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A closer look at Hatch’s proposed workforce cuts

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Last week, I untangled Sen. Orrin Hatch’s error-filled claims that the government has grown “at breakneck speed” under Obama. Today, let’s look a little further at what the Reduce and Cap the Federal Workforce Act seeks to accomplish — and whether it will actually have a noticeable effect on limiting the government’s size.

The bill would require agencies (excluding the CIA, FBI, Secret Service and Executive Office of the President) to tell Congress how many employees they currently have, and how many they had as of Feb. 16, 2009. If any agencies except for the Defense and Homeland Security departments have increased in size over that time, they’ll have to cut staff through attrition until they get down to February 2009 levels.

First off, statistics very close to the numbers Hatch is looking for can be found on OPM’s FedScope site. After the jump are statistics from the Central Personnel Data File on how the cabinet-level agencies’ staffing has changed over a year. (All numbers are in thousands, and March 2010 is the most recent data available.)

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Orrin Hatch’s fuzzy math on federal workers

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Sen. Orrin Hatch

Sen. Orrin Hatch

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, last Thursday introduced the latest bill seeking to cap the federal workforce. But the press release announcing the Reduce and Cap the Federal Workforce Act is so riddled with bad numbers and misinformation that it requires some straightening out.

Here are the stats Hatch cites as proof that the federal government “is growing at breakneck speed”:

From 1981 through 2008, the senator noted, civilian workers numbered between 1.1 million and 1.2 million. The Obama administration is forecasting the government’s workforce this year will reach 2.15 million and serve 310 million Americans.

“That is almost a fifty percent* increase since 2008,” Hatch said.

First off, the release doesn’t cite a source for those numbers (a spokeswoman for Hatch told me she wasn’t sure where they came from and said the person who knows more about them is out of the office this week). I suspect they drew the stats from the Historical Tables of the 2011 budget, released earlier this year. Open up table 17.1 and you’ll find stats on the civilian full-time workforce for the executive branch.

This chart first lists total executive branch employees for each fiscal year going back to 1981, then Defense Department employees, then the civilian workforce numbers (that is, total workforce minus DoD employees). And yes, when DoD employees are excluded, the federal workforce does roughly fluctuate between 1.1 million and 1.2 million for much of the last three decades.

But Hatch’s kicker — a 2.15 million-person workforce this fiscal year — does include DoD employees. Hatch is comparing apples to oranges here to make the growth in the federal workforce seem much more drastic than it actually is.

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