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The sheer size of our government workforce is an alarming problem

Stefani Reynolds

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 “cut 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.

{mosads}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 “unwilling to work.”

With the extreme proposals of the Democrats, President Trump has a clear opportunity to counter them. He has not yet heeded the call for major cuts and has instead raised spending to levels beyond those of Barack Obama and George Bush. His efforts to “drain the swamp” have started by capping raises and some public sector hiring, but it is simply not enough for a nation burdened with debt that surpasses gross domestic output.

The role of government is not to provide an employment guarantee, despite what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez declares. Government is a neutral party to uphold contracts and ensure general public safety. Having the ultimate power over the lives of millions of Americans at every level, politicians treat the government workforce as a jobs program rather than fostering taxpayer efficiency. Members of Congress, and even President Trump, are not playing with house money. They are playing with yours.

Kristin Tate is a libertarian writer and author of “How Do I Tax Thee? A Field Guide to the Great American Rip-Off.” Follow her on Twitter @KristinBTate.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Americans Barack Obama Business Congress Donald Trump Economics Finance Government Kristin Tate Labor Policy President Taxation

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