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Five Charts That Show the Pentagon's Shrinking Civilian Workforce

The percentage of Uncle Sam's civilians employed at the Defense Department is decreasing.

It's well-known that the Defense Department is the largest agency in the U.S. government. President Obama's fiscal 2016 spending request for the Pentagon -- $534.3 billion -- is more than six times the next largest request of $79.9 billion for the Health and Human Services Department. According to Office of Management and Budget estimates, Defense will employ 34.6 percent of all federal employees in 2015.

That's changing, though. That 34.6 percent figure is down from the Obama administration's peak of 36.7 percent in 2010 and is far below the modern peak of 49.3 percent in 1986. The figure has been on the decline since 1986 and has hovered between 34 percent and 37 percent since the turn of the century.

The actual size of Defense's civilian workforce has been on a steady decline from its peak in 1981-1982 of more than 1 million employees to its recent nadir of 649,000 employees in 2003. The number of civilian Defense employees has increased recently to an average of 741,000 during Obama's presidency (using White House estimates for the number of 2015 and 2016 civilian employees). If Obama's budget proposal were enacted, the Pentagon would lose 2,900 full-time civilian employees next year. Some Republican lawmakers would like to cut even further; one bill would slash more than 115,000 Defense civilian jobs. 

The total number of civilian government employees is up to an estimated 2.10 million in 2015 from its low of 1.74 million in 2001. After a period of decline and a plateau in the number of feds from 1993-2008, the Obama administration has, on average, added to the civilian workforce. According to 2015 OMB estimates, the federal government has added approximately 350,000 jobs since 2008.

The charts below show the changes in the Defense civilian workforce relative to that of other agencies over the span of 30 years.