While comparing the current financial maelstrom to food safety might be a stretch – it does give one insight as to the responsibility of the branches of our government to ensure the safety and security of “We the People” (WTP). Isn’t that what our hard earned tax dollars are used for?
Americans do not want to worry about the safety of the food we eat. Indeed food safety is something we take for granted. But who assures this safety? Bureaucrats do.
It is their job to keep our food safe from contamination. Although we rarely think about food inspection, they represent one of the most important regulatory functions of government. The fact that we rarely think about food safety is testimony to the success of bureaucrats in carrying out their tasks. Policing the food supply is not a straightforward task however. It involves a complex web of federal agencies and overlapping jurisdictions. Twelve agencies and 35 statutes regulate food safety.
Eggs in the shell fall under the purview of the FDA, but once cracked and processed, they come under the jurisdiction of the USDA. The USDA is responsible for regulating meat and poultry while the FDA handles most other food products, including seafood and produce. Cheese pizzas are the FDA’s responsibility, but if they have pepperoni on top, Agriculture inspectors step in.
Other parts of the government also play a prominent role in enforcing food safety laws. For example, The EPA oversees pesticides applied to crops, the CDC tracks food-related illnesses and the Dept. of Homeland Security coordinates agencies’ safety and security activities.
Is this complex system the result of bureaucratic maneuvering? No, Congress created the system layer on top of layer, with little regard to how is should work as a whole. Critics argue that the system is outdated and that it would be better to create a single food safety agency that could target inspections, streamline safety programs, and use resources more efficiently.
Such proposals have generated little enthusiasm in Congress, where committees are sensitive about losing jurisdiction over agencies. For example, in the house, the Energy and Commerce Committee has oversight over the FDA, while the Agriculture Committee has responsibility for the USDA. Bureaucrats face other challenges in insuring safe food. The FDA has only about 430 inspectors to keep tabs on more than 53,000 establishments that produce, process or store food other than meat and poultry. The agency carries out about 5,000 inspections per year so the average company is subject to an FDA inspection just once every 10 years.
Bureaucrats are central to our lives. They provide essential public services. Bureaucratic power extends to every corner of American economic and social life, yet Bureaucrats are scarcely hinted at in the Constitution. Congress creates each bureaucratic agency, sets its budget and writes the policies it administers.
Most agencies are responsible to the president, whose constitutional responsibility to “take care that the laws shall be faithfully executed” sheds only a dim light on the problems of managing so large a government. How to manage and control bureaucracies is a central problem of democratic government.
Reigning in the power of bureaucracies is also a common these in debates over the scope of government in America. Some political commentators see the bureaucracy as the prime example of a federal government growing out of control. They view the bureaucracy as acquisitive, constantly seeking to expand its size, budgets and authority while being entwined in red tape and spewing forth senseless regulations. Others see the bureaucracy as laboring valiantly against great odds to fulfill the missions elected officials have assigned it.
Where does the truth lie?
(Edwards, III, Wattenberg, & Lineberry, 2008)Edwards, G. C., III, Wattenberg, M. P., & Lineberry, R. L. (2008). Government in America: People, politics, and policy (Brief 9th ed.). New York: Pearson Longman.