Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Caution: Dramatic Expansion of Government Ahead

With the President's slumping poll numbers, talks of a GOP comeback in 2010 and the troubled futures of ObamaCare and Cap-and-Trade, conservatives have a lot to be happy (well, happier, at least) about these days.

Well, allow me to throw some very cold water on the party, courtesy of the Washington Post:
The federal government needs to hire more than 270,000 workers for "mission-critical" jobs over the next three years, a surge prompted in part by the large number of baby-boomer federal workers reaching retirement age, according to the results of a government-wide survey being released Thursday.

The numbers also reflect the Obama administration's intent to take on several enormous challenges, including the repair of the financial sector, fighting two wars, and addressing climate change.

Yikes. But those aren't even the scariest lines. That honor goes to this gem:

Mission-critical jobs are those positions identified by the agencies as being essential for carrying out their services. The study estimates that the federal government will need to hire nearly 600,000 people for all positions over President Obama's four years -- increasing the current workforce by nearly one-third.

WHAAAT? Increasing federal payrolls by ONE-THIRD over only FOUR years!?! I don't know about you, but that is a devastating statistic. Here's hoping that the methodological flaws hinted to in the underlying study prove true. But assuming the data are even close to accurate, this should be really eye-opening, not only because of the sheer numbers, but also due to these supporting facts:

The nation's unsettled economy and high unemployment rate may ease the government's task, as workers turn to the federal sector for job security and good benefits. ...

[The study's author] said Obama's vow to make government service "cool" and federal efforts to streamline the hiring process should leave the government in good stead to make the hires.

So to recap: the struggling private sector will find it difficult to compete with cushy government gigs, made even more attractive by the President's supercoolness. How is this is a good thing? Since when is depleting the private sector of talent and resources a good thing for the American (presumably capitalist) economy?

But never fear, folks. In its typical, unbiased fashion, the Post offers us the following "solace":

Despite the projected growth in federal jobs, the size of the government would be no larger than at most other times in the country's post-World War II history, both in relative and absolute terms.

In 1970, for example, the number of civilians on the federal payroll numbered 2,095,100, a figure that represented a little more than 1 percent of the U.S. population. In 2008, the comparable figure was 2,020,200, or 0.66 percent of the population.

However, the figures do not reflect the enormous growth of the government contractor force as the result of privatization efforts pursued by previous administrations.

The Obama administration has signaled in its budget its intention to replace many contractors with government workers, particularly in the field of defense acquisition. This is another reason for the predicted surge in government hiring.

Oh, goody. Only the economic braintrust at the Washington Post could assert that (i) the sprawling failure of 1970's Great-Society-fueled bureaucracy is an appropriate benchmark for modern government; (ii) an almost two-fold reduction in the size of the public sector (as a share of the population) from 1970 to 2008 is insignificant; and (iii) a reversal of previous "privatization efforts" is a good thing. As we all know, nothing could be further from the truth.

So don't celebrate too much, small-governmenters. Just because you're winning a few battles doesn't mean that the war is close to over.

(And as an aside, I'm all for real privatization, not federal contracting, but when weighing evils, I'd certainly prefer private contractors to an army of bureaucrats who, of course, would further fill the coffers of the country's largest union.)

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