No, I haven’t gone over to the dark side — hear me out. A story in the Federal Times (a Gannett-owned paper geared toward federal workers) warns that pay and benefits for bureaucrats could be cut by the actions of the budget super-committee:
Dan Adcock, legislative director for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, said those cuts are likely to translate into staffing cuts, hiring freezes, and canceled programs.
For feds nearing retirement, there is one possible silver lining in this: These cuts could mean more buyout and early-retirement offers at some agencies, he said.
“It ratchets down even further on the resources available to federal agencies,” Adcock said. “It’s going to be a real challenge to federal managers to continue to do more with less. Hopefully, agencies will do everything short of [laying off] federal workers, whether through a freeze or downsizing through attrition.”
So far, so good — the federal workforce (including several million contractors) is obviously way too big. (Mickey Kaus recently highlighted the almost parodic want ad for an “Associate Administrator of Administration” at the Department of Transportation.) But the danger, it seems to me, is that we’ll take the wrong approach to shrinking the federal workforce, by cutting across the board and/or freezing salaries and hiring. This is a problem because there are some things we really do want the government to do, and to do right. And for many functions you need top people with specific marketable skills, so you need to offer competitive compensation. And if you’re trying to spread the “pain” evenly across all government agencies, you’re making certain essential jobs less attractive to the kind of talent you need to attract.
In looking at how to cut the cost of the federal workforce, we need to choose. Those things the federal government must continue to do need to be adequately funded, and savings need to come from abolishing entirely things it shouldn’t be doing. In other words, we need to abolish (or privatize or cut off funding for) the Department of Education, Department of Agriculture, the Small Business Administration, the U.S. Institute of Peace, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Tennessee Valley Authority, etc., precisely in order to ensure that we maintain a sufficient level of competence at the Treasury Department and the Census Bureau and the FBI and the National Weather Service and the Border Patrol, not to mention the Air Force.
Obviously people will disagree over which agencies should be abolished altogether — I, for instance, don’t see how we can abolish the IRS since someone has to collect taxes. But when the Democrats on the budget super-committee object to the elimination of any government agencies (as you know they will), what they’re really saying is that they want big and incompetent government, filled with people who couldn’t get better jobs and are not up to their tasks, instead of smaller government staffed by people with the talent and skills to do their jobs properly. This is a pro-government message, but one that favors capable administration, which must necessarily, under current conditions, be smaller than what we have. It is opposed to what can only be described as the Left’s anti-government message, which favors a numerically larger workforce, but which necessarily results (especially in a time of limited budgets) in government which is flabby and incompetent. We want a government that does fewer things, well; they want a government that does more things, badly.