You are here

History of Federal Agencies

15 January, 2016 - 09:30

Through the commerce clause in the US Constitution, Congress has the power to regulate trade between the states and with foreign nations. The earliest federal agency therefore dealt with trucking and railroads, to literally set the rules of the road for interstate commerce. The first federal agency, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), was created in 1887. Congress delegated to the ICC the power to enforce federal laws against railroad rate discrimination and other unfair pricing practices. By the early part of this century, the ICC gained the power to fix rates. From the 1970s through 1995, however, Congress passed deregulatory measures, and the ICC was formally abolished in 1995, with its powers transferred to the Surface Transportation Board.

Beginning with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 1914, Congress has created numerous other agencies, many of them familiar actors in American government. Today more than eighty-five federal agencies have jurisdiction to regulate some form of private activity. Most were created since 1930, and more than a third since 1960. A similar growth has occurred at the state level. Most states now have dozens of regulatory agencies, many of them overlapping in function with the federal bodies.