I seem to recall candidate Donald Trump saying something about the bloated condition of the federal behemoth and the need to take an ax to the bureaucracy. (Almost on a daily basis during the campaign, in fact.) But getting rid of the dead wood and shrinking the giant is easier said than done. The public workers unions are powerful and entrenched, and they have many allies in Congress, making Trump’s job on par with cleaning King Augeas’ stables. So how’s that going so far? Government Executive reports that despite all expectations and opposition, the ax has already fallen and more than 10,000 positions have been cut.
The Trump administration has shed nearly 11,000 federal employees during its first six months, reversing a two year trend of gains throughout the executive branch.
A July jobs report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Friday showed non-postal federal agencies employed 2,188,900 workers at the end of the month, down 2,200 from June and 10,700 from January, when Trump took office. President Trump has prioritized shrinking the civilian workforce, issuing an executive order — and follow up guidance through the Office of Management and Budget — calling on agencies to develop short and long-term strategies to cut employees. Agencies turned in preliminary drafts for those plans on June 30, which also required leaders to spell out what steps they have already taken to trim their rolls.
It’s easy to understand if some of you are scoffing at that number and failing to be impressed. After all, there are just shy of 200K federal employees in the District of Columbia (and that represents less than 20% of the total nationally.) Is a reduction of 11,000 really all that significant?
Yes, it really is. That’s particularly true if you compare Trump’s performance thus far to his recent predecessors. Over the past two years there were a total of 50K federal workers added to the previous staffing levels in 2015 and 2016. Barack Obama added 60K in his first six months in office and George W. Bush inflated the rolls by 36K during the same period of his first term. This shrinkage is fairly remarkable.
Think of this in terms of the federal debt and deficit. The debt continues to go up and we’ve become so accustomed to Washington’s profligate spending habits that we actually consider it a victory if the deficit goes down a little. (In other words, we’re still falling further into debt, just not quite as quickly.) The last time we actually came up with a surplus and lowered the debt, many of our youngest readers probably weren’t even born yet. But this isn’t a case of simply growing the federal workforce more slowly and calling it a win. We’ve actually turned the ship around and headed in the other direction.
I’ve disagreed with President Trump on several issues over the past six months, particularly on foreign policy, but let’s give the man credit where credit is due. He promised to cut back on the bloated federal workforce and thus far he’s making good on his word.