The Most Outrageous Government Program: Legal Services Corporation

In this special issue, HUMAN EVENTS spotlights the Ten Most Outrageous Government Programs. Why did we put this list together? Consider what John Erlenborn, president of the Legal Services Corporation, said when we asked him to cite the language in the U.S. Constitution that authorizes the federal government to run a legal services corporation. “I don’t know,” he said. “The general welfare clause.” Erlenborn’s uncertainty, and apparent insouciance, about the constitutional justification for his own agency may explain why a group of conservative leaders assembled by HUMAN EVENTS picked LSC and the nine other items for our “most outrageous” list (which begins on page 4.) LSC, which finished Number 1, was not the only program whose spokesman found it difficult or impossible to point to constitutional language authorizing what it does. Arguably, all the programs on our list lack a constitutional mandate. Certainly, none deserves to continue drawing on the hard-earned income of American workers. Conservative Experts Here is how HUMAN EVENTS put this list together: We asked a diverse group of 18 conservative public policy experts to nominate and judge the ten Most Outrageous Government Programs for us (the full panel of judges is listed on page 6). These experts ranged from National Taxpayers Union President John Berthoud to Family Research Council President Ken Connor, from Eagle Forum President Phyllis Schlafly to former Delaware Gov. Pete du Pont (R.), from Landmark Legal Foundation President Mark Levin to Citizens for a Sound Economy Co-Chairman Dick Armey. Any federal program or agency beneath the level of a Cabinet department was eligible. Each of our judges nominated one or more programs. We then circulated a ballot to the judges listing all 50 nominated programs. They marked their choices 1 through 10, with 1 being the most outrageous. We scored their choices by assigning 10 points to each Number 1 rating, 9 points to each Number 2 rating, and so on. The contest was close. Number 1 LSC, at 48 points, finished only 10 points above Number 7 Amtrak, at 38 points. It nosed out the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act by just 2 points. There were some interesting patterns, too. President Richard Nixon, a Republican, helped create five of the programs on the list, including Number 1 LSC. Most of the listed programs also are relatively new. Republican President Herbert Hoover signed the oldest program, the Number 3 Davis-Bacon Act (which forces government contractors to pay higher wages), in 1931. But eight of the programs were initiated, wholly or in part, in 1970 or later. Hopefully, none will last as long as Davis-Bacon.