Who is Watching You?

APRIL 01, 1959 by RALPH L. WOODS

Mr. Woods is a free-lance editor and author of numerous books and magazine articles.

Recently, Cleveland industrialist Cyrus S. Eaton condemned the Federal Bureau of Investigation because it engages "in snooping, in informing, in creeping up on people," and he asserted that not even Hitler at the height of his power "had such spy organiza­tions as we have in this country today."

Such pinpointed denunciation of the F.B.I. suggests either un­awareness or indifference to the widespread snooping, investigat­ing, policing, and supervising done by various other agencies of the executive branch of the fed­eral government, many of which have larger staffs and greater powers than the much-abused F.B.I.

A careful look at the ever-ex­panding activities of our govern­ment reveals an impressive—and possibly depressing—number of federal employees who are prin­cipally or exclusively engaged in watching and recording what goes on in a vast array of human ac­tivities. Whether one welcomes or deplores this trend, the facts should be of interest.

The F.B.I., it should be recog­nized at the outset, will always be the prime target for various mal­contents and publicity seekers. Its operations or at least the re­sults it achieves—are dramatic. It has captured the public’s im­agination and is good newspaper "copy." Though attacked and mis­represented by the communists and other traitors it exposes, the F.B.I. cannot answer its accusers without revealing details that would prevent a successful com­pletion of its work. Furthermore, the F.B.I. is frankly and neces­sarily a government detective agency, with the total of its agents or investigators a matter of public record. In short, there is no question as to the nature of the Bureau’s work and its numeri­cal investigative strength.

Farmer, Indians, Businessmen…

But what about all the other governmental agencies engaged in watching, checking, investigating, and supervising—the ones that seem to be unknown to and un­mentioned by the highly articu­late "freedom fighters"?

The F.B.I. has 13,760 on its payroll, but the Civil Aeronautics Administration has 23,000 and six of the Department of Agricul­ture’s 24 sections (Forestry, Soil Conservation, Agricultural Mar­keting, Commodity Stabilization, Federal Crop Insurance, and Farmers Home Administration) have a total manpower of 68,000.

We are not here concerned with the value or necessity of these ac­tivities, but only with the extent to which the government engages in watching, recording, investiga­ting, and supervising. If the Civil Aeronautics Administration and the Department of Agriculture employees are as attentive to their duties as F.B.I. men are said to be to theirs, then the air­lines and the farmers are perhaps more carefully watched and cer­tainly more firmly supervised than are the secretive and considerably less reputable characters and en­terprises the F.B.I. customarily investigates. No doubt airlines and farmers on occasion resent in­terference by government but, be­ing unashamed of their activities, they do not work themselves into an hysterical lather as a diver­sionary tactic. Consequently, the public is only vaguely aware that they are watched and supervised by government.

The myopia of the headline-hunting critics is illustrated by their failure to mention that the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs has 10,862 employees—or about one federal meddler for every 35 In­dians whether on or off the reser­vations. One might well speculate on the extent to which this situa­tion is responsible for much of the social erosion suffered by the Indians.

Business, of course, is much watched and often rigidly regu­lated and supervised by the gov­ernment. Few would disagree with the basic principle that govern­ment is needed as an umpire or referee to minimize fraud, vio­lence, and other malpractices.

But how many umpires or ref­erees are needed? The Securities and Exchange Commission has the surprisingly small but effective force of 834, the Federal Trade Commission a relative handful at 724, and the Federal Power Commission a mere 708 watchers and regulators.

There is, however, considerably more manpower involved in the following watching and regulating agencies:


National Labor Relations Board……………………….


Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation………….


Federal Communications Commission……………..


Bureau of Employment


Security (Dept. of Labor)………………………………….


Small Business Administration…………………………


Food and Drug Administration…………………………


Wage and Hour and Public Contract Division (Dept. of Labor) ………………………………………………


Interstate Commerce Commission…………………..


Federal Maritime Board and Maritime Administration………………………………………………….


Bureau of Mines……………………………………………….


Bureau of Customs…………………………………………..



This is not a complete roll call of the government watching and regulating agencies. A number of smaller ones have been omitted, such as Renegotiation Board (335) and Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (332). Nor does it take into account the many state, county, and municipal agen­cies that keep an eye and often lay a restraining hand on busi­ness.

Several other massive govern­ment agencies are engaged in watching and to some extent su­pervising both business and in­dividuals. The Internal Revenue Service is a painful example. It has 50,683 employees dedicated to the task of securing all the details of business and personal income and taking a big slice of it an­nually for the government’s use—including the pay of those who see that we make our money ac­cording to the rules they lay down for us.

Then, there are 22,849 Social Security Administration employ­ees who, in the course of time, ac­cumulate a fairly complete record of one’s working life as they watch and record facts about both employers and employees.

The Selective Service System watches citizens and on occasion makes rather drastic demands of them. It has 6,568 full-time and 2,300 part-time employees, plus some 41,000 public spirited citi­zens who serve on local draft boards.

The Veterans Administration with an astonishing 106,000 full-time paid employees, plus 21,000 part-time workers and 47,000 who work without compensation, inevitably watches, reports, and often supervises those who par­take of its benevolence.

The 60 million people who an­nually visit our National Parks are watched, as well as helped and protected, by some of that Service’s 5,000 employees. Sports­men are both watched and aided by the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 4,100 employees. The Census Bu­reau has 3,065 workers keeping count of us and of some of our activities. The Public Health Serv­ice’s 24,000 employees must often concern themselves with humans as well as microbes, thus consti­tuting a temptation to anyone who would use them as a Trojan Pony for socialized medicine. The Im­migration and Naturalization Service’s force of 6,700 watches and supervises those who enter the country, and the State De­partment’s 360 Passport Office employees have a great deal to say about who leaves the country. Those who handle and use the mail do so under the glances of the 1,500 employed in the Postal Inspection Service.

And who, one may validly ask, watches the government? This is primarily the duty and responsi­bility of each individual citizen, and of their elected representa­tives in Congress.

But the government itself has another huge agency—the Gen­eral Services Administration—that has a good deal to say about the other departments in the ex­ecutive branch of the govern­ment. Its 27,000 employees have been referred to as the govern­ment’s housekeepers.

Finally, the government em­ployees themselves are to some ex­tent watched, protected, and some­times over-protected by 4,200 em­ployees of the Civil Service Com­mission.

The Unmistakable Trend

On its face, this situation may not seem unduly disturbing. Fed­eral snoopers amount to a rela­tively small proportion of the total manpower available in the United States. But the upward trend is unmistakable, as is the fact that the growth is in propor­tion—if not in geometric ratio—to the amount of taxation and con­trol of various aspects of our per­sonal affairs. Though the snoop­ing itself is deplorable enough, let us remember that it is hardly more than the symbol of the regu­lations and controls which precede and give rise to such supervision.

When one gives careful thought to the extent of federal watching and to the total government man­power engaged in such work, it is easy enough to see how these agencies could become instruments of tyranny through the manipulations of political adventurers. This possibility exists in the F.B.I., of course, but it also is present in a great many other agencies of gov­ernment.

For example, in addition to their watching, recording, and regulating, some of these agencies control the disbursement of hun­dreds of millions—even billions—of dollars of government funds. Since money is power, in unscru­pulous hands these agencies could buy political loyalty and obedi­ence. Freedom has often been bought out before it was stamped out.

Indirect Threats to Freedom

A less obvious and therefore more effective method for achiev­ing the same results is the oblique or indirect approach—gradually tightening the controlling screws through commissions and bureaus which assume powers similar to those of legislatures and courts.

These are hazards of every big government; they are danger­ously multiplied when agencies are given excess funds, man­power, or authority. If the people don’t patrol their government, the government is apt ultimately to police the people.

There is no evidence that the government has a malevolent de­sign for the enslavement of the people, though there may be a handful of bureaucrats who fondle such poisonous ideas. But it is not too fanciful to envision a time when continued economic policing and welfare coddling could so soften Americans that they would invite the handcuffs of the Police State and the spoon-feeding of the Welfare State.

We have allowed and often en­couraged the government to erect a bewilderingly complex structure of regulations and controls, plus subsidies, gifts, grants, loans, and benefits. The nation swarms with federal watchers, checkers, re­corders, regulators, and control­lers who either are or could be en­listed in behalf of the police power—a power that threatens freedom in proportion as it in­creases in size and authority.

Even the present structure of government could be converted in­to a police state by a dictator minded group—if the people made no move to prevent it. And we al­ready have given the government a great deal more power than it needs to perform its constitution­ally determined functions.

Intelligent and unselfish voting is not enough to check the Ameri­can drift and drive to some form of superstate. Voting must be pre­ceded and followed by vigilance. The only insurance against the government policing us is for us to police the government.


April 1959

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