A Brief History
On March 1, 1961, a new pet project of newly sworn in President John F. Kennedy was created, the Peace Corps, a volunteer organization for the betterment of humankind run by the United States Government, just one of many agencies, departments and programs that would come to existence during this author’s lifetime. Sure, Franklin Roosevelt invented all sorts of government agencies and programs during the Great Depression, but the Presidents and Congresses that have come since have not exactly been slackers when it comes to expanding our government. Many of these agencies and programs seem so ingrained in the American way that it is hard to believe they did not exist when I was born! (We are limiting our list to 10 entries, so there should be some for you to name. Only US Government agencies and programs are being discussed here, but you can bring up international agencies and programs if you would like.) An eye-popping easy to see statistic that indicates the growth of the US Federal Government is found in annual budget data, notably in the fact that the US budget in 1957 was a puny $76.578 billion and was more than $3 billion less than income (a $3 billion+ surplus), while in 2019, the US spent $4.728791 trillion, coming up more than a half trillion dollars short of revenues. (2020, the year of the pandemic, will be much worse when the numbers are added up.)
The Peace Corps, 1961
Something approaching a quarter million Americans have served in the Peace Corps since 1961, lending assistance to 141 countries. (There were far fewer countries than that in 1961!) The Covid-19 Pandemic of 2019-2021 has seen an enormous reduction in the Peace Corps operation with all 7000 volunteers recalled to the United States because of the health crisis. It is unknown when operations will resume. The annual budget is close to $400 million.
Department of Homeland Security, 2002-2003
Terrorism was nothing new in 2001, but the spectacular and deadly terror attacks of September 11, 2001 resulted in a drastically different perception and response to terror by the United States. Along with virtually interminable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, other government regulations and programs were instituted, including the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, a response to the perceived lack of coherent planning and prevention of attacks on American soil by existing military and law enforcement agencies. DHS has become a massive government agency, encompassing many subordinate agencies previously found in other departments, including responsibility for border security, customs, immigration, emergency management, transportation security, the US Secret Service, domestic cyber security and many others. The annual budget is now well over a half trillion dollars.
Space Force, 2019
President Trump seemed to want to leave his mark on the American culture, and this new military agency is probably the most visible newly established government agency to come from his Administration. In fact, the United States is the ONLY nation in the world to field a space force! The US Space Force has become our 8th branch of the uniformed service of the United States, and is an evolutionary outgrowth of the US Air Force Space Command that had been established in 1982. (OK, can you name all 8 American uniformed service branches? Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard are the easy ones, along with the Space Force. The other 2 are the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps. These last 2 uniformed branches listed consist only of commissioned officers, no enlisted people!) In early 2021, officials announced that headquarters for Space Force would be located in Huntsville, Alabama, instead of Florida as earlier reported.
Medicare, 1966/Medicaid 1965
Conceived as being part of the Social Security umbrella providing health care for older (65+) Americans, Medicare also is available for people with certain chronic serious health problems that are not of the requisite age. Of the 60 million Americans that qualify for Medicare, about 8 million are less than 65 years old. Medicaid is a Federal program administered in conjunction with the individual States that provides health care and insurance to Americans that could not otherwise afford health insurance, a whopping 74 million Americans as of 2017! The 2 health programs combined cost American taxpayers about $1.35 TRILLION dollars per year.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 1964
Established as part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the EEOC is an outgrowth of the ongoing Civil Rights Movement that largely targeted the end of discrimination against African Americans, although all minority Americans are covered by the CRA and the EEOC. The annual budget is in the area of $400 million, and protected groups now include gender identity and sexual orientation issues, older persons, and persons with disabilities as well as ethnic and religious groups. Even genetic information used for discriminatory purposes can be addressed by the EEOC.
Environmental Protection Agency, 1970
Ushered into being by a Republican President (Nixon), the EPA has been a target of Republican administrations and legislators ever since. By 1970, Americans had finally become aware of the ruinous practices inflicted on the air, land and water of the Earth and the terrible consequences for the health and well being of people, animals and plants. The constant battle between doing what is good for the environment at what cost to the economy is a controversial and delicate balance, a constant source of political and social contention. If you were not alive back in the 1960’s, you cannot imagine how foul the air around large cities was! Clouds of smoke and smog blanketed the sky, rivers caught on fire and Bad Things were happening. We still harm our environment greatly every day, but at least the EPA is looking out for the Earth. If nothing else, just getting rid of Lead in gasoline has been a tremendous boost to our health. (Leaded gasoline was totally phased out of American markets by 1996, though the introduction of catalytic converters to cars in 1975 required cars so equipped to use unleaded gas only.)
Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1965
A cabinet level department, HUD was an outgrowth of the “Great Society” program of President Lyndon Johnson, with some influence due to the increased attention our crumbling large cities had been experiencing and the increased level of African American population concentration in poor areas of those cities, a “natural” evolution of the Civil Rights Movement. A major subsidiary agency is the Federal Housing Authority (FHA). Annual budget is a relatively modest $47.9 billion (2020).
Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 1970-1971
While laboring under a budget of less than a billion dollars per year, OSHA not only looks after workplace health and safety of workers but is also responsible for operating several workplace “whistle blower” programs for workers to report violations without fear of reprisal. (At least in theory!)
Department of Education, 1979
After the decision was made in 1979 to split the enormous Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) into the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services, Education finally got its very own agency. By 1979, and in the years since right up to the present, much hand wringing has occurred in the United States over the state of education in the country, with numerous studies and statistics that indicate the US does a poorer job of educating its youth than some other highly competitive nations in spite of spending more than any other country on education. Between the operating budget and money used for education grants, the DOE spends over $200 billion annually.
Department of Energy, 1977
Another cabinet level department, the DOE is not only responsible for energy production and management in the US, but is also tasked with over seeing such programs as nuclear weapons, nuclear reactors for US Navy ships, energy conservation, nuclear waste disposal, energy related research, and if you can believe it, even genomic related issues such as the Human Genome Project! Annual budget is just under $32 billion. The DOE is the primary research oriented agency in the United States.
Corporate average fuel economy, 1975
Prior to the Arab-Israeli War of October 1973, Americans drove large, heavy and powerful cars with little regard to gas mileage or how much pollution those cars pumped out. (Some pollution controls had already been instituted before then, but the October War certainly accelerated the process of paying attention to how motor vehicles used fuel.) The ensuing “Arab Oil Embargo” against the United States and other nations that had been perceived as having supported Israel against their Arab enemies created an “energy crisis” in the US and other countries, which in turn created a movement to decrease American dependence on foreign oil. A big part of that plan was to improve the average fuel economy demonstrated by cars sold in the US, and hence the CAFE standards that gave us the now familiar MPG ratings on the window sticker of all motor vehicles sold in the US (except heavy trucks). Even “gas guzzler” taxes were later imposed on vehicles not meeting MPG standards, and Americans saw their beloved cars shrink in size along with their motors, although eventually technology made those smaller motors ever more powerful.
Question for students (and subscribers): What agencies and programs would you add to this list that have been created since the mid to late 1950’s? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Ekrich, Arthur and Robert Higgs. Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government. Independent Institute, 2013.
Jones, Bryan. The Politics of Bad Ideas: The Great Tax Cut Delusion and the Decline of Good Government in America. Longman, 2008.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Abbie Rowe (1905–1967) of President John F. Kennedy greeting Peace Corps volunteers, contains material based on a work of a National Park Service employee, created as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, such work is in the public domain in the United States. See the NPS website and NPS copyright policy for more information.