Economics

Too Big to Function

For most of us, we never grasp the full totality of the size of the United States Government and its local entities. As of August 2015, those employed by government in the United States outnumbered the private manufacturing sector almost 1.8 to 1.0. There were 21,995,000 employed by federal, state, and local governments. By contrast, there were only 12,239,000 people employed in the manufacturing sector. Of the 21,995,000, 556,000 worked in the Postal Service, 5,092,000 worked for state governments, and 14,165,000 worked for local governments.

A recent Democratic budget submitted to Congress for consideration numbered 1,900 pages. The 2012 Democratic Budget proposal was 2,403 pages in length. Its size is the equivalent of adding the number of pages together in Tolstoy’s War and Peace with Ann Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. The current United States Tax Code numbers 74,608 pages filling 9 huge volumes.

Congress considers approximately 5,000 bills each year with only 5% ever signed into law. Sadly, with fewer bills being considered, the bills are becoming larger and larger, wrapped up in massive omnibus packages that fill dozens of binders. The Affordable Care Act was 2,700 pages long and this did not include the 20,000 pages of regulations. Votes on 1,000 page bills regularly come before Congress filled with pet projects, bridges to nowhere, and obscure regulations. It happens because there is no accountability and no one can feasibility read these packages in their entirety.

The Defense Budget alone is massive. The overall United States Defense budget covering material, strategies, and spending issues will easily run 500+ pages with thousands of pages of statistical data in support of a $581 billion dollar budget forecast. Our military is running currently at around 2,500,000 million members (1.4 active duty and 1.1 million reserve members) plus the 3,340,000 retired officers and enlisted personnel currently drawing pensions and benefits. For example, the Pentagon alone employees 23,000 civilian and military personnel in 6.5 million square feet of office space situated on 34 acres with 5 stories above ground and two basement levels.

For one recordkeeping function alone, the 1996 Congressional Review Act requires federal agencies to submit reports to Congress on economically significant rules. In 2013, regulators added an estimated 157.9 million hours of paperwork to comply with the 80,224 new pages of regulations in the Federal Register. Each year it gets worse. The cumulative number of hours spent on regulatory-related paperwork is running around 10.38 billion hours.

Everywhere one turns, the numbers are staggering. Headcount continues to grow. We have the IRS with its 90,000 employees and the new Department of Homeland Security with its 240,000 member staff. Add in the EPA with its 15,193 members and the Border Patrol with its 21,000 agents and the list becomes overwhelming. Even Congress with all its staffs cannot seem to get its hands around the size and administration of the United States Government. Our “unbalanced” budgets are now running in the trillions of dollars. In 2014, the Federal Government spent $514 billion dollars more than it took in and adding this deficit to the accumulated deficits from prior years, the Federal Government spent $430,812,121,372 (that’s billion) dollars in interest in 2014 on this outstanding debt of $19,289,650,546,973 (that’s trillion) dollars.

I am not sure where it will all end. Could it end in a potential default on our outstanding debt? Could foreign nations refuse to buy our securities? Could we become a Greece-like nation cutting benefits and reducing our entitlement programs by 20 or 30%? Whatever the answer, our Federal Government has become too large and no longer functions as our forefathers intended.


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About the author

Donald Wittmer

DONALD WITTMER is a husband, father, grandfather, and business executive with over forty years experience. His professional experience has included service as Vice-President of Sales for National City Bank in Cleveland, Ohio; auditor for Daimler Chrysler Corporation; and Fiscal Agency Manager for the Detroit branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. He received his undergraduate degree from Cincinnati's Xavier University and his M.A. in business management from Central Michigan University. While at the Fed, he received certification in bank operations from the School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin- Madison.

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