Feds on a Hiring Spree, Whistling Past the Graveyard

I’ve written recently on two troubling developments:

With that backdrop, Alex Parker at Government Executive reports on the next piece of what’s shaping up to be an extremely disturbing—bordering on the absurd—puzzle.

A new study from the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service predicts a government hiring surge in critical fields during the next three years, especially in careers related to public health.

By September 2012, federal agencies will have hired 273,000 workers for mission-critical jobs, according to the report, which is set for release on Thursday. Those numbers mark a 41 percent increase, compared with the previous three fiscal years. The numbers are based on hiring projections from 35 federal agencies that employ more than 99 percent of federal workers.

Max Stier, president and chief executive officer of the Partnership, said one reason for the jump is the Obama administration’s push to beef up the federal workforce.

“There’s pent-up demand,” he said. “A lot of agencies have been flat-lined, or have been reduced for quite a number of years, and this administration is recognizing that this is a problem, and that they need to deal with it.” […]

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the government to restock its talent,” he said.

The Partnership has predicted that in Obama’s first term, agencies will bring on 600,000 employees, making a third of the federal workforce newly hired.

Are there no bounds to the self-delusion driving these workforce decisions? At a time of historic deficits and debt, we can’t even afford the federal employees we have today, much less contemplate adding a whopping 200,000+ new ones.

Here’s a simple thought experiment. Defenders of federal largesse are screaming that Cato’s pay figures are inflated (they come from official federal data, but that’s beside the point). I seriously doubt this, but for the sake of argument, let’s just say the pay disparity is less than half of Cato’s estimate. I’ll pick a ballpark $75,000 average federal pay & benefits to use a round number.

Do the math—273,000 new federal employees x $75,000 = $20.5 BILLION in new employee costs. Of course, this is a conservative, back-of-napkin calculation and is likely to be much more costly (over $30B if you use Cato’s estimate).

I realize that “billion” just doesn’t carry much emotional weight in an era when “trillion” is the new benchmark, but $20-30 billion is real money—and it’s our money. It’s neither rational nor fair for the private sector to have to absorb the employment shock of the recession while the feds go on a drunken-sailor hiring spree. Will the madness ever stop?