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.