Post Fact Policy


On Monday, January 23, Donald Trump’s first full working day in office he signed executive orders that he expects will carry out some of his campaign pledges. A key pledge, part of “draining the swamp” is a freeze of government hiring.

Sean Spicer, his press secretary said Monday:
“This memorandum counters the dramatic expansion of the federal workforce in recent years….”

This is a fine example of policy based upon falsehoods.

Here are the data from a Washington Post article with the headline: “The Trump administration just told a whopper about the size of the federal workforce.”

During President Obama’s two terms in office, federal civilian employment grew by less than 25,000 workers, out of a work force of about 2,400,000 workers. That is, 0.1% in 8 years. No dramatic expansion here. That spike in 2010 is temporary hiring by the Census. The spike in that year famously tripped up Harvard history professor Niall Ferguson, who proclaimed that President Obama’s stimulus program had only temporary effects as could be seen by the sharp spike in government 2010. He made this claim during a Bloomberg TV interview in 2010 that displayed a graph similar to this one. (Do I have to add that he’s a conservative.)

Perhaps Mr. Spicer’s “recent years” goes farther back, to other presidents’ administrations.

Here are the data, also from the Washington Post article, back to the beginning of FDR’s third term.

No dramatic expansion visible going back 35 years to Ronald Reagan’s terms. Indeed, the peak is near the end of Reagan’s second term.

Eyeballing the employment growth from 1950 to 1980, from about 1.5 million to about 2.3 million, I see about 25,000 new hires each year, on average, over 30 years. That is 1% or 2% growth. That’s less than the population growth during that time.

Indeed, here’s the fraction of the working age population that works for the federal government.

Nope. No sign of an out of control explosion of federal employment. This is also from the Washington Post article.

The fact of the matter is that all right-thinking Republicans know that the federal government is out of control, increasing numbers of idle, duplicated bureaucrats plaguing the hard-working entrepreneurs of America. All right-thinking Republicans know that the federal government’s spending is wildly out of control too.

Their facts are wrong. Their facts are wrong by a lot, so this isn’t a matter open to question. This, however, will not stop them from making policy based upon wrong ideas. The federal hiring freeze, which will hamper government operations and services, and harm civil servants’ morale, is just an example.

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