NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Hidden Federal Work Force

January 13, 1999

Although President Clinton boasts that he has cut the size of the federal government by nearly 400,000 employees over five years, when all those who do work for the government are counted the total mounts to about 17 million. That's big, critics charge.

  • In 1996, the 17 million included 1.8 million civil servants directly employed by the federal government, 1.5 million uniformed military personnel and 850,000 postal workers.
  • Then add in 5.6 million contract employees -- of whom 4 million were working under service contracts.
  • Finally, there were 2.5 million grant employees and 4.7 million state and local employees encumbered under federal mandates.
  • The visible federal work force plus this huge shadow contingent accounted for 64 jobs per 1,000 Americans in 1996 -- not the 11 per 1,000 advertised in that year's federal budget.

Researchers say the number of federal contract employees did drop during the first years of "reinventing government" -- although the numbers of grant employees held steady. Factoring in continued cuts in the number of uniformed military personnel, the total federal work force was almost 750,000 smaller in 1996 than in 1993 -- and has gotten smaller since.

Yet experts contend most of those cuts came from the Pentagon downsizing begun at the end of the Vietnam war and accelerated under President Bush. The total workforce of defense contractors dropped 210,000 between 1993 and 1996 -- while military personnel and civil service employees declined another 385,000.

If one removes such contract-driven agencies and the Department of Energy and NASA from the 1993-96 calculation, the federal work force actually grew slightly under the Clinton administration -- mostly in crime-fighting activities at the Justice Department.

Source: Paul C. Light (Brookings Institution), "Big Government Is Bigger Than You Think," Wall Street Journal, January 13, 1999.


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