Analysis: Federal workforce size doesn’t matter

John Palguta, vice president for policy, Partnership for Public Service

wfedstaff | June 3, 2015 9:28 pm

By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor

The budget battle on Capitol Hill is resurrecting questions about the size of the federal workforce.

House Speaker John Boehner has raised eyebrows by saying the administration has added 200,000 new jobs. That number is in dispute, though, and others have come up with their own tallies.

John Palguta stresses the workforce size is not as important as what you do with it.


Vice president for Policy at the Partnership for Public Service, Palguta has been tracking the number of federal jobs.

Palguta cautioned there are a couple of ways to count any workforce, “which is part of the confusion.”

He told the Federal Drive, “there’s the full time equivalent,” which is to add up all the hours paid for then divide by 2,080, the number of hours in a work year. That answer is the “full time equivalent count.”

“But then then there’s the actual head count,” which he explained should include both how many hired and how many have left.

“If you take a look at the number of hires, people will fixate on that and not look at the logical question of how many people left.” In 2010, said Palguta, 142,000 people were hired into fulltime permanent positions and 91,000 left, “so there was a net of about 60,000, and most of those folks went into Defense, Homeland Security, VA and Justice.”

According to Palguta’s calculations, the total federal workforce currently is at “about 2.1 million full time equivalent, and that is ironically the same number that we had 35 years ago in 1967.”

And even that total number doesn’t really tell the whole story.

“Twenty years ago, in 1989,” said Palguta, “we had one federal employee for every 110 resident in the United States. Twenty years later, we had one federal employee for every 147.” The size of the workforce remained “remarkably consistent” and “yet the demands upon government obviously have increased dramatically.”

The bottom line, said Palguta, “is two things. One, the federal government has not been a growth industry, and the second thing, it’s not the number of workers we should be focusing on. When we’re talking about the size of government, I don’t think it’s really the size of the workforce, it’s really what we’re having government doing.”

Once we decide upon what the federal government should be doing, then, said Palguta, you have to figure out what we need to do it well.