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Out Here: Was Reagan really a small-government guy? Actually, no

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013 1:15 a.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013 11:41 a.m. CST
David Giuliani writes for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or 800-798-4085, ext. 525.

Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter in 1980 largely on the promise that he would reduce the size of government.

So it stands to reason that Dixon’s favorite son would have cut the size of the federal bureaucracy after the supposedly pro-government Carter increased it.

That would be logical, but that’s not what happened.

During Carter’s 4-year term, the federal government’s workforce dropped by seven-tenths of a percent, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which has tracked such numbers since 1962. In Reagan’s 8 years, the bureaucracy grew by 6.5 percent.

I started researching this information after a Facebook friend wrote to me, “The size of government did shrink a little in the 1980s ...”

I pointed out that it hadn’t.  

He had a quick answer: “You are right. The military grew to finish off the Soviet Union. The bureaucratic side did shrink.”

Wrong again.

The civilian bureaucracy jumped by 8.2 percent under Reagan. The military grew by less – at 4.1 percent.

In the 1990s, under Democrat Bill Clinton, the government workforce dropped by 16.2 percent.

My Facebook friend explained that by saying, “Yeah, counting the military, it declined under Clinton due to the end of the Cold War.”

Actually, the civilian workforce declined by 10.4 percent under Clinton. So it wasn’t just the dwindling of the military, which dropped 18.2 percent.

Under Republican George W. Bush, the trend reversed, with both civilian and military employment rising. The total federal workforce jumped by 1.8 percent.

Under Democrat Barack Obama, the government has seen a 4.6 percent rise in employment. The latest number available from the Office of Personnel Management was in 2011. The workforce has been dropping since 2010. 

Over the past 35 years, Democrats have typically cut the size of the bureaucracy, while Republicans have grown it – all rhetoric aside.

That’s why the small government-advocating tea party is suspicious of the Republican Party. Locally, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, who represents Lee County, is facing a challenge from David Hale, founder of the Rockford Tea Party. The tea party says Kinzinger is too quick to surrender to big government.

Obama may be the one Democratic president in recent times who increased the size of the federal workforce, but that could change: He still has more than 3 years left in his term. 

David Giuliani writes for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or 800-798-4085, ext. 525. 

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