Tidbit: Obama Brings Seven Years of Smaller Government

The U.S. economy added only 160,000 new jobs last month. But the labor stats on public employment remind us of an important political note:

  • Federal government employees in April 2016: 2,757,000.
  • Federal government employees in January 2009: 2,786,000.

The federal government has fewer employees now than when Barack Obama took office as President. Over the last seven years, the federal workforce has shrunk 1.1%. Factor in population growth (5.7% more Americans since President Obama’s 2009 inauguration), and the federal workforce as a percentage of the American population has declined 6.5%.

23 Responses to Tidbit: Obama Brings Seven Years of Smaller Government

  1. Stop screwing up the GOP party narrative with facts!

  2. mike from iowa

    Good one,Ror!

  3. Steve Sibson

    Nice piece of propaganda Cory. Through technology, fewer people can do more. Fewer federal employees does not necessarily mean smaller government. It could mean that it is more efficient so more tax dollars end up in the pockets of crony capitalists.


  4. CH,

    I notice that you used two different months for your figures. Your point could be affected by temporary workers. The average for civilian (non-military and non-Congressional) federal employment in 2009 was 2,774,000 which makes the cut smaller. Further, because civilian employment by the Department of Defense is in your numbers, it is likely that the roll-back of direct members of the military makes up the rest of the cuts (I can’t find actual levels of civilian military personnel for April 2016).

    My point: I’m very doubtful there has been a drop in federal employment outside of civilian DOD employment. But, as a percentage of the population, I agree it has declined but it is likely roughly 5% after factoring the civilian DOD cuts and a continuation of such a productivity trend related to technology.

  5. Roger Cornelius

    Tidbit: Troy and Sibson types will never accept the fact that President Obama has done a single good thing during his presidency.
    They will parse every word, attack every fact in their continued effort to give President Obama the success he has earned.

  6. Roger,

    My point is only I’m doubtful we have marginally fewer federal civilian employees as per CH’s assertion if were were comparing apples to oranges. And, whether it be marginally higher or lower, I think this metric is too simplistic to be material measure in grading the Obama Presidency.

    If you think this federal employment levels is material, go for it. After seven years, I think the reality average real household income is still $1,000 below when he came into office, is trending down and has up only $1,000 from the trough is a more material measure to most people.

  7. Joseph Nelson

    I ran some numbers myself, utilizing http://www.governing.com/ for the job data, and http://www.militaryonesource.mil for the active duty numbers and DoD civilian numbers (sorry, they only had data as of the end of 2014).

    Total Federal Jobs, December 2009: 2,831,000
    Total Active Duty Military (plus Coast Guard) 2009: 1,405,176
    Total DoD civilian personnel 2009: 882,674

    Total Federal Jobs, December 2014: 2,746,000
    Total Active Duty Military (plus Coast Guard) 2014: 1,326,273
    Total DoD Civilian Personnel 2014: 856,484

    2009 to 2014 Drop in Total Federal Jobs: 85,000
    2009 to 2014 Drop In active Duty Military and DoD civilian Personnel: 108,065

    DoD shrunk, and other areas grew. So smaller military, bigger civilian bureaucracy (wherever those 23,065 people went).

  8. Don Coyote

    @cah: Your headline is more than a tad mendacious with it’s implication that all of Obama’s seven years have seen a decrease in the level of the Federal workforce. This certainly wasn’t true in Obama’s first term when, in a failed attempt to stimulate the economy, the Federal workforce ballooned to 3.4M in May 2010. It wasn’t until May 2013 that the Federal workforce dropped below January, 2009 levels. This was due not to Obama’s eagerness to shrink government but because of the mandated budget sequestration in the Budget Control Act of 2011 kicking in after the failure of Congress and Obama to reach an agreement over the debt ceiling. The General Accounting Office attributes the drop in the Federal workforce to employee attrition and the lack of new hiring, much of which came from the Pentagon’s civilian workforce.

  9. Judging from the comments, the GOP party is really really mad that President Obama gets credit for doing something that goes against their narrative about Democrats. Really mad. So their argument is that GOP partiers get the credit for reducing the size of government and President Obama only gets blame for an economy that they claim is lagging but is actually far better than the deep recession that W. left him.

    Sound about right guys? (They haven’t figured out how to blame Obama for GW’s recession yet, so they just ignore it).

  10. Here’s my prediction. GW Bush goes down as one of the 5 worst Presidents in American history. Obama will be judged solidly in the top 1/2 of all Presidents.

  11. “The federal government has fewer employees now than when Barack Obama took office as President.”

    This is a metric which continually frustrates me. I continually hear from politicians who wish to shrink government and they look at these numbers as if they are meaningful. Often I hear it as a bragging point from incumbent Governors or state level politicians.

    Yet there is as problem. The actual totals are 100% meaningless… and the reason is summed up in one word. Outsourcing.

    So if a governor decides to shut down some prisons and instead hires a private firm to manage and staff it, his total number of state employees might go down but the associated costs do not bear this out, and in many cases the actual cost is higher. Same is true when we outsource functions like highway and bridge maintenance, state engineering, benefits administration, marketing, economic development, or when we replace any number of internal employees with consultants and contracted agencies.

    On the federal level we have seen a massive increase in outsourcing in our military over the past 15 years, and the budgets continue to expand even though on paper it appears we have fewer government employees. So is the military really getting dramatically smaller? Nope.

    Thus the number of federal employees in no way tells us how “big” government really is. We need to look at the line items in the budget to fully understand the picture before we start handing out accolades.

  12. You’re right Craig. The GOP party can never spend enough on the military. If they had their way they would double military spending. Triple it even. The only thing preventing the GOP party from spending even more recklessly on an already bloated military is … President Obama. Good call Craig!

  13. Craig: spot on. Without integrating the vast government outsourcing that went on steroids in the Bushs’ administrations – the numbers would be very different. Misters Clinton and Obama merely continued the trend. Ellsworth does millions in outsourcing. Likely, albeit at less cost, do the other federalies based in Sodak. Whether you call it DOD or Brown and Root or Haliburton’s subsidiary xyz is immaterial since the funding, rules, and regulations are federal.

    Additionally, the federalies learned how to prey off of other federalies through creation of ‘enterprise teams’ which are little more than costly fund and talent transfers making few, other than self-promotion contributions.

  14. I always find it interesting that the people in the legislatures in this country both state and federal seem to think it is a bad thing that our government has lots of different and mostly meaningful jobs for people. The elected officials that seem to want to downgrade our government never seem to complain about the great health insurance that they and their families get. You never hear them wanting to cut back on that!! They also never want to complain about the great retirement benefits that they receive!! Which is usually one of many retirement double dips that they seem to be very fond of. Personally I think government jobs are a good thing and the benefits they provide to our citizens.

  15. Those government workers must now be part of the 42% more on food stamps! As the world continues to become more dangerous, it is calming to know we are cutting our military, but adding other intrusive government jobs instead. Anybody try get a mortgage lately? And you want to say government has shrunk. Ha!

  16. mike from iowa

    From Fact Check .org-
    Food Stamps

    The number of people receiving food stamps dropped again since our last report, by nearly 142,000. As of October, the most recent month on record, nearly 45.4 million Americans were still receiving the food aid, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
    That’s 5.1 percent lower than the record level set in December 2012, but still nearly 42 percent higher than it was when Obama took office in 2009.
    But as we noted when Republicans called Obama the “Food Stamp President,” 14.7 million people were added to the food-stamp rolls during George W. Bush’s time in office. By comparison, the net gain under Obama now stands at just under 13.4 million — and it’s slowly declining as the economy improves.

    Once again,Stumpy shoots and misses the big picture. Plus- Stumpy’s wingnut buds have cut billions out of Snap program to punish the poor and the military.

  17. So you are saying that I was not telling the truth? There are not 42% more people on food stamps than when Obama took office? Funny, because even your post says that. Not even a swing and a miss for you, you were struck out looking!

  18. mike from iowa

    Stumpy-come back when you learn to read and comprehend-if that is possible.

  19. Funny, SD GOPers want to complain about the number of federal workers when their own state government has grown and has more state workers per capita than MN. Hypocritical much?

  20. Stump is worried about low wage workers on food stamps when corporations take billions in govt welfare every year.

  21. Mike from Iowa lost, so he just throws out an insult, which is pretty typical to do to people with differing opinions or in this case differing FACTS!

    Jenny, I never said anything of the sort, just making a statement and passing along FACTS! I hate those big corporations who employee the majority of the workers in this country. Bad, bad, bad!!

  22. John Wrede

    One of the things that makes the public employee work force so expensive is a historic Supreme Court Ruling back in 1984 or 1985 entitled Jose Garcia vs. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority. It expanded the ruling in National League of Cities vs. Usury and created mass confusion that still exists. That ruling basically screwed up the entire wage and hour/salary structure of public employees and redefined overtime, compensatory time, and job worth categories. Basically, it took a whole bunch of professional employee categories and put them in wage and hour with overtime stipulations that make it impossible to get a job done in any length of time. SD, like every other state except Wyoming and Colorado, took the simple path and it has effectively doubled the work force needed to do the work that half that number of employees did on salary. SD is hiring people with Masters degrees and experience as wage and hour people and providing overtime that would ordinarily be done without similar costs if they were appropriately classified and payed as professional employees. Government efficiency and experience also went into the tank.