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January 3 2018

Honey, I Shrank the Federal Workforce

by Charlotte Hays

Quote of the Day:

“I tell my people, ‘Where you don’t need to fill slots, don’t fill them,’ ” Trump told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham in November.

--the Washington Post

Wow! Imagine that--hiring people only for jobs that need to be done!

And this radical proposition seems to be having an effect.

The Washington Post analyzes federal personnel data and finds that President Trump is delivering on a promise near and dear to those who believe government is too big:

Nearly a year into his takeover of Washington, President Trump has made a significant down payment on his campaign pledge to shrink the federal bureaucracy, a shift long sought by conservatives that could eventually bring the workforce down to levels not seen in decades.

By the end of September, all Cabinet departments except Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs and Interior had fewer permanent staff than when Trump took office in January — with most shedding many hundreds of employees, according to an analysis of federal personnel data by The Washington Post.

The diminishing federal footprint comes after Trump promised in last year’s campaign to “cut so much your head will spin,” and it reverses a boost in hiring under President Barack Obama. The falloff has been driven by an exodus of civil servants, a diminished corps of political appointees and an effective hiring freeze.

Even though Congress did not pass a new budget in his first year, the drastic spending cuts Trump laid out in the spring — which would slash more than 30 percent of funding at some agencies — also has triggered a spending slowdown, according to officials at multiple departments.

The Obama administration added 188,000 permanent federal employees to the rolls, according to Office of Personnel Management stats cited in the story. The decline in the number of federal employees is comparatively small but, if it continues, it will signal a welcome decrease in the size of government.

There has also been a substantial falling off in staffing at a number of federal agencies, which doesn't show up in OPM data. Some of the decline seems to stem from the polarizing effects of the Trump presidency, which has led to voluntary departures by federal workers. The story reports that during the first six months of the Trump administration, 71,285 career employees retired or otherwise left government--up from around 50,000 during the same period in 2009.

And here's a key quote:

“Morale has never been lower,” said Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 federal workers at more than 30 agencies. “Government is making itself a lot less attractive as an employer.”

Ah, but the unfairness of it all:

For those inside the bureaucracy, a new Trump-era focus on accountability has meant working under greater oversight — and in some cases, fear of reprisals.

Agencies have told employees that they should no longer count on getting glowing reviews in their performance appraisals, according to staff in multiple offices, as has been the case for years.

Housing and Urban Development managers, for example, are being evaluated for the first time on how effectively they address poor performers, according to Ashaki Robinson Johns, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 476, which represents HUD employees.

The truth is that government workers have traditionally been insulated from some of the realities that private sector workers routinely face. It is almost impossible, for example, to fire a federal worker who underperforms or presents disciplinary problems. If government employment is now coming more in line with private sector work rules, that is a good thing.

The Post of course presents the decline in federal employment in some agencies as "crippling" and even proposes it will be harmful to some of President Trump's agenda--including beefing up the military and tax reform (if our tax system becomes simpler and clearer, a leaner IRS should be able to handle it, right?).

Most deliciously, one former "high profile" federal worker is quoted saying that he left because the new administration was trying to use private sector solutions in government! (He also retired from government, he said, because of President Trump's dust-up with former FBI director James Comey--the former federal employee could not give his loyalty to Trump. But the federal bureaucracy is supposed to work for whomever is elected, not carve out empires oflike-minded individuals in a byzantine and bloated bureaucratic structure. I'd say that early retirement was an honest, and quite revealing, solution for this particular former federal bureaucrat, who now toils in the private sector, where we taxpayers are not forced to pick up the tab for his salary.)

I'm glad to get a lot of these folks off our payroll, but I want to close with what the always-astute Ed Morrissey says about reducing the federal workforce--he gets to the heart of the matter:

Reducing the federal bureaucracy is an excellent overall goal, but to do that intelligently, one has to reduce the mandates those bureaucrats serve. It’s not enough to merely starve the beast because someone will come along soon enough to feed it again.  That requires strong personnel in all policy-making arenas who are committed to ending empire-building within the federal government in order to end the programs that intrude on personal liberty and generate inefficiencies and corruption.

But, as Morrissey says, 2017 was a start on this excellent path.

Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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