Last week in his State of the Union address, President Obama claimed to share President Lincoln’s opinion “that government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.”
I thought about that today while running errands and noticing that virtually every billboard in my town directs citizens to federal government websites to help us do stuff.
“Take time to be a dad today,” urges one, with directions to visit www.fatherhood.gov. That’s the site of the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, where our federal government helps men learn the skills and habits associated with being a good father.
A block farther, a concerned woman on a billboard asks, “Could I have lupus?” She, and we, are directed to visit www.couldihavelupus.gov, an initiative of the National Women's Health Information Center, which is a service of the Office on Women’s Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This snazzy federal government site offers much of the same information that can be found at the not-for-profit www.lupus.org, where the Lupus Foundation of America provides support and education.
In fact, the .gov site even links to lupus.org, among sites of other nongovernmental organizations for lupus.
Heading toward home, I saw a billboard for first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign with Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” characters dancing beside the words, “Eat right. Be active. Have fun. Be our guest at www.letsmove.gov.”
Of course, those old, familiar food-pyramid billboards are being replaced with information about www.choosemyplate.gov, the new and improved program to help Americans eat more healthfully, though the abundance of .gov sites designed to improve our nutritional habits is almost too numerous to count.
Multiple nutrition sites are operated by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Agriculture and even the Department of the Interior (nutrition for American Indians falls into its domain). It’s amazing we’re so obese, really.
If .gov sites are any indication, and in light of the president’s caveat that our government should do for us only what we really cannot do better for ourselves, I’ve concluded that our federal government basically is convinced we need help with everything.
Deciding what car to buy? Go to the Department of Energy’s www.fueleconomy.gov, where you’ll be guided through analyzing the fuel economy of the various new and used cars you’re considering.
Need a shopping list for things you must have on hand in your baby’s layette? Go to www.womenshealth.gov/pregnancy, where you also can learn the ins and outs of birthing classes, breast-feeding and circumcision.
Need a name for that baby? Go to www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames, where the Social Security Administration will hook you up with lists of the most popular girls and boys names in America.
Our federal government thinks of everything.
Lucky for us, Mr. Obama is working to make our .gov sites even better.
In December, a report titled “State of the Federal Web” revealed that our federal government has more than 1,400 domains hosting more than 11,000 .gov sites. The report includes data to be used in the .gov reform initiative, the goal of which is to cut waste and streamline service delivery and “customer service.”
What the report doesn’t include is any discussion about the cost of all these websites, information that isn’t even available from the Government Accountability Office because, as a senior press agent there told me, “That has not been studied by our office.”
Let’s all applaud the effort to streamline and reduce the number of .gov websites. But implicit assumption remains that offering customer-friendly parenting advice or landscaping ideas or a plan to drop weight before bikini season is an appropriate function of the federal government of the United States of America.
At a time when our government borrows money just to keep the lights on, we would do well to remember we’re not customers of our government, we are citizens - citizens who don’t need as much help as our .gov believes.