The True Size of Government

The True Size of Government

The True Size of Government

The True Size of Government

Synopsis

This book addresses a seemingly simple question: Just how many people really work for the federal government? Official counts show a relatively small total of 1.9 million full-time civil servants, as of 1996. But, according to Paul Light, the true head count is nearly nine times higher than the official numbers, with about 17 million people actually providing the government with goods and services. Most are part of what Light calls the "shadow of government" -- nonfederal employees working under federal contracts, grants, and mandates to state and local governments. In this book--the first that attempts to establish firm estimates of the shadow work force-- he explores the reasons why the official size of the federal government has remained so small while the shadow of government has grown so large. Light examines the political incentives that make the illusion of a small government so attractive, analyzes the tools used by officials to keep the official headcount small, and reveals how the appearance of smallness affects the management of government and the future of the public service. Finally, he points out ways the federal government can better manage the shadow work force it has built over the past half-century.

Excerpt

The past thirty years have witnessed the most significant change in the federal public service since the modern civil service system was created in 1883. So Paul C. Light argues in The True Size of Government. Under nearly constant pressure to do more with less, the federal government has created a blended public work force composed of federal employees and their private, nonprofit, and state and local partners. Although the federal government has been contracting out for goods and services since the Revolutionary War, Light argues that it has never been more dependent on a shadow work force to accomplish its mission.

The True Size of Government provides the first rigorous estimates of just how large this blended work force is and asks both why it evolved and how it has changed. in doing so, Light seeks to reframe the contemporary debate about how government performs its tasks, arguing that Congress and the president spend too much time focusing on the number of civil servants and too little asking what kind of work force the government needs to hold the core competency to assure merit, capacity, accountability, and performance. Although the book clearly challenges recent conclusions regarding the end of the era of big government as measured by total civil service employment, its primary concern is with the evolving nature of public service in an era when it is difficult to tell where the federal mission ends and contract, grant, and state and local mandates begin.

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