AS OFTEN HAPPENS, it took one of America's comic geniuses to point to the solution to one of our difficulties. The late Walt Kelly, in his comic strip "Pogo" some years ago, invented a new nation, complete with what passed for a new government. In this government Beauregard, the dog, was appointed Secretary of Problems. His job was not to solve problems, mind you, but to think up new ones.
We have, of course, had real Cabinet departments for quite a while thinking up new problems in order to stay in business. And we have had no shortage of presidential commissions to dream up new ways of organizing these problem-creating functions.
But the problem--yes, another one--is that we have been doing all this in a teribly constricting way of late, establishing this or that narrow Cabinet department to deal with what are really temporary problems. What we need to do is follow Pogo's example, to acquire greater range, to substitute a much broader Department of Current Problems to deal with the problem problem.
I don't mean we should scrap all existing Cabinet posts, only that we have been overdoing the creation of narrow new ones. Our first Cabinet back in 1789, after all, had only four members: the secretaries of the Treasure, State and War, plus the attorney gereral. The postmaster general was invented in 1829, and later came Interior and Agriculture secretaries to deal with administering a continental nation.
Okay, seven cabinet posts by 1862. But now that number has almost doubled, to 13(and that is without the Post Office, since de-Cabinetized).
There's no doubt we will always have to deal with other nations and therefore have a State Department, or to enforce laws with a Justice Department.But where is it written that there will always be an energy crisis and therefore a need for a Department of Energy? Granted, DOE has shown itself highly adept at creating new problems, but that doesn't mean it should be there forever.
Similar questions can be raised about HUD, the Department of Transportation or the new Department of Education. In face, some departfments have been created in response to problems scarely anybody can remember anymore.
Ask your friends what great new problem prompted creation of the Department of Transportation in 1966. I drew a blank on that one, too.I even checked half a dozen histories of the LBJ years and couldn't find an explanation of the new problems that triggered the inventions of HUD or DOT.
In 1976, of course, Jimmy Carter made a campaign promise to the National Education Association, so now we've got a Department of Education. But that's a case where the department was created after Washington's part of the problem was essentially solved. In other words, when the new department was adopted the federal government had already completed the education legislation agenda it began in 1965, and it's unclear what new education problems DOE II can think up.
Trust the bureacracy, though. The people at DOE II will find ways to keep themselves busy even after they have rearranged all the chairs and charts, just as those at DOT and HUD have kept themselves (and the rest of us) busy. When we rigidly institutionalize the people handling the problem, we rigidly institutionalize the problem as well.
That's what we don't need. We need variety and flexibility, the capacity to invent and respond to new problems as they swiftly emerge and change. That's why a Department of Current Problems makes so much sense.
We don't need a new department, of course, to respond to sudden immigration influxes or population flows to suburbia or exurbia. We don't need a new department to deal with youth problems--as was proposed and rejected during the campus turbulence of the LBJ years -- or to deal with the technological wizardry that may make it possible soon to manage more business and other matters from our homes. In fact, it's doubtful that we need DOT and HUD and DOEs I and II at present. Why no a Department of Current Problems instead?
It will never happen, you say. Okay, it won't, and that's another problem to deal with. At the least, though, it calls for creation of a Presidential Commission to Study a Department of Current Problems. Surely that would do no harm, and it would even add to the paperwork problem.