It is easy. It is simple. It plays into the current cynicism of Americans.
Bash government. Tear into not just Washington and the gridlock but into the federal government itself.
If you listen to this crop of Republican presidential candidates you will get an earful – constantly.
Carly Fiorina, for example, said in the CNBC debate, “And this big, powerful, corrupt bureaucracy works now only for the big, the powerful, the wealthy and the well-connected.” Heck, she sounds like Huey Long, what a populist. But coming from Fiorina, the epitome of the super wealthy, this statement is, indeed, rich.
And Chris Christie couldn’t resist: “The government has lied to you, and they have stolen from you.”
The debate went on and on with each candidate trying to outdo the other with attacks on government. So, you say, what’s new about that – it has been going on for decades.
Aside from being destructive and counterproductive, the attitude towards government as a big, bad, out-of-control bureaucracy increasingly does not fit reality.
First, let’s take a look at what constitutes the current federal government. Across the U.S., there are about 2,750,000 executive, legislative and judicial employees (federal civilian employees). There are another approximately 1,400,000 uniformed military employees. These numbers don’t include contractors or the postal service.
But here is a very interesting fact: Of those 2,750,000 civilian employees in government, 1,232,000 are employed in a military or homeland security capacity – about 60 percent. And the vast majority are employed outside the Washington area.
Veterans Affairs leads the list with 326,000 civilian employees, followed by the Army with 257,000, Homeland Security with 193,000, the Navy with 192,000, the Air Force with 166,00 and the Department of Defense with 98,000.
Thus, when we add those to the uniformed military we come up with about 2.7 million, which leaves only about 1.5 million working for the federal government in traditional non-defense/security-related agencies or for Congress or the judiciary.
And many of those employees whom voters typically associate as “government” have seen serious reductions over the last decade.
For those who constantly complain about government’s growth, from 2003 to 2013 we have seen workforce reductions of 17 percent at Housing and Urban Development, 14 percent at Agriculture, 11 percent at Treasury, 10 percent at Education, 10 percent at Environmental Protection Agency, 8 percent at Interior and the list goes on.
In addition, when considered as a percentage of the overall workforce, the 2,750,000 constitute just 2 percent, and the 1.5 million non-defense/security-related, just about 1 percent.
The bottom line, too, is that most of these people are working hard to do more with less, are committed to serving the public and care about contributing to society. They may not be glamorous jobs, or very high paying, but they are fulfilling because civil servants know that they are there to make a difference in people’s lives. The vast majority simply care and care deeply. And they don’t deserve the derision of politicians. Government is not the problem, and it is not bloated; sadly, that may be more of an apt description of some of the politicians.