GOP’s Focus on Smaller Government, Like Its Focus on Family Values, Is a Lie

Bloated bureaucracy: The Republican Party has consistently run on the message of smaller government over the past three decades. One might say consistently and successfully, because it has framed the debate over the size of the government as a defining difference between itself and the Democratic “Big Government” Party.

However, according to a new report, since George W. Bush ascended to the imperial presidency, the government has gotten steadily and rapidly bigger, to a record 14.6 million civil servants, postal workers, contractors and people who work under the auspices of government grants.

‘It hardly matters who produces the goods and services as long as the federal government is honest with the public about the true cost of delivering on the promises it makes.’

Paul C. Light, the study’s author and a government professor at New York University, explains the sudden increase from 12.1 million in 2002 to 14.6 million now:

“This time, almost all of the growth can be attributed from the war on terrorism, which boosted Defense spending for both goods and services systems and covered the continued cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The rest of the hidden workforce held steady at roughly 2.9 million grantees, while civil service employment inched up and postal employment fell.”

This “hidden workforce” is the one that Republicans don’t like to count when they are tallying the smallness of their government versus the largeness of the Democrats’. Light says there are 10.5 million of them, and they absorbed nearly $400 billion in federal contracting funds and $100 billion in federal grants in 2005.

Politicians who focus on the size of the civil service and fail to acknowledge the hidden workforce “encourage the public into believing that it truly can get more for less,” Light said. And the heavy reliance on such workers, while sometimes necessary, makes it more difficult to figure out who is accountable when things go wrong, he said.

“The federal government often uses contractors and grantees to provide talent it cannot recruit, specialized services it cannot produce, competition it cannot generate among its own organizations, and equipment that it cannot and should not build itself,” Light wrote.

“It hardly matters who produces the goods and services as long as the federal government is honest with the public about the true cost of delivering on the promises it makes.”

When it comes down to the federal bureacracy, the Republicans are no better at counting than they are at accountability. But before Democrats concede the big-government argument, what say we let both sides whip out their bureacracy and see whose really is bigger.

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