September 11, 2015

Restoring Civil Servants to their Proper Role

From: RegBlog | Penn Program on Regulation


Professor Dilulio‘s dazzling data-driven response highlights the contractor problem in government. We do not know if contractors are better or more efficient than civil servants, but we do know that their use has grown exponentially, while the civil service has remained the same size it was during the presidency of John F. Kennedy. As Professor Dilulio shows, we now spend the same amount on service contractors as on the entire civil service. Some agencies are virtually run by contractors. The U.S. Department of Energy, for example, has about 13,000 civil servants and over 100,000 contractors, and I have a feeling that one would find similar ratios at the U.S. Agency for International Development. In these circumstances, the question of who is in charge is one with serious implications for our constitutional structure.

But my experience in government has taught me that to turn this trend around, or even contain it, we need to improve the civil service system itself. Government Executive magazine recently had a front page story headlined: “Can’t Hire, Can’t Fire.” That says it all. As Professor Dilulio well knows, before we can restore civil servants to their proper role in our constitutional system, we must make it easier to hire good people and terminate those who do not measure up. Otherwise, it is too easy for agency heads (who as political appointees have limited time horizons) to work around the sclerotic civil service hiring system by bringing on always-available contractors.


This essay is the fourth in a four-part RegBlog seriesGood Government Requires Good People.

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