Bush speaks at a startup in San Francisco on Thursday.  Earlier in the week he said there is no reason to have 2 million-plus workers in the federal government.

Bush speaks at a startup in San Francisco on Thursday. Earlier in the week he said there is no reason to have 2 million-plus workers in the federal government. Eric Risberg / AP

Shrinking the 'Beast' of the Federal Workforce, and Other Ideas From the Campaign Trail

Jeb Bush muses on incompetent employees; Clinton delves into procurement reform.

There are now more than 20 major candidates officially running for president in the 2016 election, and all of them have some ideas for making the federal government work better.

They have incorporated those ideas, to varying degrees, in their campaign stops throughout the early primary states and in major policy addresses. At a town hall in Nevada on Friday, former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., spoke of the need to  “shrink the beast” of the federal workforce.

Bush said in Florida “you can fire someone for incompetence” and the same practice should be brought to federal government. The former governor was speaking from experience: as Florida’s chief executive, he stripped 16,000 state employees of due process rights and reduced the size of the state’s workforce by 25 percent. Bush specifically pointed to the Veterans Affairs Department as an example of bureaucratic incompetence where bad employees had to be let go.

(Another presidential contender, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., coauthored a 2014 law that made it easier to fire senior executives at VA, though the Democratic candidate played a key role in ensuring the managers maintained limited due process rights.)

Earlier in the week, Bush said, “There’s no reason to have 2 million-plus workers in the federal government.” He also hinted at a desire to reform the political appointee process, saying “people with expertise to drive the economy” should be running agencies, not “political hacks.”

The man many see as the Republican frontrunner did not have bad things to say about all of federal government, however. Bush praised the work of NASA, and said it should not have been “gutted” the way it has been under President Obama.

Bush was not the only presidential contender to praise NASA this week. Hillary Clinton also voiced her support for the agency, saying she “really, really” supports the space program. In fact, Clinton said when she was 14 years old she wrote a letter to NASA to detail her dream of one day working for the agency, only to be told the agency was not accepting female astronauts.

Clinton became the first candidate to tackle the issue of federal procurement reform on the campaign trail, saying the current process -- especially when it comes to technology acquisition -- is too slow.

“Cumbersome procurement and bureaucratic obstacles within the federal government" hurt agencies’ abilities to boost cybersecurity, said Clinton, who had four years of experience dealing with federal procurement as secretary of State.

Clinton made the comments on cybersecurity in the wake of the multiple breaches of data maintained by the Office of Personnel Management, which exposed the personal information of more than 22 million Americans. Many Republicans also weighed in on the issue, mostly by calling for Katherine Archuleta to resign as the OPM’s director -- which she subsequently did.

Carly Fiorina, who lags far behind in national polling, continued to be the most vocal proponent of civil service reform of the 2016 contenders, writing a USA Today op-ed on the subject in relation to the OPM hacks.

Civil servants, she wrote, “refused to step up to the plate” to boost government systems’ security prior to the breaches. She said the “ineptitude” was not limited to OPM.

“We see it throughout the government,” the former federal employee and private sector executive wrote. “It is simply another example of the ineptitude of a giant government bureaucracy that has grown too big for its own good.”

Fiorina said her reforms will help save the federal government from repeating the mistakes made at OPM.

“I will also put an end to the bloated, corrupt bureaucracy that enabled this crisis in the first place,” she wrote. “I will work to reform the civil service, developing and encouraging a culture of meritocracy. I will make sure our government is a small, flexible force for positive change -- instead of a vast system dedicated to protecting the status quo.”

In Nevada on Friday, Bush also said someone from OPM should have been fired due to the hack. (Archuleta stepped down, but the White House said she did so of her own volition).