By David Luban
During his campaign, Donald Trump promised “a hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce the federal workforce through attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health).” Recently, the Washington Post reported that Trump and Republican legislators are drawing up plans for “eroding job protections and grinding down benefits that federal workers have received for a generation.” The bloated federal bureaucracy has long been a favored target of Republicans aiming to solve the problem of big government.
But the Trump plan solves a non-existent problem: It turns out that the huge federal bureaucracy is not that huge. The civilian federal workforce is smaller than it’s been in 50 years, when the U.S. population was only 62 percent what it is today. If anything, it’s too small, not too large.
The table here, from the Office of Personnel Management, is a compilation of the number of federal employees (both civilian and military) from 1962 to 2014, and it is surprising. More or less steadily, the federal workforce has shrunk over the years – not just relative to the population, but in absolute numbers.
Let me repeat: The population keeps going up, while the federal civilian workforce keeps shrinking. It peaked in 1969. Today’s federal workforce has 377,000 fewer employees than in 1969, while today’s population is 58 percent larger. And today’s economy is 348 percent bigger (as measured by GDP in constant dollars; see here). Where many Americans perceive a large and inefficient bureaucracy, what they are actually watching is an ever-shrinking bureaucracy trying to do a larger job.
Picture: By Another Believer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons