The government's “shadow workforce” of contractors grew by
727,000 positions between 1999 and 2002, while the civil service
got smaller, according to a new estimate by the Brookings
The estimate, which is sure to fuel the debate over federal
outsourcing efforts, finds that as of the end of 2002, federal
contracts were generating 5.17 million jobs, while grants
supported another 2.86 million jobs, the highest figures since the
end of the Cold War in 1990. At the same time, the number of civil
servants continued to shrink—in 2002, federal agencies had 1.76
million civil servants on the payroll, 418,000 fewer than they did
in 1990. The figures do not include postal workers or uniformed
In all, Brookings estimates the federal government relied on
16.7 million employees to carry out its missions in 2002, a figure
that includes civil servants, military personnel, postal workers
and people who work under federal contracts, grants and mandates
imposed on state and local governments. In 1999, this overall
figure stood at 15.6 million workers.
The estimate is the work of Paul Light, a senior fellow at
Brookings, who believes officials should consider government's
contract and grantee workforce as they debate outsourcing and
civil service reforms. “I believe all the jobs should be on the
table for discussion,” he said. “Virtually no one ever says that
contractors and grantees might be doing jobs that should be in the
civil service or back in the military.” Eagle Eye Publishers Inc.
of Fairfax, Va, helped compile Light's new estimate.
Most, if not all, agency personnel strategies only include
civil servants. Contracting, and the contractor workforce, is seen
as a procurement issue. In April, the General Accounting Office
urged the Defense Department to consider the role of
contractors in its “human capital” plan, but Defense demurred.
“The use of contractors is just another tool the department uses
to accomplish its mission, not a separate workforce, with separate
needs, to manage,” the department said in comments to GAO.
Federal contractors and unions were quick to react to the new
figures. “Light's update reminds us that contracting out doesn't
reduce the size of the federal government; rather, it merely makes
federal services delivered by contractors less accountable to
taxpayers and customers,” said John Gage, the new president of the
American Federation of Government Employees.
Stan Soloway, President of the Professional Services Council,
an Arlington, Va.-based contractors association, said Light's
estimate of contract positions should be viewed with caution. “I
don't dispute the general trends he's talking about, but I think
we need to be very careful about the [contract] numbers being
thrown around,” he said. “It doesn't measure direct functional
work; it measures jobs created as a result of federal spending.”
Light's method uses Commerce Department data to estimate the
total employment generated by federal contracts and grants. “I
like to say that federal contracts created an estimated 727,000
new jobs,” said Light, who is also a professor at New York
University's Wagner School of Public Service.
Soloway added that the new numbers show that contractors are
not replacing federal employees, since the growth of the
contractor workforce since 1999 far outpaced the drop in federal
employment over the same period. The civil service lost 46,000
positions from 1999 to 2002.
“If the government only lost roughly 50,000 positions [since
1999], yet he's saying there were a million positions created by
virtue of contracts and grants, it certainly defeats the argument
that we are contracting out on the backs of civil servants,” said
Soloway. “And if [the government] is creating a million new jobs,
that's a good thing.”
Light's analysis shows that the contract workforce has grown
rapidly under the Bush administration, both through new defense
spending and in contracts issued by civilian agencies.
“Many of these jobs have been added at agencies involved in the
war on terrorism, but many have also been added at domestic
agencies such as Health and Human Services,” he said.
Since 1999, civilian agencies have added 550,000 contract and
grantee jobs. Civilian agencies added only 300,000 such jobs from
1993 to 1999, during the Clinton administration.
Overall, the growth in contract and grantee jobs has replaced
three-fourths of the 2 million jobs cut at the end of the Cold
War, according to Light. “When all the jobs are totaled, the
federal government has added back all but 500,000 of the jobs cut
after the Cold War,” he said.
Both Gage and Colleen Kelley, president of the National
Treasury Employees Union, said Light's numbers should prompt the
Bush administration to reconsider its competitive sourcing
initiative, which lets contractors bid on federal jobs. “I hope
some people are shocked,” said Kelley. “I would say these numbers
show that there is more than enough work that has already been
moved to private contractors and in many instances not through any
The Office of Management and Budget did not respond to
questions on Light's estimates.
Light's analysis shows that federal grants supported 333,000
more jobs in 2002 than they did in 1999. In 2001, a Bush
administration study found agencies have
little data on the effectiveness of federal grant programs.
The True Size of the Federal
|Total True Size of Government
|State and Local Mandated Employees (1996 estimate)
|Total True Size w/ Mandated Employees