Happy Monday! Looks like you made some waves today. To be honest, we thought the hiring freeze was coming down on Friday. Some of us thought someone had gotten to you with the basic facts and changed your mind. Then again, that might take more than 140 characters, so fat chance, amirite? Anyway, let’s go through why this plan is a bad idea and won’t get you where you want to go.
First off, it’s based on a few faulty assumptions. The federal workforce today is actually smaller than it was under Reagan (2.8m today versus 3.2m). Right now, it’s about the same size it was in 2009, and the same as it was in 2001. That’s basically 15+ years with no real growth. So government isn’t on some out of control hiring spree. Also, that same number of federal workers is managing more money, grants, and contracts than ever before, meaning that the current federal worker is the most efficient government worker in the history of our Republic.
There’s also been this running theme that government employees have been pocketing massive amounts of cash at the expense of taxpayers while blue collar workers suffer. This narrative is a problem for a couple of reasons. First, it assumes jobs are zero sum game – a federal employee keeps his job, so a factory worker has to lose hers. That’s clearly ridiculous. Broad based economic growth bolsters workers in all sectors, it doesn’t pick and choose.
Also, it assumes federal workers are getting paid far too much. To be honest nobody really knows. Depending on the assumptions you make, you can get anywhere from a 16% premium on overall compensation to a 35% discount. In general, we just don’t know. No matter the answer to that question, the one you should really be asking is whether federal employees are the ones who have been making money hand over fist over the last decade. Are public servants making out like bandits, or are private contractors? Is it the person doling out Social Security checks who’s driving the Bentley or is it the pharmaceutical CEO who’s successfully lobbied for lax oversight? The guard at the federal prison orrhe hedge fund manager?
Finally, hiring freezes don’t work to cut costs or the size of government. In 1982, GAO issued a study of the hiring freezes under Carter and Reagan. Here’s what they found:
Government-wide hiring freezes, regardless of how well they are managed, are not an effective means of controlling federal employment. The government-wide hiring freezes had little effect on federal employment levels and it is not known whether they saved money. Because they ignored individual agencies’ missions, workload, and staffing requirement, these freezes disrupted agency operations and, in some cases, increased costs to the government.
Broadly speaking, the work didn’t go away, so federal managers ended up having to use overtime or contractors to complete the job. As such, it ended up costing more money to do the same work.
Now, if you’re looking to save the government money, an across the board hiring freeze isn’t the way to do it. If, however, you’re looking to benefit private contractors and make government less effective in the lives of everyday Americans, you’d be hard pressed to find a better option.
Maybe that’s what this is really all about.