- Historic Sites
August 1974 | Volume 25, Issue 5
The surprising fact is that the American bureaucracy, despite the many demands placed upon it, is not the world’s largest, nor is its rate of increase markedly different from the growth of civil services in other industrialized countries in the postwar world. Its total currently accounts for 1.3 per cent of the American population, a ratio exactly equal to Great Britain’s civil service in relation to its population. Indeed, that part of the British bureaucracy comparable to our own has doubled in size since 1930, and total government employment, including nationalized industries, has quadrupled.
Although it is difficult to draw comparisons with governments other than England’s, the American bureaucracy, proportionate to population, is among the world’s smaller government services. France’s, for example, is estimated to comprise 2.5 per cent of its people; in Scandinavia the totals average about 2 per cent.
Equally surprising is the fact that the federal bureaucracy has declined in size in the last five years, with the deepest cuts coming in 1972 and 1973. The overall total is down roughly 10 per cent over 1969 because of the elimination of about 269,000 civilian jobs in the Defense Department at the conclusion of the war in Vietnam and of some 60,000 jobs in the reorganized Postal Service.
The 2.7 million employees who remain are spread through the Executive Office of the President, eleven executive departments of the Cabinet, forty-five independent agencies, Congress, and the courts. At the present time, as in every year since 1945, one department and two agencies account for about 70 per cent of all federal employment: Defense (1,072,522 civilians), the Postal Service (665,224), and the Veterans’ Administration (192,021). Three departments absorb 12 per cent among them: HEW (117,425), Treasury (111,057), and Agriculture (107,990). The legislative branch employs 32,782, slightly more than one per cent of the total. The smallest of the regular agencies is the National Mediation Board, with a total staff of 112.
Only 10 per cent of the federal bureaucracy resides in Washington (another constant since 1945). Some 5 per cent live overseas on foreign service or in the territories and possessions. More than 20 per cent of all federal employees (570,000) are blue-collar workers, nearly three fourths of whom are in the Defense Department as skilled craftsmen, machine operators, manual laborers, custodial personnel, and the like. Slightly more than 30 per cent of all employees are women, the bulk of them in clerical positions. Approximately 14 per cent (387,000) are black, and 5 per cent more (as of 1972) are drawn from other minorities. The average age of male employees is forty-three, although 30 per cent (219,000) are over the age of fifty. The average age of females is just under forty, but nearly 32 per cent (266,000) are under thirty, and less than 2 per cent are over fifty. Nearly one quarter of the total work force has less than five years’ experience, although this includes nearly 39 per cent of all females. The average length of service for males is fifteen years; for females, just under ten years. Only 5 per cent of the whole (151,000) has more than thirty years’ service.
Despite the myth that bureaucrats enter government service and never leave, since 1945 the annual withdrawal has ranged from one sixth to one quarter of the total payroll. Since 1960 an average of 10 per cent have resigned each year. In 1972, the last year for which statistics are available, 484,168 employees, or 18 per cent of the whole, left federal employment. Some 194,000, or 7 per cent of the total force, resigned. Twenty-seven thousand were discharged for cause (inefficiency, misconduct, or delinquency), and 262,576, roughly 10 per cent of the whole, withdrew for a variety of reasons, including retirement, the termination of their appointments, and death.
In 1973 payroll expenses for the federal bureaucracy amounted to $33 billion in salaries plus $4.7 billion in fringe benefits, an increase of 53.3 per cent over 1968. The average annual federal wage is now $11,749, compared to $8,482 five years ago. The minimum wage on the General Services wage scale is $5,017; the maximum wage at GS grade 15 is $31,519. Some five thousand employees who qualify for the so-called supergrades (GS 16–18) earn $36,000 yearly, a sum set in 1969.
During the ten-year period 1962–72, according to The Tax Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit research organization, governmental salaries rose by an average of 88 per cent, compared with a 66 per cent rise in private industry and a rise of 38 per cent in the consumer price index. At the present time, according to the foundation, 23 per cent of the civilian bureaucracy earn less than $8,000 a year, and 12 per cent earn $20,000 or more.
The salary increases are a result of legislation passed more than a decade ago to bring federal salaries into line with private business in the hope of attracting able personnel to public service. It is The Tax Foundation’s contention that parity has been reached and now surpassed, indicating that Congress should once again review the situation.