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Posted at 3:10 PM ET, 01/ 3/2011

'The Committee on the Disposition of Useless Papers in the Executive Departments'

By Ezra Klein

You'll find some great stuff in the "historical essays" section of For instance:

In 1906, the Senate maintained 66 standing and select committees — eight more committees than members of the majority party...The large number of committees and the manner of assigning their chairmanships suggests that many of them existed solely to provide office space in those days before the Senate acquired its first permanent office building.

Fourteen years later, in 1920, the Senate responded to a post-World War I mood to modernize all levels of governmental operations and decided to do something about its large number of obsolete and redundant committees. That year's Congressional Directory listed nearly 80 committees. Among them were the Committee on the Disposition of Useless Papers in the Executive Departments, and the Committee on Revolutionary War claims — still in business 137 years after the conclusion of that conflict.

On May 27, 1920, with all members assigned private quarters in the recently opened office building, the Senate acknowledged that governmental efficiency could extend even to the halls of Congress by quietly abolishing 42 obsolete committees.

By Ezra Klein  | January 3, 2011; 3:10 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Next: File under 'can't win'


Speaking of obsolete and wasteful spending, let's hope the new GOP congress starts the spending cuts with elimination of the Education Department. That would save about $71 billion.

Toss in cutting approx $1 billion by eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and now we are on a roll toward having a more efficent and less costly government....without negatively impacting a single vital service.

In fact, one might argue elimination of any or all of the above would actually improve some services, as education seems to work better the GREATER the local control, and the LESS dependence there is on federal funds to keep union members emplo...errrrr, the LESS federal taxpayers are on the hook to bail out state teacher unions pensio....errrrr, the LESS federal funds are required to keep a school district from having to become more efficient.

Posted by: dbw1 | January 3, 2011 3:47 PM | Report abuse


The link on your blog page (under "Think Tank") to "The Congressional Research Service's primer on the "Constitutional" and "nuclear" options for changing the Senate's rules" -- is incorrect.

The hyperlink points to the Fiscal Commission report.

Posted by: paul65 | January 3, 2011 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Great post Ezra,

Clicking around the historical session, I actually feel a little more confident in government today.

Some of my favorites:

"November 30, 1804
In its third impeachment trial, that of controversial and partisan Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase, the Senate had to debate the meaning of "high crimes and misdemeanors."

"April 25, 1808
In April of 1808 the Senate nearly expelled Senator John Smith of Ohio, who had naively been caught up in Aaron Burr's conspiracy to invade Mexico."

"March 4, 1849
Until the day he died, Senator David Rice Atchison of Missouri claimed to have been president for a single day—March 4, 1849."

Posted by: RisingTideLiftsAllBoats | January 3, 2011 4:41 PM | Report abuse

"Committee on the Disposition of Useless Papers in the Executive Departments": This is straight out of Dickens. Reminds me of the fantastic "Circumlocution Office" from Little Dorrit.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | January 3, 2011 4:46 PM | Report abuse

On a related note, I wonder when the Executive Branch office responsible for World War II fuel payments will be dissolved? It still exists... and still makes payments.

Posted by: rmgregory | January 3, 2011 7:47 PM | Report abuse

1906? That is, like, over a hundred years ago so way too confusing for me

Posted by: FamilyMac | January 4, 2011 11:56 AM | Report abuse

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