Fortune 500 companies for many years have periodically utilized the often-painful process of “right-sizing.” Some call the process “getting rid of the dead wood.” Call it whatever, a Wharton MBA is not required to know that paying unnecessary employees steals resources from other more productive investments, making it harder for an enterprise to reach profitability or deliver services efficiently.
If nothing else, the partial shutdown of the federal government provides an opportunity for Congress, President Obama and taxpayers to re-evaluate the size and scope of the federal government. It's been estimated that about 43 percent of the 2.1 million federal works have been classified as nonessential. The question then becomes, why are taxpayers funding more than 900,000 workers government managers define as nonessential?
An essential federal employee performs “emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property or performing certain other types of excepted work,” according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Even though 57 percent of government employees are still working, not all of them are actually essential. Note, too, that being classified nonessential doesn’t mean all such workers do nothing worthwhile on the job during normal times. It does, however, make clear the government has too many employees.
Government Executive magazine recently published a chart that provides an excellent starting point for right-sizing the federal government in the percentages of nonessential employees at some of the most familiar departments and agencies. Remember, these percentages were determined by federal managers who know their staffs better than anybody else in government because they work with them daily:
• 99 percent of the National Science Foundation
• 98 percent of NASA
• 98 percent of the Federal Communications Commission
• 96 percent of Housing and Urban Development
• 95 percent of the Environmental Protection Agency
• 95 percent of the Department of Education
• 90 percent of the Treasury Department
• 84 percent of the Department of Agriculture
• 81 percent of the Labor Department
• 74 percent of the White House staff
• 69 percent of the Department of Energy
• 51 percent of the Department of Health and Human Services
• 50 percent of civilian defense workers
When government managers declare such high percentages of workers to be nonessential, taxpayers have every right to demand to know why Congress and the president are spending hundreds of billions of tax dollars on such a bloated workforce when the country is $17 trillion in debt.
Wasting billions of tax dollars on unneeded workers also encourages other forms of mischief. As Washington Examiner investigative reporter Mark Flatten reported earlier this week, thousands of federal bureaucrats get full-time pay and benefits but do no work for the taxpayers. They're on “official time” working for federal employee unions that regularly lobby Congress for more government spending, higher taxes and increased regulation. Only a handful of agencies know how many of their employees are on official time at what cost. Most don't have a clue. That description fits too many people in the nation's capital.