Bad Government Programs Never Die

Bad Government
Programs Never Die

© David Burton 2016

Bad Programs Never Die

     Once a government program is enacted, it has an almost infinite life span. No one bothers to check if the program still makes sense or is still needed. Worse still, nobody worries about whether the program was justified in the first place. Our lawmakers simply don’t care about old programs – they are too busy thinking up new ways to get our money and to get themselves votes. Old programs are yesterday’s news and not worth a politician’s time and energy. Similar comments apply to governmental bureaucrats. Old programs, good or bad, keep them employed and guarantee their retirement benefits. Their guiding principle is “Don’t rock the boat.” Why look for trouble in dredging up old legislation. Some government programs that deserved to be terminated were simply bad, others may have been beneficial when started but outlived their usefulness. Let’s look at some of these programs.

     It is now coming to light that the government’s rush to replace gasoline with ethanol was probably a bad move.

     The United States became the world's largest producer of ethanol fuel in 2005. In 2011, the U.S. produced 13.9 billion U.S. liquid gallons of ethanol fuel. Ethanol production was expected to continue to grow over the next several years, since the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 required 36 billion U.S. gallons of renewable fuel use by 2022. The target for ethanol production from cellulosic feedstocks was 16 billion US gallons a year. The corn ethanol target was 15 billion U.S. gallons by 2015.[1]

     “Ethanol is stupid, wasteful and bad for cars (because its corrosive and inefficient).
     “The main case for biofuels is twofold. It’s supposed to be better for the environment, particularly global warming, and lessen our dependence on foreign oil. The assumption was that converting plants into fuel was ‘carbon neutral,’ and since we can do that at home, every gallon of oil we replace with corn is one less we have to buy from overseas. The fact that it also lines the pockets of agribusinesses and the politicians who love them is supposed to be a total coincidence and irrelevant to this good and noble policy. [Emphasis mine]
      - - -
     “A new study from the University of Michigan confirms what pretty much everyone knew all along. Researchers found that biofuels actually create more greenhouse gasses than simply using petroleum, [Emphasis mine] because plants only absorb a fraction of the carbon dioxide released by burning the fuels in the first place. Moreover, ethanol production and distribution is energy-intensive, throwing off even more greenhouse gasses.
     “. . . {A University of Michigan professor said:} ‘When it comes to the emissions that cause global warming, it turns out that biofuels are worse than gasoline.’ [Emphasis mine]
     “A study last year by the University of Tennessee found that in the decade since the U.S. imposed the Renewable Fuel Standard – and after $50 billion in subsidies – corn-based ethanol ‘created more problems than solutions’ and hampered research on other kinds of biofuels.” [Emphasis mine] (Ref. 2)

     Additionally, growing corn for inefficient fuel removes farmland from food production, resulting in increased food prices. American ethanol from corn requires huge amounts of fertilizer that has been running into our midland waterways and then into the Gulf of Mexico. That runoff has been creating a large and growing dead zone, killing sea life in an important fisheries area.[2]

     “Thanks to the shale oil revolution, America now has greater oil reserves than Saudi Arabia and Russia. Domestic oil production produces far more – and far better paying – jobs than ethanol production.” (Ref. 2)

     Another bad program that I have written about in the past is that of High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) traffic lanes. In 2005, I asked why is there HOV lanes some 25 years after their need had disappeared. (Ref. 3) The HOV lane concept had arisen during the Arab oil embargo of the early 1970’s when there was a shortage of gasoline. By 2005, that crisis had long since passed but HOV lanes remained. In 2016 I once again asked why this outdated and useless program still remained in effect and I wrote that “What HOV lanes have done is to increase gasoline consumption, inconvenience the majority of commuters and increase atmospheric pollution. During commuter rush hour, the HOV lane is unavailable to the majority of commuters, resulting in fewer lanes to carry the increased commuter traffic. This causes commuters to crawl along in rush hour traffic, burning additional fuel and slowing down their commutes to work or to home while the HOV lane is virtually empty. When a breakdown occurs in the HOV lane, traffic in the HOV lane must come to a halt since there is no way to exit the HOV lane, again resulting in additional fuel consumption and more delays for HOV lane drivers. When a breakdown occurs in the non-HOV lanes, traffic must slow down or halt there, since there is no way to use the HOV lane, again resulting in additional fuel consumption and more delays.” (Ref. 4)

     Back in 2011, it was reported that: “Four government programs soaking up $337 million have survived repeated attempts from both parties to eliminate them. What the programs have in common are powerful supporters in the form of members of Congress or lobby groups . . .
     “The programs fund the storing of cotton bales, an Asian-American studies course, marketing of U.S. oranges in Asia, and abandoned coal mine cleanup. In 2010, President Barack Obama tried to cut the funding for the Asian program in half . . .
     “Instead, the East-West Center ended up with an addition{al} $2 million in funding thanks to Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii. . .
      - - -
     “Both the Obama administration and the Republican Study Committee tried to kill the Agriculture Department’s Market Access Program, which spends $200 million a year to promote U.S. farm products in foreign markets. They failed because of the efforts of the farm lobby . . .
     “Nonetheless, some sacred programs found they are as mortal as their champions. This year’s round of budget cuts {in 2011} did not spare programs championed by Sens. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa. What the programs had in common is that all three supporters died recently . . .” (Ref. 5)

     Then there are those programs that have long outlived their usefulness but continue on – seemingly forever. Consider the Rural Electrification Administration (REA)

     From 1989: “Seldom has a government program had more direct impact on the lives of ordinary Americans than Franklin D. Roosevelt's plan to bring electric and telephone service to the nation's rural communities.
     “{In 1936, a congressional committee declared:} ‘Few things will add more to the comfort, satisfaction and happiness of the rural population’ . . . when only 12% of rural America had electricity or telephones.
     “{But, by 1989}, virtually the entire nation has both. So why does the Rural Electrification Administration still cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year? Why does it supply subsidies to subsidiaries of major corporations and to the residents of posh resort areas, including Hilton Head, S.C., and Aspen and Vail, Colo.?
     “The answer is one of Washington's eternal truths: Few things are as immortal as a government program. When bureaucracies finish the work they were set up to do, they usually find new work to stay in business.
     “The billions of dollars in subsidies that the REA has provided over the years have built up a large constituency--electric and telephone utility cooperatives that depend on the program and protect it fiercely. Members of Congress from rural districts zealously watch over the program's fate.” (Ref. 6)

     The REA lives on, even today. In 1994 the Rural Electrification Administration was reorganized into the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) by the Federal Crop Insurance Reform Act of 1994 and the Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994. So, instead of being laid to rest after its job was done, the program has simply continued on under a new name.

     So why are we continuing to produce ethanol for our vehicles? Why do we have HOV lanes that are worse than useless? Why does an agency created to meet the needs of the nation some 80 years ago live on today under a new name? Because nobody cares to look at old government programs, no matter how outdated or how bad they really are. Our politicians’ motto is “Let sleeping dogs lie.” The best interests of the nation are not necessarily in the best interests of our politicians. The basic problems are: no one in government cares, there is no one to blame, and there are no sunset provisions or periodic reviews of government programs. Instead, what we have is bad government. Ronald Reagan once said that “a government program is the closest thing to eternal life that we’ve ever seen on earth.” Truer words were never spoken.


  1. Ethanol fuel in the United States, Wikipedia, Accessed 9 September 2016.
  2. Research proves ethanol’s only useful to pols, Jonah Goldberg, Boston Herald, Page 17, 5 September 2016.
  3. Outdated and thoughtless traffic planning, David Burton,; Article 7, 1 November 2005.
  4. Useless HOV Lanes Will Outlive Us All, David Burton,; Article 258, 21 Jul 2016.
  5. Some Govt Programs Are Like Old Soldiers: They Never Die, Newsmax, 21 April 2011.
  6. REA's Tenacity Shows Why Some Government Programs Never Die, David Lauter, Los Angeles Times, 1 October 1989.


  3 November 2016 {Article 269; Whatever_50}    
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