Establishing Agencies
For its first century, the United States was governed with a very small federal government. The balance of governmental functions were carried out locally and at the state level. This began to shift as the United States gained its overseas empire and as President Theodore Roosevelt started his trust- busting. The government continued to grow, albeit slowly, during the Depression. The major change came with World War II, when the federal government took on extraordinary powers to coordinate the nation’s fighting of the war. These powers were exercised by executive branch agencies, created by Congress and overseen by the president. The federal government never really demobilized after World War II, creating the large and powerful central government that has characterized modern U.S. politics. Outside of the military, almost all the growth in government has been the growth of administrative agencies.
Agencies must be established by the legislature, either Congress or the state legislature. (This section mostly discusses federal agencies, but state law closely follows the federal law.) Congress starts agencies and expands them to deal with public relations problems. For example, the original agency regulating food and drugs was formed in response to Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle. This was meant to be an exposé of the horrible working conditions in the Chicago food processing industries. Unfortunately for the author, the general public was a lot more horrified by what the book told them about the contents of their food than by the suffering of the workers. Congress was pressured to deal with the problem and formed the predecessor to the FDA. In the 1930s there was a scandal involving a pediatric elixir that was prepared with ethylene glycol—a pleasant tasting but deadly solvent. The result was the modern food and drug regulation acts. In the 1970s there was great concern with the growing medical devices industry and congressional hearing about the dangers of some of the medical devices. Soon after, the FDA was given the right to regulate medical devices. (This works both ways—concentrated lobbying by the “health” foods industry caused Congress to take away the FDA’s right to regulate food supplements, leaving the public with few protections in this area.)