President Biden recently signed the Omnibus Appropriations Bill for 2023, a whopping $1.7 trillion. These appropriations authorize the hiring of an additional 50,000 federal employees. Almost every day we hear of corporate cutbacks or lay-offs in the private sector including CNN, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, and The Walt Disney Company to name a few. Bank of America is looking at a hiring freeze and allowing for attrition to shrink its payroll. Many other companies are continually looking at ways to save money and perform efficiently. Maybe the federal government should follow suit.
Republican Representatives have expressed concern about a very large hiring effort by the IRS but very little is said about the rest of the expansive federal civilian workforce. Recent spending packages from the American Rescue Plan, the infrastructure spending bill, and the so-called, Inflation Reduction Act all can add headcount.
We have a new Congress with the House majority going to the Republicans and potential Speaker, Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy has vowed to make spending accountability a priority. He specifically mentions the new appropriations and hiring authority for the IRS. Notwithstanding, why not review other federal agencies?
The Congressional Research Service tries hard to get an accurate count on employees and sets the numbers at 2.6 million civilian employees, plus another 60,000 in the legislative and judicial branches. This does not include the 600,000 postal employees because they are set up to self-finance. Keep in mind that there are hundreds of thousands of contractors working for federal agencies. Many of these are full time employees very similar in tenure and time of employment as federal employees.
According to the most recent data from the US Office of Personnel Management, the average federal employee salary is $110,000 annually. Benefits such as health insurance, retirement annuity and a thrift savings plan, which is equivalent to a 401(k) are standard. A relatively generous annual and sick leave package are also included.
Just like the private sector, much can be done with advancement in technology to hold down costs and indeed, many agencies are incorporating that technology to streamline mundane tasks. Representative McCarthy, should he become Speaker, must expand his review of not only the IRS but to all federal agencies. Not unlike the private sector, the result could be a more efficient and resilient federal workforce.
Steven W. Anderson is retired from the U.S. Department the Interior and is an AMAC Action Delegate in California’s 1st Congressional District.