NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The True Size of Government

September 12, 2003

The Bush Administration has brought the era of big government back, says Paul Light (Brookings Institution). While the number of official government employees declined slightly after President Bush took office, the number of full-time employees working on government contracts and grants has zoomed by more than one million people since 1999, bringing the overall head count to more than 12.1 million.

Light's report is likely to fuel debate about the administration's approach, at a time when budget deficits are ballooning and the President is pressuring Democrats to hold down federal spending. Other analysts have noted an expansion of government in some areas in the Bush years, but Light's survey sketches a broader picture:

  • Growth has occurred in such diverse areas as the Department of Health and Human Services and the General Services Administration -- not just in areas such as homeland security and defense following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
  • Growth is happening entirely outside traditional civil-service hiring channels.

In addition to individuals who owe their employment directly to the federal government, the report suggests states still need to add about three million jobs by 2010 to meet Bush administration mandates in education and homeland security, although no such growth appears yet in the study. That would bring total federal-related employment to 20 million from 17 million, Light predicts.

Source: Tom Hamburger, "Despite Bush's Credo, Government Grows: As Conservatives Groan, Study Cites Increase Of Employees on Federal Contracts, Grants," Wall Street Journal, September 4, 2003; based on Paul C. Light, "Fact Sheet on the New True Size of Government," Brookings Institution, September 5, 2003.

For text (WSJ subscription required),,SB106262519812480700,00.html


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