Some Surprising Facts on the 'Swamp' and the Hiring Freeze

Brookings scholar’s numbers show a federal workforce smaller than rhetoric suggests.

Political scientist John J. Dilulio Jr., who worked briefly in the George W. Bush White House, believes the ongoing debate over President Trump’s hiring freeze and vow to “drain the swamp” could use a more extremely vetted set of (nonalternative) facts.

In a Feb. 13 blogpost for the Brookings Institution, where he is a telecommuting senior fellow, he lays out 10 points designed to better define “big government,” whether one cares most about spending, activity or workforce size.

“America has over-leveraged, not limited, government,” says the author of the 2014 book Bring Back the Bureaucrats: Why More Federal Workers Will Lead to Better (and Smaller!) Government. "Our debt-financed and proxy-administered system has been growing for a half-century under both parties. Freezing our federal workforce, which is the same size today as it was in 1960, will have no significant impact on federal spending.”

What’s more, Dilulio writes, to “drain the swamp” in Washington as President Trump promised “would mean draining state and local governments, private contractors, nonprofit grantees and middle-class entitlement beneficiaries like most Medicare beneficiaries.”

The size of the federal workforce (civilians, not uniformed military or postal workers) has remained roughly the same for the past 57 years, he says: about 1.8 million in 1960 when President Kennedy was elected and again in 2000 when George W. Bush won the highest office. Similarly, when President Reagan was reelected in 1984, the feds numbered 2.2 million, actually 200,000 more than when Barack Obama won election in 2008, according to the blogpost.

The number of contractors—a notoriously tricky figure to nail down—has been estimated at about 5 million in 1990 to about 7.5 million in 2013, Dilulio writes.

Government’s workload, meanwhile, has increased dramatically, judging by the dollars spent, the addition of seven Cabinet departments since 1960, and the rise in the number of pages of the Federal Register, he says.