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Gov Career

By Phil Piemonte

Blog archive

We're getting a bad feeling about this

Ever feel like you're being waterboarded by the federal government?

Certainly the people who work for the U.S. Postal Service must feel that way, faced as they are with a proposal to reduce the size of the USPS workforce by 220,000 employees by 2015.

And now — only days after USPS announced that plan — certainly all feds must be getting a similar sensation creeping up on them in the wake of the recent announcement from the Office of Management and Budget.

We’re referring to the OMB directive instructing agencies to get ready to trim their budgets back by as much as 10 percent in fiscal 2013.

Federal financial officers have been told to turn in agency budgets for fiscal 2013 that are 5 percent lower than the current level. Agencies also have to suggest additional cuts of another 5 percent — or, in the words of OMB Director Jacob Lew: “Your 2013 budget submission should also identify additional discretionary funding reductions that would bring your request to a level that is at least 10 percent below your 2011 enacted discretionary appropriation.”

Yikes. That’s a bunch of cash.

Up to now, the pressure to cut, cut, cut has come from Congress, more specifically, the House. But now that the other house — the White House — has entered the fray, things are going to get even dicier in the federal workplace.

Unions already are warning that cutting back resources means fewer folks on the job to do the things that need to be done. In good PR fashion — and for perfectly valid reasons — they start by listing the people whose jobs affect everyone: the people who inspect the food supply, patrol the borders, enforce clean water and air regulations, do medical research, and so on.

The federal government does provide a lot of services to its citizens, and citizens are used to receiving them. That’s why a lot of people would argue that downsizing the machine that provides those services — especially in a very uncertain economy — does not seem like an especially timely move.

There’s another factor, too. Though a few advocates for feds have touched on it, we generally don’t see too much emphasis on what would seem to be a key question: How can you shrink a government when the population it governs is growing — and growing fast?

Let’s take a look.

In 2000, according the Census Bureau’s numbers, the nation’s population was 282 million people. Today (and we really mean today, this is according the bureau’s “population clock”) the U.S. population, as of Aug. 19, is 312,023,982.

That’s 30 million more people in 10 years.

For scale, the population of Scandinavia, according to some numbers we quickly retrieved online, is 19.8 million. That’s Sweden, Denmark and Norway together. Add those other sort-of-Scandinavian countries, Finland and Iceland, and you’re only up to 25.4 million — which is also about the population of Texas.

So, one wonders: How we can trim back the size of the federal government in an era in which the U.S. population grows each decade by more people than live in the state of Texas?

We don’t know. Maybe you have the answer.

Posted by Phil Piemonte on Aug 19, 2011 at 4:02 PM


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