August 10, 2011


“Not much further we can cut” seems like a hanging curve ball, an open invitation for ongoing ridicule–the sort of naive assertion that might come easily to someone who had never worked in the federal government, who only realized after promoting his half-trillion-dollar public works-based stimulus plan that there was “no such thing as shovel-ready projects.” Or someone who doesn’t want to know. Or who wants to act as if he doesn’t know.

Here is the official list of federal job openings. They are still hiring. Sure, big enterprises keep hiring essential employees even in tough times. But these aren’t essential jobs. Many of them seem like the sort of job a private firm, in a financial crisis like the feds are in, would consolidate with another job or leave unfilled. (The first one that jumps out is the “Associate Administrator for Administration” at the Department of Transportation, which pays $119,554 to $179,700. It seems that this person will do administrative work to maintain the layer of bureaucracy that “coordinates” the DOTs research programs. The new hire will also give “advice and assistance in directing, coordinating, controlling” etc. this little fiefdom. You don’t have to be Peter Drucker to realize that this position does not have to exist.)

Part of the problem, of course, is that since it is virtually impossible to fire an actual underperforming federal employee, conscientious administrators have to hire new people (or consultants) to actually do the work the unfireable employees aren’t doing.

But there’s no sense, reading through this list, that the federal bureaucracy knows it is in crisis–a crisis that might one day cause a GS-12 or GS-15 somewhere in the D.C. metro area to actually lose his or her job in the sort of streamlining layoff private firms routinely go through.

For the country, it’s an economic crisis. For Washington, it’s more like an opportunity.

For Republicans, my advice is to propose 5% real cuts — not “rate of growth” cuts but real cuts from last year’s budgets — across the board, and allow layoffs. There’s nothing sacred about the civil service rules, after all. They’re just statutes, statutes enacted back when the country had money. Let Obama argue that there’s not 5% of fat in the federal government. Nobody’ll believe him, especially among the majority of voters whose household budgets have been cut by a lot more than 5%.

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