Republican presidential contenders (from left) Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson look on as Donald Trump answers a question during the debate.

Republican presidential contenders (from left) Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson look on as Donald Trump answers a question during the debate. Mark J. Terrill / AP

Here's Everything Federal Employees Need to Know About Wednesday's GOP Debate

Fifteen Republican presidential candidates square off on the size and role of the federal government.

The 11 top candidates for the Republican presidential nomination participated in the party’s third debate on Wednesday. The event, held in Boulder, Colo., focused on the economy, which throughout the night, turned into a discussion on the role of the federal government. Here are the main takeaways from the contenders on how they would change or reform federal agencies and their workforces.

  • Ben Carson: The retired neurosurgeon said there are 645 federal departments and agencies (a number that is disputed, depending on what one counts). “Anybody who tells me that we need every penny and every one of those is in a fantasy world,” Carson said. He didn’t get into specifics, but said the cuts would make up for the lost revenue from his reduced taxes.
  • Rand Paul: The Kentucky senator voiced his opposition to the budget deal that passed the House on Wednesday, saying “the debt ceiling should be used as leverage to reform government.” The deal would lift sequester caps. Paul noted the sequester was created to rein in federal spending, but it is no longer doing that. 
  • Carly Fiorina: Without getting into specifics, the former Hewlett-Packard executive said the only way to “level the playing field” is to rein in the bloated federal government. The CNBC moderators, who faced significant criticism throughout the debate, asked Fiorina if she thought the federal government should help private businesses establish retirement savings accounts for their employees, but Fiorina said government should stay out of people’s retirements. President Obama has proposed allowing all Americans to invest in the Government Securities Fund currently available to federal employees and retirees through the Thrift Savings Plan.
  • Mike Huckabee: The former Arkansas governor also took to criticizing the size of government, saying the military blimp that broke loose in Pennsylvania earlier Wednesday was a “perfect example” of a runaway government.
  • Ted Cruz: Like Paul, the Texas senator also called the budget deal terrible. Cruz was the first on the debate stage to suggest doing away with a specific federal agency. He called for tax returns to be filed on a postcard “so we can eliminate the Internal Revenue Service.”
  • John Kasich: The Ohio governor also tackled federal agency reform. He said the power of the Education Department to give out grants should be reduced. He also, however, seemed to make up a federal agency, saying he would reform the “welfare department.”
  • Chris Christie: The New Jersey governor also weighed in on things the federal government should not do, saying it should not regulate daily fantasy football websites that many say equate to gambling. Instead, Christie said the federal government should focus on securing the nation's borders, “protecting our people” and “supporting the values of the American people.” He also called the Justice Department overly political.

Paul pretty much summed up the sentiment of everyone on the stage, saying he would like to see a “government so small I can barely see it.” Fiorina followed that by saying she would shrink government and “hold it accountable.”

Before the main event, four candidates squared off in the undercard debate. They discussed the budget deal, the need to cut federal spending and their experiences in limiting government. Here are some takeaways:

  • Lindsey Graham: The senator from South Carolina answered his first question with a shot at Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for her comments last week in which she said the scandals at the Veterans Affairs Department were not as widespread as some had made them out to be. Clinton this week partially walked those comments back, saying she would roll out a VA reform plan next month. Asked about cyber attacks carried out by foreign governments against the United States, Graham -- after alluding to the hack of federal employees, retirees and clearance seekers -- said, “Make me commander in chief and this crap stops.” 
  • George Pataki: Like Graham, the former New York governor said he would support the bipartisan budget deal, but only because President Obama “held the military hostage.” 
  • Bobby Jindal: The Louisiana governor noted, “We have 30,000 fewer employees than when I took office,” suggesting he would do the same thing to the federal government. Jindal also said he did not support the budget deal.