Joe Biden is about to overturn the Trump administration’s efforts to actually shrink the size of the federal government.
Mind you, Trump did not shrink the budget or make any effort to control spending. But the estimated 2.1 million civilian workforces of the federal government is about to explode.
Biden has submitted a preliminary $1.5 trillion budget for the executive branch. It directs billions of dollars into hiring to deal with “climate change” and “restore enforcement of environmental and workplace laws, and expand safety net programs in housing, education, public health and veterans’ health,” according to the Washington Post.
Some programs that are crucial to Biden’s agenda are so short-staffed that his administration can’t yet fully implement his policies, among them enforcement of fair-housing and workplace safety laws. A number of decisions by the Trump administration, including the relocation of key economic research and land management offices, are proving hard to reverse.
The annual list of troubled federal programs, released in March by the Government Accountability Office, is longer than ever, a shift workforce experts attribute to vast areas of the government the Trump administration ignored. Auditors spotlighted “high-risk” areas vulnerable to waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement, ranging from oversight of the federal prison system to the Department of Health and Human Services’ leadership and coordination of public health emergencies.
As we’ve seen, cutting the workforce did little to cut the real size of government. Trump’s sledgehammer approach to cutting government personnel didn’t save a single penny of taxpayer money and may have cost citizens an increase in waste and abuse.
But the concept is sound even if it was poorly executed.
Despite Trump’s pledge to “cut so much your head will spin,” the largest government departments — Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security — grew during his presidency, leaving the bureaucracy 3.4 percent larger overall than when he became president, according to an analysis of federal personnel data by The Washington Post. That compares with 3.6 percent growth in President Barack Obama’s first term and 1.3 percent in his second, the data shows.
But that masked a plunge in staffing in a majority of Cabinet agencies Biden inherited, prompted by Trump reshaping the permanent workforce in a contraction long sought by conservatives.
Coming soon: A massive increase in IRS personnel.
In a $1.8 trillion Biden administration spending plan separate from its preliminary budget and covering domestic priorities, the IRS would get an extra $80 billion to revive enforcement against wealthy tax cheats, whom Biden has vowed to target. The enforcement staff would grow by 15 percent each year over a decade.
If the massive increase in personnel would mean a better, more efficient, more competent government, it might be defensible. But this is payback for interest groups and it’s an open question whether government employees will work any harder or any better.