The Forever National Employment Agencies

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Guest column by Jim Flynn

By Jim Flynn

We wonder whether Tea Partiers have seen this one: According to the 2011 Federal Career Guide “The Federal Government was established by the Constitution to provide services to the public… to improve the lives of the United States population, as well as people around the world.”

The founding fathers would be surprised to learn they created a limited government whose mission is to make all our dreams come true and save the world at the same time.

The Career Guide also describes the Department of Labor (DOL) as part of the “Federal Government Industry.” Government has become a full-fledged industry! That would also be news to the founders. If by accident or miracle Washington comes up with a surplus some year, will they distribute dividends to taxpayer-stockholders?

The Career Guide has one thing right. The federal government industry is the nation’s largest employer. Excluding the Postal Service and armed forces, total federal employment will be 2.15 million by the end of this year.

What happened after President Clinton cut 375,000 federal employees in 1996, and declared “The era of big government is over?” Easy answer: A one-time cutback was unlikely to cure Washington’s addiction to reckless spending and bureaucracy building. Smaller government passed away quietly at the inauguration of President George W. Bush and his pseudo conservative Republican Congress.

When Tea Partiers adopted smaller government as a signature issue, out-of-power Republicans recognized an opportunity to claim common cause with the would-be reformers. Bush-era big spenders would like voters to believe they’ve become born-again believers in limited government. Primary voters aren’t buying it.

While our civilian and military bureaucracies have been hiring thousands of additional employees, they’ve also been outsourcing untold numbers of domestic and overseas services. Thousands of contract workers are not counted as federal employees, even though they perform federal work. It’s another clever hocus-pocus by Congress and Washington bureaucrats.

Dare we ask what happened to the thousands of federal employees who used to do the work that contractors do now? We know they weren’t laid off, because the total number of federal employees keeps going up, and howls from their unions would have been heard from Key West to Point Barrow. Did they retire early? Were they transferred to other jobs? Have they been promoted?

Recent news out of Washington: “Staffing Shortages Stymie Stimulus.” Efforts to pump $862 billion in stimulus into the economy and create private jobs are being slowed by a shortage of 25,000 overseers of grants and contracts. White House to the rescue: President Obama’s budget includes $158 million to increase “the contracting workforce.”

How is Washington handling the problem temporarily? They’ve hired contractors to write contracts for other contractors. That raises the interesting problem of overseeing the contractors who write contracts with contractors until overseers are hired. Why aren’t they using the federal employees who used to do the work to supervise the contractor employees who are going to do the work?

Federal bureaucrats have remarkable imaginations for make-work projects when unemployment threatens. NASA suggested to Congress another walk on the barren moon might be a nice idea. And over at the Library of Congress they’re going to store Twitter messages, beginning with 2006, so historians can rummage among 50 million daily tweets for significant social trends.

President Obama says there’s hope on the federal budget horizon. He signed a bill recently to save $50 billion by not sending out any more checks to dead people, fugitives, and inmates, who received a total of $110 billion last year. The President didn’t explain why such a bill is necessary.

In all the political posturing this year, we’ve heard no specific proposals to reduce the size of government by discontinuing programs and bureaucracies which have outlived necessity and become nothing more than permanent federal employment agencies.

If the agony of terminating employees who send money to dead people is too much for politicians to bear, smaller government is impossible. Washington has no such compassion for millions of citizens who see their tax dollars being spent by agencies which have outlived their usefulness and deserve unceremonious burials.