Good Question: How Many People Work For The Federal Gov’t?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — President Donald Trump has said the federal workforce is too big.

He’s expected to propose significant cuts to it in his 2018 budget Thursday.

So, how many people work for the federal government?

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis says it’s between 2.1 and 2.2 million people. That’s about 1.3 percent of the entire United States workforce.

That number has remained relatively constant since 1970, adjusting for temporary increases when workers were hired for the U.S. Census.

It went as high as 2.3 million in the early 1990s, but dropped to 1.8 million in 2000.

“There’s been very little growth in the number of federal employees, both through Republican and Democratic administrations,” said Jim Scheibel, professor at Hamline University, and former director of AmeriCorps VISTA and SeniorCorps during the Clinton administration.

The 2.1 million number does not include people who work for the U.S. Post Office, which stands at 620,000. It also does not include active-duty military members, which is about 1.3 million.

The biggest group of federal workers is with Veteran’s Affairs (368,000), followed by the civilian workers for the Army (239,000), the Navy (201,000) and the Department of Homeland Security (190,000). Compare that to smaller agencies like NASA (17,000), EPA (15,000) or the State Department (13,000).

The federal workforce shrunk by about half a million people during the Clinton years. Scheibel says the government contracted out a lot of that work during that time. The government does not collect good data on federal contract workers, but New York University Professor Paul Light estimates it’s about 3.7 million people.

“I could cut tomorrow the federal workforce by 10 percent just by contracting out the work,” Scheibel said. “I think we need to go back about what do we want from our federal employees? What are our goals? What kind of level of services do we want and who can best provide them?”

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