Yes, Cut the Federal Government and Its Workforce

Michael Chapman

In a recent speech, GOP presidential contender Vivek Ramaswamy outlined a multi‐​year plan to reduce the federal workforce by 75 percent, slash regulations, and “shut down redundant federal agencies,” if elected. While Ramaswamy’s goals may seem fantastic, scholars at the Cato Institute have presented detailed policies for reducing the size of the federal government and its workforce.

In 2022, for instance, economist Chris Edwards, the editor of Cato’s Down​siz​ing​Gov​ern​ment​.org, published a detailed plan of specific cuts to the federal budget. These spending reductions, phased in over 10 years, would “by 2032 total $2.3 trillion annually, including reduced interest costs,” he wrote.

U.S. Capitol dome. (Getty Images)

Federal spending would fall from “23.8 percent of GDP in 2022 to 18.1 percent in 2032, which would balance the budget that year,” and “reduce dangerously high debt levels,” wrote Edwards. The cuts would also trim the federal workforce, which is estimated at 2.2 million civilian workers.

With health care, for instance, Edwards’ plan would produce annual savings of $808 billion (see Table 1). For Social Security, cuts would equal $380 billion a year. Total annual savings in those two categories would equal $1.18 trillion.

With discretionary federal programs there are many places to reduce spending (see Table 2). For instance, in the Agriculture Department, ending farm subsidies would total $33.5 billion a year in savings, and cutting food subsidies would equal $145.6 billion. Ending rural subsidies would save $5.8 billion a year. Total annual savings in 2032 for the department would equal $184 billion.

Some of the annual savings from phased‐​in cuts in several other departments include,

  • Department of Commerce $5.1 billion
  • Department of Education $75.9 billion
  • Department of Energy $6.8 billion
  • Department of Homeland Security $30.1 billion
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development $67.3 billion
  • Department of Transportation $49.8 billion
  • Department of the Treasury $89.4 billion
  • Cut foreign aid by 50 percent $12.3 billion
  • Cut NASA budget by 50 percent $11.7 billion
  • End EPA state/​local grants $3.7 billion

In total, the discretionary spending cuts from Edwards’ plan would produce an annual savings of $610.9 billion. (“The plan assumes that one‐​tenth of the cuts would be phased in each year over the coming decade.”)

These reductions in federal spending would produce numerous benefits. They would boost economic growth (more money and opportunities in the private sector), trim the power of the administrative state (fewer federal workers), slash deficit spending, reduce inflation and the national debt, and enhance individual liberty. Federal downsizing would disperse power out of Washington and back to the people—individuals, private businesses, and communities.

It would also help to corral the federal government back inside its constitutional borders.

In a separate report on federal pay and benefits, Edwards documented that the 2.2 million federal civilian workers impose “a substantial burden on American taxpayers.” Their wages and benefits in 2019 cost taxpayers $291 billion.

wages, federal
(source: Cato​.org, Down​siz​ing​Gov​ern​ment​.org)

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reported in 2022 that federal civilian workers enjoyed an average wage of $99,622. In the private sector that year the average annual salary was $74,666.

But that does not include total compensation, such as health insurance, paid vacation days, and a pension. In 2022, total federal compensation averaged $143,643, or 63 percent more than the private‐​sector average of $88,152, reported Down​siz​ing​Gov​ern​ment​.org.

On average, a federal civilian worker’s benefits package cost $44,021 (in 2021); in the private sector, the package cost $13,486.

Federal workers also get about “13 days of sick leave per year, 10 paid federal holidays, and 13 to 26 days of paid vacation, depending on years of service,” reported the Washington Post. They also “enjoy first priority and subsidies at a number of top‐​notch daycare facilities.”

compensation, federal
(source: Cato​.org, Down​siz​ing​Gov​ern​ment​.org)

On top of all this, federal workers rarely get fired. As Down​siz​ing​Gov​ern​ment​.org reported, “Just 0.5 percent of federal civilian workers a year get fired for any reason, including poor performance and misconduct. That rate is just one‐​sixth of the private‐​sector firing rate.”

In such a situation, footed by American taxpayers, there is no incentive to scale back or improve, no retrenching. There are no market forces at play, no competition, and virtually no layoffs. Yet this intractable behemoth administers $6,200,000,000,000 in revenue.

It is no mystery why the federal government is inefficient and intervening in nearly every aspect of people’s lives.

The federal government and its workforce must be radically downsized. There are ways to do that. But it takes political commitment. Talking about a 75 percent federal workforce reduction may seem unattainable, but talking about it is a start. Even a 7 percent reduction would be a giant step in the direction of freedom.

Cato Report: Zero Chance of Being Killed by Terrorist Who Crossed U.S. Border Illegally, 1975-2022

Michael Chapman

Among many interesting facts in a new Cato Institute report, Terrorism and Immigration, is that between 1975 and 2022 the annual chance of being killed on U.S. soil in an attack by a terrorist who crossed the border illegally was zero.

During the same timeframe, “the annual chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack by a refugee [was] about 1 in 3.3 billion,” said the report’s author, Alex Nowrasteh.

Foreign‐​born terrorists killed 3,046 people in the U.S. between 1975 and 2022, but the statistical chance of an illegal immigrant committing such a crime was zero. Most of the 219 foreign‐​born terrorists who killed those 3,046 people were in the U.S. on tourist and student visas, the report documents.

Most of the victims (97.8 percent) were killed on Sept. 11, 2001. The other victims (2.2 percent) lost their lives in a few attacks over 48 years (1975–2022).

In that period, the report documents that “the approximate annual chance that an American resident would be murdered in a terrorist attack carried out by a foreign‐​born terrorist was 1 in 4,338,984.”

Another interesting fact is that the overwhelming majority of foreign‐​born terrorist attacks in the U.S. were committed by radical Islamists. For instance, between 1975 and 2022, 219 foreign‐​born terrorists carried out operations on U.S. soil. Among those terrorists, “67 percent were Islamists,” according to the report.

Among the other foreign‐​born terrorists, “16 percent were foreign nationalists, 6 percent were right‐​wing extremists, 5 percent were non‐​Islamic religious terrorists, 4 percent were left‐​wing extremists, and the rest were separatists, adherents of other or unknown ideologies, or targeted worshippers of specific religions,” states the report.

Terrorism is terrifying, but it is fortunately infrequent. The chance of being murdered in a non‐​terrorist homicide was 316 times as great as being killed in a terrorist attack during the 48‐​year period studied in the policy analysis. Terrorism committed by foreign‐​born terrorists remains a threat to the life, liberty, and property of Americans but it is a relatively small threat that has diminished over time.

Four GOP Presidential Candidates Say They’ll Close Education Department—That’s Good Policy

Michael Chapman

Republicans have been promising to shut down the federal Department of Education ever since it was created by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, some 43 years ago. At the first GOP presidential debate on August 23, four contenders said they would end the department if elected. While trusting a politician’s promise is a dubious gamble, closing down Fed‐​Ed is good policy.

At the GOP debate in Milwaukee on August 23, Vivek Ramaswamy said, “Let’s shut down the head of the snake: the Department of Education. Take that $80 billion [and] put it in the hands of parents across this country. This is the civil rights issue of our time.”

Three other Republicans on the stage echoed that point: former Vice President Mike Pence, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

The fiscal year 2023 budget for the Department of Education is $79.6 billion, which, rounded off, is the $80 billion cited by Ramaswamy. The department employs 4,400 people, according to its website.

As the Cato Institute’s 2022 Handbook for Policymakers states, “The Constitution gives the federal government no authority to exercise control over elementary and secondary education, including by spending money and attaching conditions to the funds, the primary mode by which Washington has influenced education.”

America’s Founders believed that education was “best left in the hands of parents and civil society—the families and communities closest to the children—and certainly not in a distant national government,” reports the Cato Handbook. “Nearly 60 years of experience with major and, until very recently, constantly expanding federal meddling in K–12 education have proved them right.”

Some public schools, of course, do an excellent job, and some schools are total failures. And no one denies that many teachers in our public schools are selfless, dedicated, and hard‐​working educators. But the federal government should not be involved. It’s unconstitutional, period. It also apparently does no good.

For instance, educational assessments of U.S. public school students are not encouraging. This suggests that the $80 billion spent by the Department of Education might be better spent if it was left in the hands of parents and students.

In December 2019, the Washington Post reported, “Teenagers in the United States continue to lag behind their peers in East Asia and Europe in reading, math and science, according to results of an international exam that suggest U.S. schools are not doing enough to prepare young people for the competitive global economy.”

That test is the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). The exam is administered to 15‐​year‐​olds in 79 countries every three years. In the 2018 PISA results, the U.S. ranked 13th in reading, behind such countries as China, Hong Kong, Estonia, Canada, Ireland and Poland, reported the Post.

In science, U.S. students ranked 18th and, in math, U.S. students came in 37th, behind students from Russia, Iceland, Latvia and England.

In another measure, the National Center for Education Statistics found that for the school year 2022–23, “The average scores for 13‐​year‐​olds declined 4 points in reading and 9 points in mathematics compared to the previous assessment administered during the 2019–20 school year. Compared to a decade ago, the average scores declined 7 points in reading and 14 points in mathematics.”

The federal government has intervened in America’s public schools for decades, starting as far back as 1957 with the National Defense Education Act. By most every measure, that intervention has not made things better for educating our children.

There’s no constitutional warrant for federal involvement in K–12 education, except perhaps in a few narrow areas: accommodating school choice for military families, Native Americans, and in the District of Columbia, which is overseen by Congress.

As the Cato Handbook notes, “In 1943, the U.S. Constitution Sesquicentennial Commission, chaired by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, published a document that included the following: ‘Q. Where, in the Constitution, is there mention of education? A. There is none; education is a matter reserved for the states.’”

How ironic that Republican presidential contenders in 2023 agree with the liberal FDR—now that’s bipartisanship!