In the Army we have an expression for an operation that is so big and unwieldy that it has no purpose other than perpetuating itself: “a self-licking ice cream cone.”
By way of Amanda Carpenter in Senator Jim DeMint’s office we discover that after some half century of hard work, federal housing programs have finally reached that state.
According to the GAO, the federal government runs 160 separate housing programs.
Where are they all?
Well, HUD runs the majority of the programs, 91. The United States Department of Agriculture, which also administers farming aid and the nation’s food stamp program, offers 18 different types of housing assistance as well. The Internal Revenue Service has 14 programs. The Department of Treasury offers 8 programs; the Department of Veterans Affairs 7; the Department of Labor 2; Federal Home Loan Banks 3.
Each of these programs has its own bureaucracy, its own advocates, and its own sub-bureaucracy at the state and local level. While they might actually produce something worthwhile, their main function is keeping the people who administer the programs employed.
But the wonder, from a governance point of view, is not that the federal government has 160 housing programs but that it has any housing programs. Housing is it, a quintessentially local program that needs no federal intervention and where federal rules and money have done incredible damage to our social fabric. Public housing has teamed up with cash payments to indigents to create a wide variety of social pathologies that are now endemic.
This is a major challenge confronting Mr. Romney should he win election. It isn’t enough to make government more efficient. What is needed is to divest the federal government of all but its core functions.