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Posted at 1:13 PM ET, 02/16/2011

Boehner's 'So be it' line revives debate on how to tally federal workers

By Ed O'Keefe

House Speaker John Boehner's nonchalant reaction Tuesday to the prospect of federal job cuts sparked furor among supporters of the federal workforce, but also demonstrated the difficulty in tracking the number of people collecting government paychecks.

Answering a reporter's question about the potential impact of federal spending cuts, the Ohio Republican said the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs since President Obama took office. "And if some of those jobs are lost in this, so be it," he said. "We're broke. It's time for us to get serious about how we're spending the nation's money."

Democratic lawmakers pounced almost immediately. The speaker's comments show that "job creation is not the new majority's top priority," said Rep. James Moran (D-Va.), whose Northern Virginia district is home to thousands of current and retired federal workers.

"The speaker is ignoring the fact that putting more federal employees out of work will be a significant drag on our economy," Moran said. "If you don't have a job, you won't take your family out to dinner, buy a car when your old one breaks down, or engage in the various activities that aid in our nation's economic recovery."

As Boehner's figures demonstrate, accounting for federal workers may be done several ways, and often varies depending on the set of numbers used and the starting point chosen.

Any assessment of federal employment during the early years of the Obama administration is impacted by the temporary hires made for the 2010 Census, which caused a temporary surge in employment starting in 2009.

Further complicating the debate is that through most of 2009, the government operated under a budget set in the final year of George W. Bush's administration.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data are generally considered the most reputable way to track private sector employment, but the Office of Personnel Management releases updated figures on the federal workforce every quarter. None of these figures count uniformed military personnel.

According to the speaker's office, Boehner's 200,000 figure comes from BLS, which said that the government added 153,000 more full-time workers between Dec. 2008 -- a month before Obama took office -- and Jan. 2011. Aides also noted that the government added 400,000 temporary census workers during the same period. (The number of temporary hires peaked at around 585,000 in May 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.)

"We think 200,000 is probably generous to the White House," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.

If Boehner's tally had started in Feb. 2009 -- Obama's first full month in office -- the federal workforce would have grown by 10,000 fewer jobs.

The speaker's figures also don't include any hires made by the U.S. Postal Service, a quasi-government agency that employs 585,000 full-time workers and has trimmed its rosters significantly in the past decade.

OPM's tally of the federal workforce tracks the actual number of people collecting government paychecks.

From Dec. 2008, the executive branch had 1,945,256 workers and 2,113,980 in Sept. 2010 -- the most recent figures available -- a net gain of nearly 169,000 people, according to OPM's FedScope database. Boehner's numbers are closest to these figures.

In contrast, White House budget figures released Monday show that the federal workforce grew from about 1.98 million full-time workers in fiscal 2009 to 2.12 million in fiscal 2010 -- a net increase of about 140,000 "full-time equivalent" positions. White House budget figures do not represent a headcount, but rather work years. For example, two half-time workers would count as one "full-time equivalent" position.

"It's a tricky thing," said John Palguta, vice president of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, who closely tracks the federal workforce.

"There's not one accepted way of coming up with the right number," he said. "You really have to think about what questions you're trying to answer, and then look at the numbers in that context."

Staff writer Eric Yoder contributed to this report.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

RELATED: Obama's 2012 federal budget

By Ed O'Keefe  | February 16, 2011; 1:13 PM ET
Categories:  Congress, Workplace Issues  
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It's so interesting news. Boehner doing some that will harmful for all. So why this decision?

Go to the link and see exclusive video footage.

Posted by: webcontent2011 | February 16, 2011 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Cuts to the federal workforce should not be merely accepted, they should be celebrated.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | February 16, 2011 5:35 PM | Report abuse

No matter whose figures you use federal jobs will be cut and cut deeply. The only question is how many. When we can shut down entire departments like DOE and DHS to save money it's going to be significant in number. We don't need and simply can't afford today's bloated federal job rolls.

Posted by: Desertdiva1 | February 16, 2011 6:30 PM | Report abuse

The real story is how many contractors there are in the government offices. If you think the number of federal employees has increased by 200,000, you will be very surprised to know how many contract positions have been added in the last 2 years. No one reports on that number. I can tell you from personal experience, that half the people sitting in our office are not federal workers, but, contract workers. Please report on this!!!!! This also is a drain of resources.

Posted by: C12CNT41 | February 16, 2011 6:59 PM | Report abuse

I would like to to see these Republicans set up tracking, benchmarks of all the jobs the tax cuts for the rich are creating. Time for facts and tracking. Sort of like that transparent thing we were suppose to get to our congressionals attendance rate at their committees (LOL). Would also like to see in numbers average cost above salaries for congressionals, office, travel,staff. They should also be cutting and fuloughing as it seems nothing gets done. How long are we going to keep funding a losing war as well? Broke England and Russia guess were going to see that in our lifetimes. Ohh and of the 58,000 (not 200,000) new federal jobs, anyone have the numbers how many are military veterans and people who were unemployed for more than a year?Would be nice to have critical thinking and real numbers. Also how many were filling in for people who resigned or retired? Picking on feds who earn 50k a year NOT 150 to 176K a year is so petty.

Posted by: d3george | February 16, 2011 9:17 PM | Report abuse

So, in other words, Boehner just made the number of 200,000 up? Gee, I wish I had a job where making stuff up was Rule #1.

Oh to be a GOP congressman, and supposedly the one running the Congress, although thus far, he hasn't been able t

Posted by: axf56730 | February 17, 2011 10:43 AM | Report abuse

So, in other words, Boehner just made the number of 200,000 up? Gee, I wish I had a job where making stuff up was Rule #1.

Oh to be a GOP congressman, and supposedly the one running the Congress, although thus far, he hasn't been able t

Posted by: axf56730 | February 17, 2011 10:43 AM | Report abuse

There are undoubtedly some cuts that can be made to the Federal Workforce, but probably not nearly as many as most Republicans think, unless we're willing to see even longer waits for government services like getting a passport or a Federal Court date. Fewer IRS employees means more people trying to cheat on their taxes, fewer employees at regulatory agencies means more polluters, less safe products.

Making up numbers doesn't give me confidence that Boehner will approach this in a responsible way.

Posted by: Uncle_Joe | February 17, 2011 11:04 AM | Report abuse

It is such a strawman argument to have. President GW Bush "shrunk" the size of the gov't by not hiring feds, but instead ballooned the fed gov't costs by hiring tens of thousands of contractors, often paid many times more than their federal employee counterparts. I think we should look at genuinely reducing the workforce size where appropriate. But the work has to get done. The question is, what's the smartest and most efficient way to do it?

Posted by: matthew_lawlor | February 17, 2011 11:49 AM | Report abuse

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