Shrinking government? A lot of claims, but take another look

Posted: Thursday, October 26, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) -- Though the candidates promise smaller government (although with more services) neither promises nor good intentions by themselves are likely to get the job done.

There's much more to it than that, according to an analysis issued by The Brookings Institution, a privately financed think tank that describes itself as a bridge between scholarship and public policy.

''The Federal government is poised for expansion again,'' says the author, Paul C. Light. Both George W. Bush and Al Gore, he writes, have made promises that can be kept only by adding to government's size.

The basis for his conclusion is that the era of shrinkage, was mainly a consequence of the Cold War's end rather than government initiatives such as ''reinventing government.''

During the Clinton administration, Light estimates, 1 million jobs were eliminated that, with a total of 800,000 jobs cut during the administration of President Bush, brings the total decrease since 1990 to 1.8 million.

During this time, he points out, nine out of every 10 jobs cut were in the Defense and Energy departments, but contends that Congress and the President have already invested much of the peace dividend in new domestic programs.

''Given the growing list of labor-intensive campaign promises, whether for more police officers and teachers or prescription drug coverage, it is hard to imagine further cuts,'' he says.

He warns voters to be aware of the way the job-cut numbers might be used. Cuts in the number of Federal civil servants from 2.17 million in 1990 to 1.80 million in 1999 tell only part of the story, he says, and can be used to disguise the reality.

The area of government growth, he suggests, is not nearly so visible in official statistics, including a huge and growing number of ''off-budget'' employees doing the government's work.

A more accurate count, he states, must include not just the civil service but uniformed military and postal workers, and contractor, grantee and state and local government workers required by the federal mission.

''This fuller accounting, he states, puts the total number of jobs attributable to the federal government at 16.8 million in 1999, nearly eight times larger than the civil service work force.

A lack of data prevents a direct comparison with 1990 figures, but focusing on just civil service, military, contractor and grantee jobs (leaving out state and local mandated jobs), shows a reduction to 12.2 million from 14 million during the 1990s.

Light arrives at the larger figure by adding 1.44 military personnel and 870,000 postal jobs to the 1.8 million civil service personnel, for a subtotal of 4.11 million directly within the federal establishment.

To this number he adds a ''shadow work force'' of 5.55 million contractor jobs and 2.53 grantee jobs, plus 4.65 million ''federally mandated'' state and local government jobs.

Light indicates that a portion of the work contracted out to the shadow work force was once performed by civil service workers, giving the impression of an even greater decline in the number of direct employees.

But, he says, with talented Americans turning away from government as a career choice, ''most agencies have little choice but to ask private contractors to supply the workers they need.''

It is in this area that the greatest growth could occur. And it is here also in this statistical playground where the political claims and counterclaims can hide the reality in a confusion of numbers.

End Adv PMs October 26.



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