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October 29, 2002

Do GOP Presidents Expand Govt?

P.L.A. has some compelling numbers on how, against conventional wisdom, the number of government employees expanded more under GOP Presidents than under Democrat executives. The bottom line:

"Of the 369,000 employees added between 1962 and 2001, 84% were added under Republican administrations and 16% were added under Democratic administrations."

Except the whole exercise ignores the partisan makeup of Congress. And the reality was that when the Democrats controlled both the Presidency and Congress under Kennedy & Johnson, the government added 178,000 employees. Dems continued to control Congress under Nixon and at least one House under Reagan (regaining the Senate in 1986). And of course, the GOP controlled both Houses of Congress under Clinton from 1995 onwards, so the massive cut in federal employment under Clinton can't necessarily be simply assigned to Dems. The really interesting period is Carter, when Dems controlled both White House and Congress and employment fell, but not that significantly.

Now, I say all this because I don't think cutting government employment is anything to brag about. It usually means cutting services or using tax dollars to hire private companies to do work previously done by unionized federal employees.

See this CATO article by a GOP staffer about how Clinton changed to much more serious employment cuts because of the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994.

Update: For more information on how privatization has been a big part of the cut in federal employment, check out this Brookings Institute report:

"Between 1984 and 1996, the non-Defense Department contract and grant work force grew by one-sixth (600,000) jobs...Gone are the days when most of the goods and sevices consumed by government were produced in house. Because the federal government has become increasingly dependent on contractors, grantees, and state and local employees to meet its missions, its true size at the turn of the century drawfs the early 1960s. The true size of government-- a work force that encompasses an estimated 5.6 million jobs created under federal contracts, another 2.4 million jobs generated under grants, and 4.6 million jobs covered under mandates to state and local governments, as well as the formal civil service workers and uniformed military, totals almost 17 million workers."
The bottom line is that between shifting jobs to state governments through mandates and revenue grants and contracting out to private firms, fluctuations in the official federal civil service employment numbers are not a very accurate proxy for the size of government.

Where contracting out numbers matter is that they can easily disguise waste and abuse in contracts to politcally connected firms-- defense contracts being the most notorious example. See the American Federation of Government Employees' (AFGE) web site on the issue: SWAMP Campaign (Stop Wasting America's Money on Privatization) , which "aims to prevent agencies from contracting out our work to politically connected businesses who rake-in billions of dollars in sure-fire profits from Uncle Sam." As they note, Bush wants to contract out hundreds of thousands of federal jobs to its business buddies. See my post The Enronization of the Army for an example. Or note Haliburton being given the contract to supply Guantanamo Bay, among many other contracts.

Posted by Nathan at October 29, 2002 12:09 AM

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In 1993 there were 1,256,000 non-defense employees of the federal government.
In 1994 -- 1,236,000 net -20,000
In 1995 -- 1,210,000 net -26,000
In 1996 -- 1,165,000 net -45,000
In 1997 -- 1,149,000 net -16,000
In 1998 -- 1,163,000 net +14,000
In 1999 -- 1,156,000 net -7,000
In 2000 -- 1,133,000 net -23,000
In 2001 -- 1,151,000 net +18,000

The non-defense federal workforce was reduced by 46,000 employees in the two years Clinton worked with a Democratic Senate. In the 6 years of divided Government, the workforce was reduced by 76,000.

In both my post as well as this comment, I have not suggested causation, but rather simply reported the numbers.

Posted by: dwight meredith at October 29, 2002 01:08 AM

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