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Unbreaking Government

George Bush pretty much broke the federal government. He and former vice president Dick Cheney put people into key posts who didn't support the traditional missions of the agencies they led. Competence or experience weren't as important as loyalty to the White House, rigid ideological commitment to deregulation, aversion to oversight and allegiance to corporate and special interests over consumers and the general public.

And the outsourcing of federal jobs was taken to such an extreme that even Republicans now recognize it's gone too far. As I noted in a Feb. 24 item, after the breakout sessions at the White House's fiscal responsibility summit, GOP Rep. Darrell Issa got up to tell President Obama: "Mr. President, it was kind of a surprise in the procurement group that was together, we had almost universal recognition that over the last decade or so, we've overdone, in some cases, outsourcing of critical federal requirements, and that means that in many cases we spend more to hire a contractor or a non-federal worker than we would pay to invest in federal workers.

"And so there was universal -- Republican, Democrat, House and Senate, even -- (laughter) -- that during this administration we need to assess where we can re-federalize some parts of the workforce, particularly when it came to people who do get procurement and oversee the procurement."

Now it's Obama's job to fix what Bush broke. And part of that will entail a lot of hiring.

Philip Rucker writes in The Washington Post: "President Obama's budget is so ambitious, with vast new spending on health care, energy independence, education and services for veterans, that experts say he probably will need to hire tens of thousands of new federal government workers to realize his goals.

"The $3.6 trillion plan released last week proposes spending billions to begin initiatives and implement existing programs, and given Obama's insistence that he would scale back the use of private-sector contractors, his priorities could reverse a generational decline in the size of the government workforce....

"Obama inherited a federal workforce of about 2 million that [Paul C. Light, a professor of public service at New York University,] described as woefully understaffed, especially to fulfill his bold domestic policy agenda. He predicted that Obama's budget and the $787 billion economic recovery package could require an additional 100,000 federal workers, but warned that the number may be even higher.

"'I think that's just a start,' Light said. 'You kind of look across the federal landscape and you say there has to be more bodies with more expertise, as well as more bodies that can just deliver the basic services we've already promised.'"

Republicans, not surprisingly, aren't pleased: "'What group of socialists got in the room and wrote this budget? Do they have any idea what the implications are?' asked Republican Newt Gingrich, who as House speaker in the 1990s advocated a shrinking of the government. 'This is the most aggressive 180-degree turn that we have seen in the American system.'"

By Dan Froomkin  |  March 3, 2009; 9:25 AM ET
Categories:  Bush Rollback  
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Comments

Newt Gingrich does not do himself any favors when he throws around words like "socialist". He comes across as someone screaming about the red menace.

I suppose Newt Gingrich would only be happy if the government consisted of our elected representatives and contractors. I've never understood why the Republicans seem so hell bent on adding layers of bureaucracy. Why do they insist that rather than hiring employees directly the federal government must hire someone to hire employees?

The extra layer ensures that we pay more for contractors than we do for direct employees. The actual employees tend to get less money. And, we lose accountability since the employees are no longer responsible to the government, but to their employer.

I agree it's a 180 degree turn, but that is exactly what is required right now. If you know you're going the wrong way the first thing to do is to backtrack. America must backtrack to a time when our federal government worked.

Posted by: fletc3her | March 3, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

"many cases we spend more to hire a contractor or a non-federal worker than we would pay to invest in federal workers."
______________________________________________________

I've been pointing that out for years. Ditto with the military jobs where we replaced some support PFC with contractors costing us more than twice as much.

Personally, I'm not surprised that the Republicans have decided that now is a good time to get rid of this system: since it's main advantages have always been corrupt ones, why should they want Democrats to be able to reap them? The two main advantages of private contracting were that you could funnel public money to your political allies to be "donated" back to you (as with Blackwater), and you could fire anyone for any reason, including not supporting your party. This corruption was so blatant during the last administration that one of their department heads was actually fool enough to brag about doing it openly, when he told contractors not to bother bidding if they didn't donate to the GOP.

It's time we got the temp agencies out of government. It's time we got serious about hiring - and keeping - only the best. Now is a good time to do so, as so many are in the market for a stable job with stable benefits.

Posted by: dj333 | March 3, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse

"He comes across as someone screaming about the red menace."

The entire GOP is coming across that way, save for the few remaining moderates. The media avoids pointing it out for fear of more accusations of liberal bias.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | March 3, 2009 12:07 PM | Report abuse

"I've never understood why the Republicans seem so hell bent on adding layers of bureaucracy. Why do they insist that rather than hiring employees directly the federal government must hire someone to hire employees?"

Because federal employees tend to vote Democratic, and owners of contracting firms tend to donate to Republicans.

Posted by: jimeh | March 3, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Responses to Gingrich: Yes, and about time, too.

Or: When you've been going in what was clearly the wrong direction, a 180-degree turn is called for.

Or: We tried it your way, and it was a disaster. Tough darts.

Posted by: dougom | March 3, 2009 5:12 PM | Report abuse

"... many cases we spend more to hire a contractor or a non-federal worker than we would pay to invest in federal workers."

Not to mention that there's no accountability for their performance. Of course, the Bush administration viewed this as a bonus.

Posted by: Madame_DeFarge | March 3, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

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