employees

» Housing and Urban Development Department — 10,000 employees

» Interior Department — 66,000 employees

» Justice Department — 105,000 employees

» Labor Department — 16,000 employees

» State Department — 14,000 employees

» Transportation Department — 53,000 employees

» Treasury Department — 109,000 employees, including the Internal Revenue Service

In addition, the following independent agencies have a total of 179,000 employees: the Environmental Protection Agency, the General Services Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Office of Personnel Management, the Small Business Administration, the Social Security Administration and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The foregoing departments and agencies all have tentacles that extend into the affairs of Americans, in addition to the plethora of committees and regulators who work directly for the executive and congressional branches of government. Add President Barack Obama’s 29 czars to the mix. Although some were confirmed by Congress, while others are statutorily created positions established by congressional legislation, many were selected without any oversight.

However, the Obama administration is not unique in the use of czars to manage the executive branch of the federal government. The practice dates back to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had 19 czars. The only president who didn’t have any czars was Harry Truman, although several — Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford and Reagan — each had only one. Perhaps surprisingly, the president who had the greatest number of czars was George W. Bush, with 47.

The Food and Drug Administration, which is part of the Health and Human Services Department, further exemplifies the extent of the reach and control over the population that is exercised by the federal government.

In an Oct. 13 article, the Washington Post reported:

“With much of Washington focused on efforts to revamp the health-care system and address climate change, a handful of Obama appointees have been quietly exercising their power over the trappings of daily life. They are awakening a vast regulatory apparatus with authority over nearly every U.S. workplace, 15,000 consumer products and most items found in kitchen pantries and medicine cabinets.

“Top appointees at the Food and Drug Administration, for example, have cracked down on dietary supplements with ‘steroidlike’ substances that for years had been sold in gyms and health-food stores. In a move designed as much for symbolism as effect, the new chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission dispatched all 100 agency inspectors across the country last month to enforce a law that requires special drains on swimming pools to prevent children from entrapment. The agency shut down more than 200 pools.

“The new regulators display a passion for rules and a belief that government must protect the public from dangers lurking at home and on the job — one more way the new White House is reworking the relationship between government and business.”

Another example of government overreaching into the lives of citizens was recently noted by TimesOnline, which reported that a proposal is being considered to give British health and safety inspectors “unprecedented access to family homes to ensure that parents are protecting their children from household accidents.” The objective is to “collect data” from the premises where children are “thought to be at ‘greatest risk of unintentional injury’” and to ensure that appropriate safety devices, such as smoke alarms, stair gates, hot water temperature restrictors, oven guards and window and door locks, are installed.

Needless to say, this is viewed by many Brits as an unwarranted intrusion into family life: “Good parents will feel the intrusion of the state in their homes, and bad parents will now have someone else to blame if they don’t bring up their children in a safe environment.”

Remember the nine words Reagan considered the most terrifying words in the English language: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who has lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog, Opinionfest.com.

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