Despite a mandate from the voters to rein in the federal bureaucracy, Congress is finding it hard to stop creating new agencies and programs. Halfway through its two-year term, this Congress already has established a bevy of new governmental bureaucratic entities and nonmilitary spending programs.
The new federal initiatives touch everything from household disputes to foreign aid and will cost taxpayers more than $5 billion a year. Others, costing additional billions of dollars, have cleared one house or the other and await final action this year.
"Incredible as it may seem, and despite constant rhetoric to the contrary, Congress goes merrily on creating new programs and increasing the size of government," says Rep. Barber B. Conable Jr. (R) of New York, ranking minority member of the taxwriting house Ways and Means Committee.
Most of these additions to official Washington also carry the Blessings of President Carter, who campaigned four years ago against what he called a "proliferation of programs and agencies."
Among the bureaucratic newcomers:
* In the field of energy, Congress and the President have come up with a quintessential Washington solution to the problem of bureaucratic resistance: create a new agency to cut through the other agencies' red tape. The energy mobilization board will expedite priority energy projects using virtually unprecedented powers over federal, state, and local regulators.
Another new energy agency, a quasigovernmental synthetic-fuels corporation, will spend $20 billion over the next five years to develop new sources of power such as oil from shale and gas from coal.
Both new boards have been approve by both houses of Congress, and are being hammered into final form by a Senate-house conference for the President to sign into law.
* In the sphere of social services, congress has established a new Cabinet-level department sought by the President -- the Department of Education -- and it has launched a program to help needy families afford the rising cost of home heating oil, amounting to $1.6 billion in assistance this winter.
* In the field of justice, Congress is seeking to sort out the managerial problems of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, which channels federal crimefighting aid to states and localities, by creating three new agencies -- one to conduct research, another to compile statistics, and a third to coordinate things.
Lawmakers also have spawned a program to help citizens resolve minor disputes , such as consumer complaints and landlord-tenant wrangles, without going to court. The price tag: $11 million a year for a resource center in the Department of Justice and grants to states.
* In foreign affairs, congress, at the urging of the President, has established new agencies for dealing with two touchy corners of the world: Taiwan (an institute to replace the now-closed US Embassy) and the panama Canal (A commission to oversee the waterway until American withdrawal in 1999).
Another new body, the International Development Cooperation Agency, has been created to supervise most foreign aid programs. No additional costs or employees are involved, but neither have any of the previous foreign-aid agencies disappeared.
Still working their way through the congressional pipeline are other such initiatives.
They include a Carter proposal to upgrade and expand medicaid health care for needy children at a potential cost of nearly $2 billion a year (approved by the House); a program to aid victims of domestic violence costing $20 million a year (approved by the House); two new federal courts, for patent cases and for claims against the government (approved by the Senate).
While new agencies and programs continue to spring from Capitol Hill, ironically, legislation designed to trim bureaucratic deadwood remains unenacted.
"Sunset" legislation, a longtime Carter priority that would force federal programs to periodically justify to Congress their continued existence, languishes in committees in both houses.