In his Second Inaugural Address, Thomas Jefferson boasted that his Administration had accomplished:
“The suppression of unnecessary offices, of useless establishments and expenses. … These covering our land with officers, and opening our doors to their intrusions, had already begun that process of domiciliary vexation which, once entered, is scarcely to be restrained from reaching successively every article of produce and property.”
Kristin Tate argues that Donald Trump needs to be more actively devoted to following Jefferson’s example.
After eight years of reckless expansion of the federal workforce under Barack Obama, Donald Trump vowed to downsize the wildly growing bureaucracy of Washington. In 2016, he promised to â€œcut so much your head will spin. However, during the first two years of his presidency, there has been no significant effort to reduce the bloated federal payrolls. In fact, the federal government is the largest employer in the nation.
Walmart, which has a presence in communities of all shapes and sizes, is the largest private employer in the nation with 1.5 million workers. Yet the number of Americans who rely on the corporate giant for their livelihoods is dwarfed by the number who rely on the federal government for their paychecks. The federal government employs nearly 9.1 million workers, comprising nearly 6 percent of total employment in the United States. The figure includes nearly 2.1 million federal employees, 4.1 million contract employees, 1.2 million grant employees, 1.3 million active duty military personnel, and more than 500,000 postal service employees.
Many of the individuals serving our nation are high quality workers who provide necessary and worthwhile services. However, there are valid economic reasons to be concerned by the sheer size of the public sector workforce. Government employment operates separately from market forces and causes a disconnect from the economy. During downturns, many businesses have to pull back on operations or payroll, but since Washington has the power of taxation and printing dollars, there is no incentive for tightening its belt beyond vapid election year promises.
As I outlined in an opinion column earlier this year, federal workers often enjoy pay and benefits that private sector workers can only dream of. For example, they receive pay that is 17 percent higher on average than private sector employees who perform comparable work, even though they work 12 percent fewer fewer hours on average. Meanwhile, federal workers face a 0.2 percent chance of getting fired in any given year. That is more than 45 times lower than their private sector counterparts.
While full time federal employee compensation and benefits are above market, at least these figures are relatively transparent and accountable. However, many taxpayers may not realize they are additionally subsidizing a ballooning shadow government of some 5.3 million contract and grant employees. While politicians often promise to cut the size of government, many fail to acknowledge the increasing number of contract workers.
The use of contract workers can be a dangerous means of hiding the true cost of the federal government workforce from the general public. Often contractors are used for practical reasons, like temporary projects not requiring full time employment. But in other cases, these contractors can actually come at a much steeper cost than full time federal workers.
The Pentagon found that hiring contractors was more expensive for most positions than simply using civilian employees. Contract workers are especially costly and often used during times of conflict. From 1999 to 2010, the number of contractors hired by the federal government more than doubled. When you factor in state and local governments, which together employ 7.4 million workers, the entire government workforce as a share of total employment in the nation sits at more than 18 percent.
We cannot sustain ourselves without a public sector workforce. But an increasingly bloated class of government employees in powerful unions and corporations seeking contracts is a recipe for disaster. Government needs to be nimble rather than creating perverse incentives for higher compensation for work that could be done in more productive sectors of the economy. With our $22 trillion debt, programs like the Green New Deal will balloon the federal workforce further and could cost taxpayers more than $90 trillion. We cannot pay for what we have now, even before the promise of the plan to give money to those who are â€œunwilling to work.â€