Question: Exactly how many people work for the federal government? Answer: It depends.
A new study titled “The True Size of Government” puts the number at somewhere between seven and nine million. Here’s the breakdown:
2 million employees
3.7 million contractors
1.6 million grant employees
1.3 million active duty military
500,000 Postal Service
Military members are not always included in such calculations. Same with the Postal Service, which does not receive congressional appropriations. The grantee and contract numbers are estimates from the Bureau of Economic Analysis
Study author Paul C. Light of New York University says an important takeaway is “the study reminds us that the nation depends on a very large blended workforce that includes many more contract and grant employees than federal civil servants. It is easy to say the civil service is too big, but it is only part of the workforce needed to faithfully execute the laws.
“The question is not whether we have too many government employees, but do we have the right blend to deliver the mission at the best price, value and performance. … This means we should be counting all the heads when we get into debates about cutting performances.”
That blended workforce actually dropped from 11.3 million to 9.1 million between 2010 and 2015, according to a separate study published by the Volcker Alliance.
Light doesn’t question the value of contract and grant workers. He does note that while cost savings are often cited for their increasing use, that is not always the case when “indirect costs such as supplies, equipment, materials and other costs of doing business enter the equation. Add overhead to the total and contract employees can cost twice as much as federal employees.”
OK, I don’t want to make light of a federal crime here so I’ll agree with the Postal Service: You better return that official USPS pen or mail tub that you swiped from the local branch.
Not only is our mail delivery system in disarray, but we (as in taxpayers) apparently spent nearly $50 million last year replacing stolen necessities. Not that taking advantage of the current amnesty period to return those items with no questions asked will bring financial solvency back. Nevertheless, check out more of the details below.
“We are in a financial crisis and simply cannot afford this type of unnecessary expense,” said David Williams, vice president of USPS network operations. “The equipment is federal property, and we want it back.”
The Postal Service is aggressively cutting costs with plans to close thousands of post offices and hundreds of mail-processing facilities. Observers expect that next week it will announce losses of at least $10 billion for fiscal 2011.
It is a federal crime to steal postal equipment, and doing so can lead to up to three years in prison or up to $250,000 in fines.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service said that with more than 32,000 post offices and more than 200 mail-processing facilities nationwide, the USPS uses thousands of pallets (costing $20 each) to move crates of mail, letter trays ($2.75 each) and translucent mail tubs with “United States Postal Service” emblazoned along the side in black letters ($4 each).
The Postal Service said its amnesty program will run until Nov. 26. Customers can drop off equipment at post offices or mail-processing facilities, and organizations with large amounts of equipment can arrange for a one-time pickup.
I read a recent opinion piece in the The Washington Post about the U.S. Postal Service and the fact that no one can seem to figure out what to do to either make it a viable entity or replace it entirely.
A few interesting numbers in that story:
USPS’s 574,000 employees trails only Wal-Mart among civilian employers
Its more than 215,000 vehicles (the world’s largest fleet) travel 1.25 billion miles and use nearly 400 million gallons of fuel a year
Total mail volume of 213 billion in 2006 dropped to 171 billion in 2010, with stamped mail declining 47% in the last decade
Beyond the numbers is the more troubling stance of the American Postal Workers Union, which would prefer to close its eyes rather than face reality:
On its Web site, the American Postal Workers Union disputes the notion that “hard-copy mail is destined to be replaced by electronic messages.” Mail volume was down, it says, because its principal component — advertising — had fallen in the recession. “As the nation and the world emerge from economic stagnation, hard-copy mail volume will expand,” it asserts. But that, of course, ignores the rise of the Internet, and its ever-growing use for checking bills or sending payments — with no need for that army of 500,000.
The Internet can’t be used to tele-transport packages, of course, and our use of package delivery services, including the Postal Service’s, has grown with e-commerce. But the Postal Service is running large deficits, bumping up against the $15 billion limit it is permitted to borrow, and is on the brink of default unless Congress comes to the rescue.
Is this where the Postal Service wants to make its stand, as a package delivery service, one among several providers? Does anyone really care whether the Postal Service or U.P.S. drops the package at the doorstep?
In the recent debt deal, there was plenty of debate from pundits and voters about the need — or lack of need — for more taxation. But one thing almost everyone seemed to agree on — politicians included — was that the U.S. simply must start cutting its spending. The Heritage Foundation has an interesting post showing some places we could likely start:
Late-night comedian Conan O’Brien’s blog has a new post parodying Washington’s excessive spending. “Team Coco has found out why our government is so broke,” the blog explains, “They’ve been spending all our hard earned tax dollars on some pretty ridiculous programs.” The post contains a list of humorous fake programs and encourages readers submit their own.
But sadly, there’s no need to turn to a crack team of comedy writers to gin up examples of ridiculous government spending. Instead, one need only look to the shenanigans on Capitol Hill to find a list of absurd expenditures of taxpayer dollars. As Heritage has reported, in addition to long-term, substantive reforms, $343 billion of wasteful government spending could be cut immediately. And while Conan’s list is populated by a number of outlandish (but fake) programs, there are plenty of REAL government programs that are just as ridiculous. Conan, try these on for size:
Washington will spend $2.6 million training Chinese prostitutes to drink more responsibly on the job.
Because of overstaffing, the U.S. Postal Service selects 1,125 employees per day to sit in empty rooms. They are not allowed to work, read, play cards, watch television, or do anything. This costs $50 million annually.
Stimulus dollars have been spent on mascot costumes, electric golf carts, and a university study examining how much alcohol college freshmen women require before agreeing to casual sex.
Washington will spend $615,175 on an archive honoring the Grateful Dead.
The Securities and Exchange Commission spent $3.9 million rearranging desks and offices at its Washington, D.C., headquarters.
Congress recently gave Alaska Airlines $500,000 to paint a Chinook salmon on a Boeing 737.
Washington spends $25 billion annually maintaining unused or vacant federal properties.
The Federal Communications Commission spent $350,000 to sponsor NASCAR driver David Gilliland.
Washington has spent $3 billion re-sanding beaches—even as this new sand washes back into the ocean.
Taxpayers are funding paintings of high-ranking government officials at a cost of up to $50,000 apiece.
The Conservation Reserve program pays farmers $2 billion annually not to farm their land.
And the list goes on and on. When it comes to government spending, the truth is often stranger than fiction.
A few Washington-related items that came across my radar screen in recent reading:
Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman says he never considered running for president while in his service as U.S. ambassador to China. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that. But Huntsman notes that he never intended to stay in the previous role for more than two years — and admits that he failed to tell that to President Obama. Oops!
While many are criticizing the federal health care reform effort for what it tries to do, a former administration official is blasting it for its failure to address a related subject. Former OMB Director Peter Orszag says that as long as doctors follow evidence-based protocols, they should be exempted from medical malpractice suits. "His quote: "Unfortunately, in the health act, this was one of the largest missed opportunities." Anything to help curb the lawsuit mania that grips our country would be a good thing. Can we start over on that reform thing?
News flash! The U.S. Postal Service is a broken system — and Congress wants to fix it. Ending Saturday delivery and closing more branches are part of the plan, as well as renegotiating collective bargaining agreements. I don’t know the answer, but something must be done sooner rather than later to fix an uncompetitive, costly government-run program.