By the Numbers

Here's a look at the numbers behind the outsourcing surge.

All the controversy about competitive sourcing of federal jobs masks a more important trend: Government is outsourcing key operations from the start.

Unlike the competitive sourcing of existing government functions, this does not pit federal workers against private sector bidders. It's simply the way government is going about its business. New and expanding missions demand new technologies and more workers, but Congress and the Bush administration have little appetite for increasing the federal workforce. So the work goes to the private sector.

The graph on this page illuminates the trend. Since 1960, the U.S. population is up by 64 percent. The gross domestic product has more than tripled in constant dollars. Federal spending has nearly kept pace, rising 313 percent. But the federal civil service has increased only 3.5 percent.

At the same time, federal procurement has surged, climbing toward $400 billion a year, an increase of $160 billion from 2001 to 2005. Driven by war, floods and homeland security requirements, that number is climbing still. And so:

  • The Homeland Security Department is, in effect, turning a sovereign function- control of the nation's borders-over to private industry. "We're asking you to come back and tell us how to do our business," DHS Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson told and industry audience earlier this year.
  • The Transportation Security Administration is looking to sign a nationwide contract to produce hundreds of thousands of transportation worker identification cards-and to screen applicants for the sensitive credential.
  • Procurement has become such big business that companies are turning to K Street's lobbying community in the hope that a little subtle pressure from Capitol Hill can grease the wheels in the contracting process.
  • The Pentagon is contracting out thousands of intelligence jobs once done by civil servants and uniformed military personnel, The Washington Post reported recently.

There is nothing wrong with asking the private sector to help with the big challenges facing the nation, remarked Office of Management and Budget official Robert Shea at an April 13 luncheon sponsored by Government Executive and the National Academy of Public Administration. Neal Peirce, a journalist without peer on matters of federalism, observed in his March 12 column that corporations now are regaining the role they played for many decades in financing highways and other major infrastructure projects.

So it's just a fact of life. We are, as Tom Shoop wrote in his April 15 column, a "Contractor Nation."

The Ultimate in Productivity?

Population and economic growth from 1960 to 2005 far outpaced change in the federal workforce.

Gross Domestic Product* 345%
Federal spending* 313%
U.S. population 64%
Civil service 3.5%

* In constant dollars

Source: Budget of the U.S. Government, Fiscal 2007; Economic Report of the President, 2006

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