Statement Supporting a "Strong Sunset Law" Issued at Columbus, Ohio
Many Americans have begun to question whether government can be made to work at all—whether we can serve basic human needs without proliferating wasteful, bloated bureaucracies.
The challenge before the nation is to cut the bureaucracy down to size and reverse this corrosive decline of confidence. The question before the voters is whether they can depend on the same people and the same administration who helped create the mess to do anything about it.
If I win the people's support in November, I hope I will be remembered as a man who came to Washington and put the government's house in order.
For decades we have heard politicians denounce "big government" in campaign speeches. But the actions of some of these same politicians have failed to live up to their rhetoric.
In recent years, the process of proliferation has seemed to move forward with greater and greater speed and less and less control or direction. One extensive study reports that from 1969 through 1973 a total of 80 separate new organizations were added within the Executive Branch, excluding the Department of Defense. For the previous eight years, the comparable total was 61.
Accompanying the growth of governmental programs and agencies has been an explosion of regulations and red tape. The Federal Register, which publishes government regulations, increased from a staggering 29,000 pages in 1972 to more than 60,000 last year.
The 1976 Catalogue of Federal Domestic Assistance lists 1,030 programs— 302 in health, 189 in income security and social service programs. There are more than 1,200 federal advisory boards, committees, commissions and councils, and more than 400 quasi-governmental units such as law enforcement planning regions and comprehensive area-wide planning agencies.
Only last week we learned that as much as 7 1/2 billion dollars of Medicaid funds is wasted or stolen every year.
There is an old slogan in Washington—if you want to get along, go along. Too many bureaucrats, learn the hard way to accept the creed. Unfortunately, so do some elected officials. They dedicate themselves to survival.
That is why, even though government agencies do grow old—sometimes a few years or even months after their birth—they never die. They never fadeaway.
The agencies gather about them special interests, powerful pressure groups, which quietly benefit from agency policies. In exchange, these interests form determined lobbies. They funnel fees into the coffers of lawyers and public relations artists who fight to assure their favorite agencies' survival.
The powerful few who benefit from waste and confusion, and their political allies are the loudest voices raised in protest, whenever someone suggests that an agency has had its day and should be retired.
Can we stop this process? Can we cut obsolete agencies and wasteful programs out of the federal budget?
There are some people in this country, especially in Washington, who are cynical. They think the answer to these questions is no—so they refuse to try.
I disagree. I think we can confine government to its proper role and make it an effective, efficient instrument of human needs. We can make the government of the United States deserve the trust and admiration of our people.
Only two things are needed.
First, leadership is needed that is beholden to no one but the people.
Second, our leaders must be willing to adopt and implement the stem measures needed to bring the bureaucracy in line.
In the following weeks, I will be discussing a number of specific individual issues relating to governmental reform.
One such measure called "sunset" legislation requires that an agency will die on a date certain after its birth, unless Congress and the President affirmatively act to recreate it.
I have followed with considerable interest the work of Senator Muskie and the Senate Government Operations Committee and Ohio's own Senator John Glenn on sunset legislation. The current bill, the Government Economy and Spending Reform Act of 1976, stipulates that all tax expenditures, and authorizations for most federal programs would terminate every five years, unless specifically re-enacted by Congress. Programs that were part of the same functional area would expire at the same time, to make the Congressional review more systematic.
The Republican Administration, despite campaign rhetoric about controlling government waste, has testified against enactment of sunset legislation before both houses of Congress. Its spokesmen asserted that legislation is not necessary and that the Executive Branch can reform itself. But as Senator Muskie has emphasized, we have heard 18 years of rhetoric about program review by the executive, with no action. A strong prod is needed from the outside.
Up to the present time, I have not taken a position on this issue. Today, I have decided to do so. Halfway measures are not enough. The instinct for bureaucratic survival, die political inertia which keeps old agencies afloat, is too strong to be overcome except by drastic procedures.
If elected, I will actively support a strong sunset law, covering most of the bureaucratic establishment and covering virtually all tax expenditures as well.
I want a law which will shut down outdated agencies and programs once and for all. I intend to secure enactment of such a law.
I believe this legislation from the Congress would complement zero-based budgeting which will be immediately implemented in the Executive Branch if I am elected.
The American people should know that despite campaign talk about efficiency, this Republican Administration has so actively opposed sunset legislation.
Some parts of the federal government do require continuity and permanence. Sunset legislation generally should not and does not affect legislation securing fundamental human or economic rights, our civil rights laws, or contributory programs, such as pensions, Social Security, unemployment compensation, or minimum wage. The Specific provisions and timetable of the sunset bill must be worked' out by Congress, so they would be compatible with the other duties Congress must discharge.
But after a century of new agencies, new programs, and new spending, it is time to ask the most basic questions. Do our programs work? How can we make them work better? Which ones do we need?
Like other significant innovations, sunset legislation will present some practical problems. But I am confident the benefits of systematic review will outweigh the inconvenience.
Jimmy Carter, Statement Supporting a "Strong Sunset Law" Issued at Columbus, Ohio Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347663