The debate about the federal budget centers on whether the government is too big and too inefficient. Most Republicans argue that government is too big. Many Democrats ask, where is your evidence that government has grown too big? There are about the same number of federal employees today as is the past.
George Will in a recent column writes about how “Big Government Sneakily Get Bigger.” He quotes from John DiIulio and his book and recent paper at the Brookings Institution.
Government grows larger by using three types of “administrative proxies.” The first are state and local governments. The EPA, for example, has fewer than 20,000 employees. But 90 percent of EPA programs are completely administered by thousands of state government employees, largely funded by Washington.
Second, there are for-profit businesses and contractors that also mask the large size of the government. In the Defense Department, for example, the hundreds of thousands of civilian workers have been supplemented by hundreds of thousands of for-profit contract employees. Today, the government spends more on defense contracts ($350 billion) than it does on all official federal bureaucrats ($250 billion).
Third, there are the various tax-exempt or independent sectors which have more than doubled in the last thirty years. Many of them owe their jobs to a federal or intergovernmental grant, contract, or fee funding.
These facts will be important to remember when Congress and the public debate the federal budget. Although the number of federal employees look about the same as in previous decades, the federal budget is more than three times larger. The federal workload has been dispersed and makes government look much smaller than it really is. We do have a big government and should not fall for this federal shell game that tries to hide from taxpayers the real size and scope of government.