Fed­eral work­force hits record un­der Trump

Nearly 1.5 mil­lion to work at civil­ian agen­cies

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN in­creased, the

Pres­i­dent Trump took of­fice with a vi­sion of slash­ing the fed­eral work­force. In­stead, he’s about to send it to lev­els never seen be­fore.

In bud­get doc­u­ments re­leased last week, the ad­min­is­tra­tion pre­dicted it would em­ploy the equiv­a­lent of nearly 1.5 mil­lion work­ers at civil­ian agen­cies next year, shat­ter­ing all records.

While those num­bers are ar­ti­fi­cially high be­cause of the 2020 cen­sus, which will add some 60,000 tem­po­rary work­ers, it is still much higher than it was un­der Pres­i­dent Obama in 2010, the year of the last cen­sus.

Mr. Obama’s num­bers that year were also in­flated by his stim­u­lus pack­age, which pumped hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars into the econ­omy to try to lift it from the Wall Street crash and 2008 re­ces­sion.

Mr. Trump has no such eco­nomic pres­sures, and the pri­vate-sec­tor job mar­ket is roar­ing — mak­ing the growth of fed­eral jobs all the more strik­ing for a pres­i­dent who took of­fice with a hir­ing freeze and told agency chiefs to look for places to cut.

It’s a sober­ing re­al­ity for the pres­i­dent, who just three days into his ten­ure is­sued a memo or­der­ing a hir­ing freeze “across the board.” He lifted the freeze three months later, though his bud­get of­fice or­dered agen­cies to keep look­ing for ways to “achieve near-term work­force cuts.”

A se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said Mon­day that they have ac­com­plished that in ar­eas where they could, while see­ing in­creases of per­son­nel in other places where Mr. Trump sees the need for strength.

“Pres­i­dent Trump is keep­ing his prom­ise to build a strong mil­i­tary and pri­or­i­tize na­tional se­cu­rity, take care of our vet­er­ans, and the need to have a mod­ern and ef­fi­cient fed­eral gov­ern­ment that bet­ter serves the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” the of­fi­cial said.

The work­force pro­jec­tions were re­leased as part of Mr. Trump’s full 2020 bud­get plan, putting meat on the bones of the frame­work the pres­i­dent sent to Congress this month.

Waste-watch­ers said the pres­i­dent is fac­ing tough head­winds in try­ing to meet his prom­ise of a “lean” work­force.

“Right-siz­ing the sprawl­ing bu­reau­cratic state is one of the tough­est tasks in Wash­ing­ton,” said Cur­tis Kalin, di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Cit­i­zens Against Gov­ern­ment Waste. “Pres­i­dent Trump has made laud­able ef­forts to trim the fed­eral bu­reau­cracy through at­tri­tion, but com­pre­hen­sive re­form has been painfully slow and fraught with po­lit­i­cal chal­lenges.”

He said one op­tion is to pur­sue ways to make it eas­ier to fire em­ploy­ees for wrong­do­ing or poor per­for­mance.

That was what Congress and Mr. Trump did at the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs af­ter a scan­dal in which vet­er­ans died while stuck on wait lists for ap­point­ments at VA clin­ics.

Yet the fir­ing author­ity has done lit­tle to dent hir­ing.

In­stead, the VA will grow to 394,000 em­ploy­ees in 2020, up more than 40,000 in just three years and nearly 110,000 more than a decade ago, the White House projects.

That’s de­spite the over­all num­ber of vet­er­ans de­clin­ing, from 23 mil­lion in 2007 to 20 mil­lion in 2017. By 2037, the num­ber will be just 13 mil­lion.

The in­crease is hap­pen­ing at a time when the gov­ern­ment has made pri­vate care a more at­trac­tive op­tion, al­low­ing some vet­er­ans to skip VA clin­ics al­to­gether.

“Why are the num­ber of VA em­ploy­ees un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ris­ing when the VA it­self projects that the num­ber of vet­er­ans in the na­tion is fall­ing?” said Chris Ed­wards, di­rec­tor of tax pol­icy at the Cato In­sti­tute and ed­i­tor of Down­siz­ingGovern­ment.org.

Also surg­ing is the area of home­land se­cu­rity, which is up 29,000 peo­ple com­pared with 2010 and 135,000 com­pared with 2000.

Al­though the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity wasn’t cre­ated un­til 2003 — and with it the Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion — some com­po­nents, such as the Bor­der Patrol, Se­cret Ser­vice and Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency, ex­isted be­fore.

As threats have depart­ment con­tin­ues to add roles, and with them per­son­nel.

On the other side of the ledger are the Trea­sury, Agri­cul­ture and In­te­rior de­part­ments, which are pro­jected to be down a com­bined 45,000 work­ers over the past decade.

The num­bers are for “full time equiv­a­lent” em­ploy­ees, known as FTEs in Wash­ing­ton-speak. That means the to­tal num­ber is higher when the num­bers are trans­lated into part-time and other non­tra­di­tional work­ers.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion says FTEs are “im­per­fect” mea­sures that don’t dis­crim­i­nate be­tween an in­tern and a se­nior man­ager.

An ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial also said they have found it makes more sense in some in­stances to hire fed­eral work­ers rather than have con­trac­tors or uni­formed per­son­nel do jobs.

That’s par­tic­u­larly true at the De­fense Depart­ment, where the civil­ian work­force will rise to 758,000 in 2020, up from 726,000 when Mr. Trump took of­fice.

Com­bined with the 1.5 mil­lion work­ers in civil­ian agen­cies, that leaves a to­tal ex­ec­u­tive branch civil­ian work­force of 2.2 mil­lion, not count­ing the U.S. Postal Ser­vice.

An­a­lysts say the num­ber of work­ers isn’t the only yard­stick for mea­sur­ing at­tempts to rein in the costs of the work­force.

Mr. Ed­wards said Mr. Trump has made strides in try­ing to cur­tail cost-of-liv­ing ad­just­ments for fed­eral pen­sions and in­creas­ing em­ploy­ees’ pay­roll con­tri­bu­tions for buy-in.

But those will take ap­proval from Congress, which was wary of Mr. Trump’s call to tame the civil­ian bu­reau­cracy even when it was con­trolled by Repub­li­cans.

Congress last month ap­proved a 1.9 per­cent pay in­crease for civil­ians, al­most as much as the 2.6 per­cent raise for mil­i­tary per­son­nel.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The streets of Wash­ing­ton will be filled with more fed­eral work­ers than ever un­der bud­get pro­jec­tions, even though Pres­i­dent Trump took of­fice with a hir­ing freeze and orders for lead­ers to look for places to cut.

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