Department of Energy, a Waste of Energy

DoE-LogoThis week I am continuing my look at the departments of the federal government. This week I’ll be focusing on the Department of Energy. I’ll look at what it does, what it was designed to do and whether it is succeeding in its mission.

The mission statement of the Department of Energy is the following:

The mission of the Energy Department is to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.

The Department of Energy was first formed in 1977, but proudly states that its humble beginning was rooted in the Manhattan Project during the development of the atomic bomb. They have an annual budget of about 30 billion dollars with about 14,000 employees. It was started during the Carter administration in response to the oil crisis of the early 70’s. As all great politicians say, “never let a good crisis go to waste.”

I guess, looking at the mission statement, I would have two basic questions, first, is it the federal government’s job to ensure America’s security and prosperity and second, who decides and by what standards are science and technology standards considered transformative? If you say yes, it is the federal government’s job to ensure security, don’t we have a Department of Defense for that? If they mean security of the energy production within the country, shouldn’t that be the job of the place actually making the energy and the local community using that energy? Wouldn’t it make sense that the people dependent on the energy would want to make sure that it is always there? At any rate, it should not be the job of the Department of Energy to ensure our security. How about prosperity? Well, since the Department of Energy produces no energy, and the federal government’s only production is debt, I sincerely doubt they should be in charge of our prosperity. When the government ensures one person’s prosperity it is always at the expense of another person. So no, the Department of Energy should not be in charge of either.

The Department of Energy gives out hundreds of millions of dollars in guaranteed loans to people with ideas that they would consider “transformative science and technology solutions”. These “solutions” are most green energy companies that could not secure loans in the private market because the products were not innovative or profitable. Over the years we have spent about 20 billion dollars on green companies that have gotten loans and promptly went bankrupt. This goes along with the theory that when the money you risk is not yours, you don’t care as much as you would if it was. When you are not forced by the market to innovate, you won’t. When you are not forced to come up with a creative way to be profitable by the private market, you won’t. In other words, government money stifles innovation and creativity. A simple explanation I came up with was called the toilet paper theory. Not specifically written for this subject, but it applies none the less. When the government gets to pick what is “transformative” and what the “solutions” are, they are actually picking the winners and losers and that is not what they are there for.

The largest chunk of the Department of Energy’s budget goes to nuclear weaponry, its production and development. Why? Why would this not fall under the category of defense? About 18 billion dollars goes towards developing nuclear weapons and cleaning up the remnants of the cold war nuclear sites. 18 billion dollars is a rounding error for the Department of Defense. I’m sure they could find that much in between the couch cushions at the pentagon. Why aren’t they doing that job? The governmental redundancy is just astounding to me. Only in government would it be a good idea to have a bunch of different agencies doing the same thing poorly, being punished with larger and larger budgets each year with money borrowed from our grandchildren’s grandchildren.

Part of what the Department of Energy does is fund scientific research. Perusing the Department of Energy website, I saw tons of cool science stuff. I love science and technology. I enjoyed reading about new discoveries in dark energy, the Higgs Boson and the Mars rover. What I can’t understand is why all of these things couldn’t be done privately. The profit potential in nano-technology for instance is huge. There is no reason that multi-billion dollar companies with an interest in the outcome could not sponsor these efforts with a profit motive for the long run. After doing a little research, I found that a large majority of funding for science and technology actually is coming from the private sector. The truth is that these billion dollar companies, venture capitalists and even crowd-funding sites fund the research for science innovation. If the government is funding something that is worthwhile in the long run, it would be picked up by private funding if public funds were lost.

It’s not looking good for the Department of Energy. There is nothing to suggest that anything would change in anyone’s life, except for the 14,000 employees, if this department just went away. They do not ensure our security and prosperity, they do not create any energy, nor provide vital funding for innovative research that could not be handled elsewhere. Their main job, nuclear weaponry, could be handled by someone else. The Department of Energy is a prime example of why we need a smaller government. Please go away.

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Department of Homeland Security, Please Go Away!

images (4)This week I am resuming my series on the 15 federal departments in the executive branch. I was going to save this department for later in the series, but since it has been in the news this week let’s just take a look at it now. I am speaking of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This is the 3rd largest department, started in 2002 in the wake of 9/11. DHS was voted into being under dubious circumstances as a kneejerk reaction to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

DHS basically took 22 other agencies from other departments that dealt with “homeland” issues and merged them together to form a new bureaucracy. Fun fact, this was the first time the word “homeland” was used to describe domestic policy, or the US in general. Agencies were taken from the Department of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, Transportation, Treasury, Justice, and others.

To learn more about DHS follow the link. Here is the mission statement:

The Department of Homeland Security has a vital mission: to secure the nation from the many threats we face. This requires the dedication of more than 240,000 employees in jobs that range from aviation and border security to emergency response, from cybersecurity analyst to chemical facility inspector. Our duties are wide-ranging, but our goal is clear – keeping America safe.

A noble goal to be sure, keeping America safe. The starting budget in 2003 was 20 billion dollars, this year it will be close to 70 billion dollars. DHS controls everything from FEMA to the Coast Guard, from Customs to the TSA. Did we really need a new bureaucracy in the aftermath of a tragedy? I don’t think so. Are we safer today because of this new bureaucracy? I can’t say we are.

Surely since they took all the homeland agencies and put them under one roof that everything became more streamlined and efficient right? No, if there was a stronger word that meant “no”, I would use it here, but I can’t think of one so I’ll stick with, no. DHS is notoriously wasteful with its money. Government report after government report shows this. They have given away billions of dollars that just go missing. The Coast Guard is a good example of that. Then there’s the new DHS headquarters that is up to 4 billion dollars and is years behind schedule. The list goes on and on.

Are we safer now that we have this huge new department? There is no evidence that we are. The truth is that the attacks on 9/11 took years of planning, saving and coordination. They pretty much blew their wad on that attack, but the assumption was that it could happen again at any time. Those assumptions were nullified when we obliterated Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the wars that started soon after the attacks. The need for an invasive bureaucracy to battle a threat that just isn’t a real domestic threat is simply not justified. The agencies like the FBI and CIA that actually do the work of rooting out threats do not fall under the purview of DHS. The department is unnecessary.

In the research I did to write this blog if found dozens of articles stating why we should get rid of the Department of Homeland Security. I could not find any in defense of it. Non-political people will wonder why we should get rid of something that is supposed to keep us safe at home. What those people need to remember is that there is no part of DHS that was not here before it came into being in 2002. This was not a whole new layer of protection, just a new layer of bureaucracy.

The bottom line is that we don’t really need it. We could save tons of money and jobs, and be just as safe without the DHS. The majority of people employed under the DHS would just go back to whoever they reported to before they were taken away. I’m sure their old employers were just as inefficient with money as DHS is, but any reduction in government is good.

Freedom of Association is Hard

I’m going to take a break from my series on U.S. departments to discuss the freedom of association. There seems to be an all-out war on this, one of the most important freedoms that we have. The freedom or right of association is covered under the first amendment as the “right to assemble”. Being able to associate freely with like-minded people is a natural right that, like freedom of speech, life and liberty, predates government or man-made laws. Not many people besides libertarians talk about association as a vitally necessary freedom, but everyone likes to use the comfort it provides.

Freedom is hard. Part of the responsibility that comes with freedom, is not interfering with the freedom of others. Sometimes, this is not as easy as it sounds. Natural rights all come in the form of a two sided coin. If we take the right of free speech as an example, one side of the coin says we can say what we like, the other side of the coin says that we cannot force others to listen. In the case of freedom of association, we can choose to associate with whomever we wish, but we cannot force others to associate with us. Sounds pretty simple right? How is this so hard? A conflict arises when man-made laws interfere with natural rights. Like many laws, these laws came from good intentions. Consumer protection laws and anti-discrimination laws are being used to force association upon groups of people who do not wish to associate with certain other people.

Associations like the NAACP, labor unions, the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street and countless others have been protected over the years to peaceably assemble. The NAACP has had to use the defense of freedom of assembly several times in the past to protect its members from the federal and state government. Where this becomes hard is defending the right to assemble for groups that one might find distasteful, like the KKK, or Black panthers. This is generally where liberals diverge from libertarians. Liberal’s typically only defend groups that they like or agree with. Libertarians , for the most part, defend the rights of everyone to say what they want. Nothing is absolute of course, but that is my general feeling on the issue. You will find many examples of liberal groups trying to get conservatives or simply non-liberals fired for what they might say on TV or radio, but not many examples of conservative groups or libertarians  trying to get liberal commentators fired.

This “war on the freedom of association”, that I mentioned earlier is coming from gay-rights groups. There are countless stories in the news where florists, photographers, caterers, etc… are being sued for not providing services to same sex couples, mainly for wedding ceremonies. They are using consumer protection laws and anti-discrimination laws as a basis for forcing people who have a moral opposition to same sex marriage to serve their needs. These small businesses are using religious beliefs as grounds for not serving these customers. In other words, they do not want to associate with a same sex wedding on the grounds that it violates religious principles. Regardless of my personal feelings on the matter, I have to believe that a natural law outweighs a man-made law on any subject. What is really disappointing is that the ACLU, which is supposed to be a watchdog for civil liberties, has decided that it hates religion more than it loves civil liberty and is starting many of these lawsuits on behalf of the gay-rights groups.

Some of you might be wondering what would happen if these consumer protection laws were redefined or eliminated. Wouldn’t it become ok to discriminate against minorities, or fat people, or gay people? The short answer is yes. A business should be able to hire who they want, and serve who they want. To illustrate why, let’s look at a few examples. A health food store, who’s owner decides that it only wants thin, fit women to work there in order to project a healthy, fit image, should have the right to not hire people he or she deems unfit. A bar catering to chubby chasers should be able to hire only overweight waitresses to attract the desired clientele. A Chinese restaurant should be able to hire Chinese people to keep with the theme of the restaurant if they wish. In each case, the owner of the business assumes the risk associated with his or her decisions. If the patrons of these establishments don’t like the hiring practices they can simply spend their money elsewhere.

Now it gets a little harder. What if a black business only wanted to serve black people and turned away whites, Hispanics and Asians. Is this ok? Yes. Again, the people would decide with their dollars to support or not the right of the business owners to only associate with other black people. This would also be true if you substituted for white, Hispanic, Asian or any other race to that business. In the end, all the people that were refused service would become a market unto themselves and businesses would sprout up to take their money for the service they were denied. I find it very hard to believe that any business deemed racist in current times would last very long in a marketplace that sees no distinction in the color of the money it receives based on the color of the hand from which it was received.

Should those laws be abolished? No. Anti-discrimination laws and the like should only apply to the government. No two citizens should be treated differently in the eyes of the law by the government. Discrimination in public employment should be illegal. Our government is supposed to be “by the people, for the people”. If this is true, then it needs to be for all the people equally, or not at all. What these gay-rights groups and the ACLU don’t seem to understand is the aspect of that two sided coin. If they can force Christian bakers to make them pro-gay cakes, then Christian groups can force gay bakers to bake anti-gay cakes. I get that some people will be offended by the choices of others, but we most certainly do not have the right to not be offended. Freedom is hard people, but that’s no reason to take it away.

Department of Education, Please Go Away

This week I will be looking at the Department of Education. Started at the end of the Carter administration to appease the National Education Association, The Department of Education has the third largest budgets of any Department, but with the fewest employees. Fun fact time! Guess how many times the word “education” is used in the constitution? That’s right! Zero. The founders knew all too well that education should be controlled by the state and local communities. That makes the Department of Education unconstitutional. But who really cares about constitutionality at this point right? Let’s look at what it does, what it is supposed to do and if it works.

When Congress created the Department in 1979, it declared these purposes:

  1. to strengthen the Federal commitment to ensuring access to equal educational opportunity for every individual;
  2. to supplement and complement the efforts of States, the local school systems and other instrumentalities of the States, the private sector, public and private educational institutions, public and private nonprofit educational research institutions, community-based organizations, parents, and students to improve the quality of education;
  3. to encourage the increased involvement of the public, parents, and students in Federal education programs;
  4. to promote improvements in the quality and usefulness of education through federally supported research, evaluation, and sharing of information;
  5. to improve the coordination of Federal education programs;
  6. to improve the management and efficiency of Federal education activities, especially with respect to the process, procedures, and administrative structures for the dispersal of Federal funds, as well as the reduction of unnecessary and duplicative burdens and constraints, including unnecessary paperwork, on the recipients of Federal funds; and
  7. to increase the accountability of Federal education programs to the President, the Congress and the public. (Section 102, Public Law 96-88)

Maybe a little government to English translation is in order.

  1. To strengthen Federal commitment = To take power away from the states into federal hands
  2. To supplement and complement = To pay for with someone else’s money
  3. To encourage = To force
  4. To promote improvements = To mandate government approved programs
  5. To improve the coordination = To consolidate power
  6. To improve the management and efficiency = oxymoron
  7. To increase the accountability = To be accountable to no one

I imagine that the real goal of the Department of Education is to improve the educational systems and outcomes of students. Cato-tot-cost-scores-Coulson-Sept-2012-smLet’s take a look to see if they are actually doing that. In 1979 the Department of Education’s budget was about $14 billion, in 2014 they spent about $67 billion. Was there a drastic improvement in educational outcomes as a result of this explosion of spending? No. There was literally no improvement at all. When you look at the track record of things like no child left behind and common core, you have to ask why are we still doing this?

Why doesn’t all this money help provide a better education? The answer is simply that when it comes to education, like everything else, one size does not fit all. The people best suited to develop educational strategies are the people who are actually teaching kids. The more local a program is to the kids, the better it will do. The farther away from your kids the decision making gets, the worse they will do. Kids in Providence, RI might have different needs than kids in Honolulu, HI. The very nature of the Federal Government forces it to treat them exactly the same.

If you use the standards they set for themselves, I would not be able to see how anyone could argue that This department has been anything but an abject failure. Of the 7 objectives above, the ones that are not redundant or useless would be worse for education had they been more successful. But as with all government projects, failure only gets more money. Our money, borrowed from our great-grandchildren.

If you want to fix education in this country, the first step should be eliminating the Department of Education. Make it possible for parents to pick which school their kids attend. Have schools compete for the best outcomes. Let principals decide what educational materials and programs to use. May the best school win. Winning, in this case, means that the students have learned something. If something works, other schools can implement the strategy. Along with eliminating the Department of Education, we would need to make all public unions, especially the teachers union, illegal. I cannot think of another organization revolving around children that has children lower on their list of priorities than teachers unions. But public unions are a blog for another time. School choice is not a pipe dream, it is already happening in the form of charter schools. It just needs to happen more.

For the snarky summation of the Department of Education:

What it does: spends gobs of money with no discernable results

What it’s supposed to do: spend gobs of money with no discernable results, so it can claim the need to spend more next year.

Is it working: yes, and for that reason it must go.