Bureaucracy: President Trump’s reigning metaphor of “draining the swamp” is very descriptive. And yet, a new report suggests it may not go far enough. The government Swamp’s a lot bigger and deeper than you know.
The nonprofit watchdog group Open The Books has put out a new report, “Mapping The Swamp,” that seeks to flesh out what has, until now, merely been a metaphor. What it found is eye-opening, and shows the size of the challenge that lies before President Trump as he seeks to drain it.
“We found small and large agencies across the federal government gaming the system for personal gain — and it’s expensive for the taxpayer,” said Adam Andrzejewski, CEO and founder of OpenTheBooks.com. “Congress should hold hearings to bring transparency to all the information we’re still missing, including performance bonuses and pension payouts. It’s time to squeeze out waste from compensation and stop abusive payroll practices.”
It’s hard to get your arms around just how big our government is — and how wasteful. But “Mapping The Swamp” does a good job of it in just 35 pages.
Start with the cost. The work force that the government directly employs costs just over $1 million per minute, or more than half a billion dollars a day. And that doesn’t include the more than two million people employed by the Defense Department or on active duty.
All told, in 2016, no doubt a peak year for the swamp, there were 1.97 million people on the federal payroll with a total compensation cost of $136.8 billion a year.
When you tote it all up, including the military, it’s a huge sum: nearly four million employees with a total annual cost of $221 billion a year.
We all know military pay isn’t high, but bureaucrats don’t come cheap. The average benefit package includes 10 federal holidays, 13 sick days and 20 vacation days — that’s four weeks — a year. The benefits alone cost taxpayers just under $23 billion a year.
The report even suggests that the government has an unofficial minimum wage: $100,000 a year. That’s the minimum average salary for 78 out of 122 federal departments and agencies, although some individuals make less. Even so, the report notes, “29,852 federal employees out-earned each of the 50 state governors receiving more than $190,823.”
It used to be people went into government to do good. Now, apparently, it’s to do well.
And who knew bureaucrats came in so many varieties? As the study shows, the government has some 579 separate job titles, “ranging from ‘Book Binding’ to ‘Zoology’.”
Some job categories are quite numerous. For instance, the study counts 35,000 lawyers, although just a third of them work for the Justice Department.
Meanwhile, the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has a distressing habit of letting veterans under its care die unnecessarily, employs nearly 3,500 police officers. Yet, Open The Books reports, the VA can’t even answer a simple question: How many crimes or incidents does its massive police force handle?
These are the reasons why people find our federal bureaucracy so maddening. Yet, for progressive proponents of big government, these highly paid bureaucrats are selfless, highly competent workers on the taxpayers’ behalf. “Public servants,” as it were. Gandhi-crats.
Unfortunately, economic research in recent years, especially that of Nobel Prize-winning economist James M. Buchanan, suggests that bureaucrats’ and politicians’ decisions aren’t selfless at all, but rather motivated by the same self-interest and desire to be wealthy as the rest of us. And, yes, it affects how they do their jobs — or don’t do them, as the case may be.
That’s why “Mapping The Swamp” is so important. As Mark Tapscott of LifeZette notes, ” ‘Mapping The Swamp’ may be the most comprehensive and creative report ever compiled on the true size and cost of the federal government.” We second that.
But we would add it also suggests the magnitude of the challenge that lies before Trump and his bureaucracy-shrinking cabinet. Given its enormous size and complexity, this ocean-sized swamp may be a lot harder to drain than we think.
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