Timing, as they say, is everything. In the 1990s then President Bill Clinton decided that the federal government had gotten too fat and too inefficient. He set a goal of eliminating 272,000 “useless” federal jobs. Congressional Republicans were delighted to go along with his plan.
Congress approved buyouts (gross payments of up to $25,000) to encourage workers in so-called “overhead” jobs to take regular or early retirement. Tens of thousands did. Most were Defense department civilians. Many formerly federal jobs were transferred to the private sector. And there were some layoffs. The economy improved, the national debt was paid off and, as President Clinton proudly said in his January 2000 State of the Union address, “we reinvented” government and gave the American people “the smallest federal workforce in 40 years…”
Now, the economy is in trouble, we’re in debt to China and just about everybody else but the solution this time is more government and more government workers. How many more? How about 273,000 new people to handle “critical needs” slots throughout the government.
That estimate, from the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, is not disputed by the administration. It could be more, it could be less. But the feeling is that more top-notch people are going to be needed, and quick. Partly to replace experienced feds who retire (the long-awaited brain drain) and partly to staff new and expanded programs from national security to handling the TARP program and other economic-stimulus initiatives.
One thing is sure. The metro Washington area, which is suffering much, much less than Youngstown, Ohio, or most other places, is going to prosper even more. Currently DC and its immediate Maryland and Virginia suburbs are home to more than 300,000 federal civilian workers and an even larger number of inflation-protected retirees. About 15.5 percent of the total federal workforce, according to the Office of Personnel Management, is in metro Washington. And those numbers don’t cover postal workers or most members of the very large intelligence communities.
In addition to having a major presence in the DC-Maryland and Virginia suburbs, those two states have lots of federal employee taxpayer-voters well beyond the beltway. There about 127,000 other feds in other parts of Virginia and 99,500 in parts of Maryland that are outside the DC metro area.