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Big Government’s Off-the-Books Bureaucrats

Friday March 10th, 2017   •   Posted by Craig Eyermann at 6:01am PST   •  

44711912 - bureaucrat giving money under a table George Will has an interesting column about how the number of people employed by government at all levels has grown since 1960. Here are the leading paragraphs:

In 1960, when John F. Kennedy was elected president, America’s population was 180 million and it had approximately 1.8 million federal bureaucrats (not counting uniformed military personnel and postal workers). Fifty-seven years later, with seven new Cabinet agencies, and myriad new sub-Cabinet agencies (e.g., the Environmental Protection Agency), and a slew of matters on the federal policy agenda that were virtually absent in 1960 (health care insurance, primary and secondary school quality, crime, drug abuse, campaign finance, gun control, occupational safety, etc.), and with a population of 324 million, there are only about 2 million federal bureaucrats.

So, since 1960, federal spending, adjusted for inflation, has quintupled and federal undertakings have multiplied like dandelions, but the federal civilian workforce has expanded only negligibly, to approximately what it was when Dwight Eisenhower was elected in 1952. Does this mean that “big government” is not really big? And that by doing much more with not many more employees it has accomplished prodigies of per-worker productivity? John J. DiIlulio Jr., of the University of Pennsylvania and the Brookings Institution, says: Hardly.

In his 2014 book “Bring Back the Bureaucrats,” he argued that because the public is, at least philosophically, against “big government,” government has prudently become stealthy about how it becomes ever bigger. In a Brookings paper, he demonstrates that government expands by indirection, using “administrative proxies” — state and local government, for-profit businesses, and nonprofit organizations. Since 1960, the number of state and local government employees has tripled to more than 18 million, a growth driven by federal money: Between the early 1960s and early 2010s, the inflation-adjusted value of federal grants for the states increased more than tenfold. For example, the EPA has fewer than 20,000 employees, but 90 percent of its programs are completely administered by thousands of state government employees, largely funded by Washington.

Although not directly employed by federal government entities, because these jobs are directly supported by funding provided by the U.S. government for the purpose of obtaining its objectives, they represent an effective extension of the federal payroll. As such, they are essentially “off-the-books” federal bureaucrats, which are funded through a combination of grants or contracts to non-profit organizations, as well as state and local governments.

Or as John DiIlulio describes them, they are “de facto Feds”, of which he estimates that there are 12 million people employed by state and local governments and nonprofit organizations for the purpose of administering federal government policies and programs, which are in addition to the 2.6 million civilian employees of the federal government and approximately 1.5 million uniformed military personnel.

  • With one-third of its revenues flowing from government, if only one-fifth of the 11 million nonprofit sector employees owe their jobs to federal or intergovernmental grant, contract, or fee funding, that’s 2.2 million workers.
  • As noted, the best for-profit contractor estimate is 7.5 million.
  • And the conservative sub-national government employee estimate is three million.
  • That’s 12.2 million in all, but let’s scale down to call it 12 million.
  • 12 million plus our good-old two million actual federal bureaucrats equals 14 million.
  • And how many were there back in 1960? The feds had some administrative proxies even then, maybe as many as two million, plus two million actual federal bureaucrats.
  • So, let’s call it 14 million in all today versus four million back when Ike was saying farewell.

So, the real federal bureaucracy, defined as the total number of people (federal civilian workers, de facto feds in state or local government agencies, for-profit contractor employees, and nonprofit workers) paid to administer federal policies and programs, probably increased at least 3.5-fold during the same five-and-a-half decades that real federal spending increased five-fold and the number of pages in the Federal Register increased six-fold.

Big government is a lot bigger than most people think!

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March 2017