Thursday, January 13, 2011

Right sizing the federal workforce?

In the January 10, 2011 edition of the Federal Times, Stephen Losey reports that both Congress and the Deficit Commission were angling to reduce the federal workforce from the 2010 level of 2,113,980 permanent civilians to a level of 1,913,980. That's a reduction of 200,000 employees, or about 10%. These figures do not include private contractors doing federal work, a force that is estimated to expand the size of government by 1/4th to 1/3rd.

Given the current economic times, many of those on the Right side of the aisle want to see government shrink. They argue that the federal government does too many things it has no business doing, and, to paraphrase the Republican leadership, is a job killing entity.

So, of course, they want to kill 200,000 actual jobs (at a savings by 2015 of $13.2 Billion) in an economy where we bounce back and forth around 10% unemployment. They presume that, in so doing, they would somehow stimulate the economy, and also make inroads in reducing the "regulatory burden" that they accuse government of inflicting on the economy.

I have three problems with that approach. First, with unemployment as high as it is, why intentionally increase that number just to make a political point? Wouldn't it be prudent to keep people who have jobs employed, so they can spend their paychecks and drive some portion of the recovery?

Second, that $13.2 Billion is a small fraction of the deficit - 9.6% to be precise. Rounding to 10% of this year's deficit, one still has to ask if it is worth it. Sure, a 10% reduction is an appealing target, but if one looks at the numbers, one finds that mandatory spending, coupled with decreased revenue through decreased tax receipts, is the real culprit. The real problem is that it's less then 1% of the $14 Trillion National debt, and that is the real economic drag that keeps our country from surging forward in many areas.

My third issue is philosophical. When Congress, particularly Republican members of Congress, talk about reducing the size of government, what they want more often then not is to do away with things like Medicare, Medicaid, Welfare, the new health insurance regulations, environmental protection, science, and all manner of other social programs. They do not suggest cutting defense, or law enforcement. So to achieve that 200,000 person reduction, they will start from a disproportionately small set of government functions. And when that reduction fails to produce any economic benefit (but significantly hampers the delivery of federal services to Americans) they will lambaste government and seek to shrink it even more.

What I'd rather see is a robust debate on what government should do, followed by a realistic discourse on what it can do with the resources it has. Too many politicians (and their spoon-fed constituents) expect the impossible - maximum service for minimum investment. And my fellow federal workers pay the price every time it rains bad economic news.


Mike at The Big Stick said...

This conservative would be happy to see a huge reduction in defense spending.

Philip H. said...

I agree that would be great, but we'd need to rearrange the deck chairs in Congress.