In 1972 the federal government created a new agency, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and gave it an impossible task: make hundreds of thousands of consumer products, from children’s sleepwear and bedding to hand tools and recreational vehicles, safer. Here’s how the CPSC succeeded by focusing on the most troublesome products, keeping a watchful eye on others, and using a “trust but verify” approach.
Public Television and Radio
Fifty years ago the federal government created the Public Broadcasting System and National Public Radio and gave them the mission of educating children and informing adults over the public airwaves. PBS went on to become the most trusted institution in America, one offering resources rivaling those of great museums. It delivers its acclaimed programs coast to coast at no cost to viewers and small cost to taxpayers. Here’s how two government-supported organizations educated and informed millions at the flick of a switch.
Americans with Disabilities Act
No law before or since has changed the built environment as much as the Americans with Disabilities Act and yet done so in ways so subtle as to be unnoticed by most. But if you are in a wheelchair—or are pushing a stroller or dragging wheeled luggage—you’ve benefited from its changes, which make America a fairer and more accessible place for millions of adults and children.
Every state has some form of vocational education, which is often called career and technical education. But this vital public service suffers from too many providers and not enough supply. This is a casebook example of how government could do a better job, if a leader would step forward. And it may be that only the federal government could play that leading role, as it did in the late 1800s in shaping American colleges and universities.
Playgrounds and Recreation
Cities began building playgrounds in the late 1800s and early 1900s as a way of getting young children out of traffic and older ones away from delinquency. In time, the physical spaces were joined by recreation programs organized by nonprofit organizations. Today, it’s not only children who use America’s publicly owned playgrounds, athletic fields, parks, and streams. Tens of millions of adults do, too. And for our access to inexpensive recreation, we can thank government.