If there was any doubt that the Democratic Party views government workers as a core constituency it should be dispelled by a recent letter by 24 Democrat senators to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Even as the military is set to cut more than 100,000 uniform personnel and private sector defense contractors are shedding workers and shutting facilities, these “Dirty Two Dozen” lawmakers are demanding that the Department of Defense act to protect the jobs of government workers. The senators want Panetta to eliminate the current civilian hiring freeze, treat bureaucrats as equal to uniform military personnel under a ‘total workforce” policy and cap spending on services contracts with the private sector. The net result of the proposals made in the letter will be to grow the Pentagon civilian bureaucracy and increase the costs of doing business precisely as defense budget cuts approved by these same senators among others weaken the military’s fighting strength.
Contrary to the suggestion in the letter that private contractors are being given preference over public sector workers, government-wide expenditures on contracted services already has been frozen at the level of the president’s 2010 budget request. In addition, in 2011 the Office of Management and Budget ordered all federal agencies to reduce spending on services by 15 percent by the end of 2012.
The letter implies that the Pentagon’s civilian workforce somehow is being mistreated. This ignores the fact that under policies instituted by Panetta’s predecessor, Robert Gates, the decision was made to grow the bureaucracy at the expense of private contractors. The claim made then was that by bringing work previously done in the private sector back into the government, a process called “insourcing,” the government could save money. Since then, the department has reduced spending on services by ten percent while increasing the size of the bureaucracy by a nearly equal amount.
Rather than saving money, the orgy of insourcing has actually increased the Pentagon’s operating costs. Former Secretary of Defense Gates admitted as much publicly in 2010. This is not surprising in view of the recent report by the Congressional Budget Office comparing public and private sector labor costs which concluded that the average total compensation of public sector workers is 16 percent higher than that of private sector workers. The differential is a whopping 35 percent for blue collar and clerical workers. Even with a hiring freeze in place, the cost of the government workforce continues to rise as a consequence of “grade creep” and bonus payments.
The letter demands that the Pentagon conduct cost comparisons when outsourcing work done by government workers to the private sector. There is no equal call for a full and fair cost comparison on decisions to insource work. It is interesting that some of these same senators have advocated legislation that would forbid the defense department from including the value of benefits in their cost comparisons. The reason for this is that they know that government workers generally enjoy far more generous benefits than their private sector counterparts. Apparently, for these legislators, fairness is a one-way street.
The measures the letter propose would do nothing for the efficiency and effectiveness of the Department of Defense operations while further bloating the bureaucracy and increasing the costs of national defense. It is no surprise that there is not a single Republican among the Dirty Two Dozen.
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