We need to rein in the size of government

Published 9:53 am Wednesday, April 29, 2015

By U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne

When I took over as chancellor of Alabama’s two-year college system in 2007, I set out to fundamentally change the way our community college system operated. It didn’t take long before I started running into resistance. Time and time again, I heard the phrase “Well, that’s just the way it has always been done.”

To me, that is not an acceptable answer. As people, and as a government, we should always be looking for ways to improve and become more efficient. The same rule should apply to the federal government.

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President Ronald Reagan once said that “no government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. So government’s programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.”

President Reagan hit the nail on the head. I’ve only been in Washington for one year and four months, but it is clear that the federal government is too big. Since our nation was founded, the size of government has continually increased. In fact, I believe our Founding Fathers would be appalled to see the endless maze of agencies that the federal government has become.

It seems that while the Washington bureaucracy gets bigger, the main street economy just gets smaller. For every federal agency created, that is just one more department issuing regulations and mandates that often times restrict small businesses. It also seems like as the federal government gets larger, our personal freedoms get smaller and smaller.

Have you ever heard of the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars or the National Contact Center? What about the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee? The merits of those organizations aside, I hope you get my point. The federal government is too big, and it is time we act to rein it in.

That’s why I introduced the Sunset Inefficient and Unaccountable Government Act, known as the Sunset Act. My bill would require Congress to review and renew the over 275 government departments, agencies and boards on a staggered basis every 10 years. Agencies and departments directly related to national security would be exempt from abolishment.

My bill would put the burden on federal agencies and departments to justify their existence and explain to the Congress why they deserve to continue. Without congressional renewal, the agencies will cease to exist. Congress will be forced to study and review the bloated federal government, and federal agencies will have to prove their worth and tighten their belts in order to remain in existence.

This isn’t a foreign idea. In fact, Alabama already has a Sunset Committee at the state level. When I was in the Alabama state Senate, we had to renew state agencies on a rotating basis, and it was an effective way to hold agencies accountable and ensure they remain responsive to the people. Washington could benefit from some of that Alabama commonsense.

I think two likely outcomes would come from my Sunset Act. First, I think some unnecessary agencies will cease to exist, and duplicative agencies will be combined. Secondly, I think the agencies that we do decide to keep will become more efficient and accountable, likely reducing the size and scope of what they do. In both cases, the American people would benefit.

Let’s stop accepting “that’s just the way it has always been done” as a credible reason for doing things. Let’s shake up the way Washington is run. Let’s remember that government is supposed to work for the people, not the other way around.

It is time we bring some accountability to the federal government. My Sunset Act would do just that, and I look forward to building support for this commonsense approach in Congress.