Fixation on Size

Maybe it’s a man thing, this fixation on the size of the tool that is government.

I raise the issue because Jeb Bush recently made a speech in which he promised that he would reduce the size of the federal work force by 10 percent in four years. Much of that, he said, would be accomplished through attrition and a strict system of replacing every three departing federal workers with one new employee.

This is traditional political pandering, and it isn’t exclusive to the GOP. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Evan Bayh.) It’s a classic case of identifying the wrong problem. As any businessperson will confirm, a substantial part of good management involves “right sizing”–matching the size and skills of one’s workforce to the needs of the enterprise.

Announcing a rule that only one of every three departing federal workers will be replaced is simply stupid. The question citizens should be asking–not just at the federal level, but of those managing state and local units of government as well–is: is this task one that government should be doing? If not, we should stop doing it. (Granted, that’s easier said than done, but that should be our goal.) If the task is one of the many things We the People have determined is an important and/or proper function of government, then our focus should be on ensuring that it is done well. That means making an evidence-based determination of the resources–human and otherwise–that the job requires.

The American commitment to limited government has little or nothing to do with the size of government, and everything to do with intrusions by the state into matters that our system leaves to the private sector.

We can–and should–argue about the proper role of government. But once we agree that government needs to do something–protect the country, issue Social Security checks, monitor compliance with tax laws, print money, whatever–then our focus should shift to monitoring performance and making sure that government has what it needs in order to operate efficiently and competently.

As any woman can tell you, size is definitely not what matters.


  1. “We can–and should–argue about the proper role of government. But once we agree that government needs to do something–protect the country, issue Social Security checks, monitor compliance with tax laws, print money,”

    Sheila, since 1913, printing money has been the function of a private company based in Delaware, with very rich shareholders, and they don’t print a piece of it. You know it as the Federal Reserve, but there’s nothing “Federal” about it. A very tiny percentage of actual notes are printed by the government, and they give tours to tourists who don’t know that’s not where real money comes from.

    As for government workers, there’s far too many of them for every function that must be performed, and they are grossly overpaid. Washington D.C. should be a perpetually depressed area, not a boomtown.

  2. Government at all levels is an issue that is not a “one-size-fits-all” situation; I have seen it go in both directions. In one situation it worked to better conditions and competence; in another it made matters much, much worse.

    The Division of Community Services under Mayor Lugar had (if I remember correctly) 37 employees, housed in a large section of the Century Building on South Pennsylvania. Under Mayor Hudnut it was pared down to 17 employees housed in a smaller office across Delaware Street from the C/C Building; employees had full workloads but not overloaded and we accomplished much with less. In this situation, “less is more” held true.

    Move on to Goldsmith’s administration; hundreds lost their jobs, their workloads were scattered throughout departments and divisions to far fewer employees who were assigned jobs vacated by those who were let go. Sometimes these jobs had been done in a different city division. This was done with virtually no training or assistance to familiarize ourseles with the additional workload. It also meant multiple “bosses” in some cases, all expected their work to be done first. Staff was often physically moved to different areas, sometimes to different offices and sometimes to different buildings. Confusion and paranoia reigned; staff moral was low and errors were made by formerly competent workers. Goldmith’s cronies and newly appointed staff were allowed to roam throughout the building, select office furniture and equipment they wanted and had it hauled to their work area. I once returned from lunch to find my computer system (NOT city property, owned by Circle Centre Mall and Melvin Simon) and my bookcases gone. An older model computer replaced mine but bookshelves were never replaced. Was this part of Goldsmith’s “smaller government and money saving” system – who knows.

    There are areas of government which could/would function competently with fewer employees; there are other areas of government which are in need of enough employees to perform jobs completely and competently. At the same time; some areas of government could function with smaller budgets and others need enough money in their budget to get work done. Moving back to Sheila’s example of her home mortgage and that hole in the roof; intelligent decisions need to be made to get all necessary needs met. The current Congress has a different set of necessary needs than the American general public and we have no control over them other than to – here they come again – FOLLOW THE MONEY – AND VOTE.

  3. “As for government workers, there’s (sic) far too many of them for every function that must be performed, and they are grossly overpaid. Washington D.C. should be a perpetually depressed area, not a boomtown.”

    If government workers are grossly overpaid, then their counterparts in the private sector are even more grossly overpaid. It is common knowledge that, on average, government employees are paid approximately two-thirds the salary of those who are performing the same functions in the private sector. The one exception to this is — you guessed it — the Republican-controlled US Congress. These people are paid $174,000 per year, although they only worked approximately 133 days in 2014.

    Yes, some government “employees” are grossly overpaid.

  4. Overpaid gov’t workers? Really? Come on, if that was true, why do so many government employees leave gov’t jobs for the private sector and double or triple their pay? Every state, local or federal employee that I know works for far less ‘income’ but receive better benefits through their gov’t job. The private sector has more competition for those marketable skills and taking a gov’t job is usually the last resort. Good grief.

  5. I suspect the government workers he promises to expire first are those working to ensure our shared public resources are safety and available for the public, and those that protect you and I from harm – public parks, the EPA, the FDA, the USDA, and all those pesky folks at NASA who do anything with climate science.

  6. “If government workers are grossly overpaid, then their counterparts in the private sector are even more grossly overpaid.”

    A government worker has no “private sector counterpart,” because nobody voluntarily contracts for most of the things government does. If they didn’t force you to pay for it, you wouldn’t want it.

    Further, every publication clearly shows the excess: government pay is far ahead of private-sector pay, and the jobs are more secure with much greater benefits. Government workers have much happier and secure retirements than private-sector workers.

    This needs to end.

  7. Once again, falling into the Gopper trap….The argument for smaller government could be a rational discussion (as Sheila describes) but has degenerated into a tea party rallying point without the slightest hint of reality. They cry for smaller government without considering the economic effects of indiscriminate downsizing. If we continue to cut the size of government by reducing the work force those tax refund checks, food stamps and social security checks will stop or be delayed, creating havoc in the general economy because a lot of businesses depend on those sources for their revenues, so the effects would ripple through the entire economy.

    The federal government could downsize by eliminating a lot of programs and employees, say USDA food inspectors; then we could rely solely on the good intentions of food producers to provide safe food – there’s a Gopper idea. We could stop paying those military and civil pensions – what are those old folks going to do about it? – another Gopper idea.

    So the argument could be what does it make sense to improve or reduce – taking a gentle and surgical approach; but to a lot of goppers the proper approach is to take a cleaver to the federal budget without considering the fallout. If we are blessed with a president and congress who are able to legislate those cuts, who will the goppers blame for the consequences after Obama leaves office? Liberals!

  8. “Overpaid gov’t workers? Really? Come on, if that was true, why do so many government employees leave gov’t jobs for the private sector and double or triple their pay?”

    “So many” don’t. Your data is wrong. Higher ups move around because they can peddle influence in the private sector. Rank-and-files employees stay with that federal job until the retirement is secured.

  9. ” If we continue to cut the size of government”

    We have never, ever, cut the size of government, much less “continually.”

    Everyone here is living in a made-up world.

  10. Conventional wisdom – that government is larger than ever – is wrong and dramatically so.

    According to the Wall Street Journal blog, the federal government is now the smallest it has been since 1966.

    Federal government employees are better educated than the population at large. Approximately 20 percent of federal workers have a master’s degree, professional degree or doctorate, vs. 13 percent in the private sector. Fifty-one percent of federal employees have at least a college degree, compared with 35 percent in the private sector. When one considers agencies such as the National Institute for Health, the Center for Disease Control, military and veterans hospitals, NASA, the Food and Drug Administration to mention a few, it becomes evident that these agencies have need for a high proportion of highly educated professionals.

    For those who think government employment is a boring treadmill of self-satisfied, unmotivated employees, you may be surprised to learn that federal employees account for 50 Nobel Peace Prizes.

    For additional information that poke surprising holes in the conventional wisdoms about government employment, click

  11. Vintage Gopper today. Let me sell you what I bought on the cognitive QVC channel, Fox News, from their endless collection of used opinions and self serving mental clutter. They told me that government is too big but I forgot to ask how they know that. They told me that fossil fuels are the only sourçe of prosperity but I forgot to ask about greenhouse gases and changing climate. They told me that war was good but I forgot to ask why peace isn’t better. They told me about how wealth trickles but I forgot to ask how come it never does.

    No, come to think about it I couldn’t ask because their mind melder in my living room can’t listen, only talk. So that’s what I do.

    Often wrong but seldom uncertain. The American Way as demonstrated by Dunning Kruger.

    Democracy requires education. Education adds knowledge but requires thinking.

    Please Gopper turn Fox’s foxes off and listen and question and think. Get able to explain why you believe any opinion is the best one. Listen. Consider. Learn. It’s OK to be wrong, not to be intractable.

    It’s we the people who have to get it right.

    You don’t have to be a slave to Murdoch and Ailes and Norquist and Adelson and the Kochs and Rove and Trump and Cheney.

    Free yourself.

  12. Gopper; you will not understand this statement so I am speaking to any other reader who may misunderstand AgingLGrl’s comments regarding salary ranges. Directors, managers, fiscal staff, attorneys, paralegals, administrative assistants, clerk-typists, filers, secretaries, receptionists, couriers, and let us not omit those very important custodial and maintenance workers who also serve in government offices and in the private sector. Salaries in the private sector are higher than in government offices and there is often the problem that the private sector disregards former government employee job applicants due to the erroneously poor reputation regarding government workers abilities.

    irvin; that last line made it difficult for me to stick to Sheila’s true message in this blog.

  13. True words written by Ben Adler of Grist.

    “That’s because accepting climate science threatens the very foundations of any GOP presidential aspirant’s base.”

    “For the religious right, climate science is anathema for both doctrinal and cultural reasons. Accepting climate science means accepting Earth science and what it shows us about how the Earth is billions of years old rather than a few thousand. So Christian fundamentalists and all those who interpret the Bible literally or subscribe to “Young Earth Creationism” cannot accept the foundations upon which climate science is built. More broadly, issues like evolution that set up the same tension between the religious right’s medieval belief system and modern science make social conservatives unwilling to accept any evidence that God is not, in fact, personally micromanaging the Earth’s affairs.”

    “For the business wing of the Republican Party, climate science is anathema for both ideological and financial reasons. Ideologically, real acceptance of the science would mean acceptance that greenhouse gas emissions need to be slashed, and the most straightforward way to do that would be more government regulation. For the average Tea Party activist or Ayn Rand fan, government regulation is presumed to be bad, and working backward from that climate science must therefore be bogus. Financially, regulation of greenhouse gases could hurt fossil fuel companies and related interests like the Koch brothers’ industrial empire, but also other big businesses. That’s why the corporations that control the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers have set the business lobby against regulating carbon pollution.”

    “The two camps’ reasons are different, but together they make an overwhelming case for Republican politicians to keep denying climate science.”

    “Add in tribal identity and the case for cowardice becomes completely irresistible. Politics is not just about positions, after all, it’s about identity. Climate denial is one way a Republican politician can intimate to the anti-modernity wing of the GOP that he or she is one of them and doesn’t trust professors or the mainstream media.”

    “So intransigence on climate change becomes an appealing way of pulling together the disparate strands of the Republican Party. It keeps heartland social conservatives and corporate bosses on the same team. It’s sort of like the inverse of Democrats’ efforts to connect clean energy with economic populism.”

  14. Considering the size of the federal government, he is essentially promising to increase unemployment.

  15. The saddest thing is that Sheila chose to write about this non-story instead of excoriating the liberal darling Planned Parenthood for the sale of body parts to buy a Lamborghini.

    The latest scandal is sicker and worse than the one from a few days ago.

    And not-for-profit employees are also extremely highly paid.

    The only people not getting paid are the private sector which funds everything else.

  16. Pete, quit insulating yourself from the real news. The video is easily searchable on YouTube. The site moderates me when I attach YouTube links. You had to have seen it.

    Type: ‘planned parenthood lamborghini’ into YouTube. It’s the first result.

    Quit living in a protected media bubble. Let the real news get through.

    Hopefully, this is the end of federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

  17. Well, I am very glad that I don’t live in Gopper’s country. When all else fails: demonstrate zero willingness to listen and think, scream to counter thoughtfulness, put ideology ahead of people, always. I guess, Gopper, that you expect/plan to die soon as a better future based on your ideas is an oxymoron. What about your loved ones?

    But, this is nasty and I apologize as nastiness will not assist you to become more comfortable in the world we have as opposed to the world you wish we had. I am very sorry that your life and prospects appear so unhappy and fearsome to you.

    I am also sorry because your screaming and perpetual angry ignorance prevents anyone from learning about any useful ideas that may appear in your world view.

    And I am angry myself because I believe the way forward requires the best of each of us – that the solutions we need will involve good and useful ideas from every point on the political and scientific compass. This means that you have a serious and important responsibility to move past your knee-jerk responses and contribute?

    Here is one example: you state we are forced to pay for (government) services we do not want or need, implying that minus this coersion, the services could dissappear and we would be better off AND (at least personally) richer. What is your opinion about law enforcement personnel and their work? Do we not need these services? Would privatization work better? How better? What do you propose to improve this area of civic life so that the strong among us AND the weaker can all enjoy life free from the threats law enforcement hopes to amielorate?

    I await your thoughtful and measured response to this and similar queries.

  18. The teaching moment here is that clearly Gopper knows that what he claims is indefensible but that in no way prevents him from claiming it. You have to ask yourselves for the Goppers of the world what is so powerful in their lives that it overrides being demonstrably right?

    Of course there is lots of lab work underway now about that because it’s so costly for the world and progress is being made in understanding it. That’s one of the things that bodes well for the future.

    The old white male culture will also go away by death but in the meantime we can’t waste the time waiting. We’ve already wasted too much that will cost us dearly.

  19. Gopper. Watched your YouTube. Here’s what I saw/heard. Patients can elect to donate tissue for research. When they do PP incurs some costs in the process of getting that tissue to those who use it for whatever the patient has agreed to. PP expects those who realize the benefit of the patient’s choice to try to help humanity through research to compensate the costs.

    What are you against? Doing research? The patient chosing? PP accommodating the patients choice?

    What I’m against in the video is the blatantly obvious entrapment by those who set it up.

  20. Greetings MVL. Don’t wait on Goober er Gooper to answer any of your points. All the Gooper ever does is quote a point or two and then give some tiny bit of info that is designed to support his views.

  21. My guess is that Goober er Gooper missed the whole point of Sheila’s last sentence.

  22. Well, I don’t know about the rest of you folks, but it’s so much more comfortable being the passive processor of Fox News which stokes all my old peoples’ fears and confirms my belief that the old days were, in fact, better than the present state of affairs. In reverie, I remember when the government of 1920 better served us, when you could trust the motivations of the Rockerfellers, the Carnegies and Ford. who were, best of all, white. I like my 6,000 year old earth, my politicians who assure me that they will take care of everything when the government is not around with its silly regulations and socialistic protections. And just today, I was able to sit and stew about the fact that it took our socialist, Muslim president only a day or two to paint the white house different colors for the gays but five days to raise the flag at half mast for the guys in Chattanooga. All of that gives me something to think about when I can’t sleep and have to take my Prevacid. Preach it, Gopper!

  23. Stuart, you forgot to hold the black Muslim unamerican accountable for paying the bills that white Christian American Bush left behind.

  24. How dare you speak negatively about our dear G.W., who bravely stood on the carrier announcing our glorious victory over evil Iraq. I’ll never forget the “shock and awe” that began the struggle in Christianity’s war against the Muslims. Just because all the Christians left Iraq and most of the middle east, it isn’t his fault. But for sure, G.W. gave new meaning to the term “credit card”.

    But the struggle continues. I’d like to say something more that would be intelligent to this conversation, but I had to pick up my meds and take a nap, so I missed Fox this afternoon. I’m sure Gopper will fill in for me.

  25. The GOP’s goal of cutting government workers is not about pay or work preformed. It’s about setting agencies up that they don’t like, “which are most” to FAIL!
    If the systems fail then they would be right in their effort to privitize the one they find exceplable and eliminate the ones they have targeted as detrimental to their preferred business.
    I believe this GOP’s thinking is being pushed by their big business election funders, with the gaol of giving corporations what they really want, direct tax dollars from the working classe Americas tax payment streams paid to government being made directly to them.
    Call me scinicle or experienced for never again trusting the GOP’s intentions.

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