The Trump administration has placed a hiring freeze on federal employees, with Presidential press secretary Sean Spicer claiming that this is related to “a dramatic expansion in the federal workforce.”
As Dean of a school that trains people for government employment, and having watched federal employment closely for several decades, this characterization seemed inaccurate, and indeed, it is.
The graph below (from Kevin Drum, using Federal Reserve data) shows 50 years of federal employment, versus total private sector American employment. While private sector jobs have basically doubled over this period, federal employees are essentially flat, with some ebbs and flows. Nor is there dramatic recent growth – the late 1980s and early 1990s were the high water mark in absolute numbers of federal government employees.
Many citizens are probably not aware of this lack of growth of federal employment, since federal expenditures have grown, even while employees are flat. This is because of the expansion of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other programs where government essentially writes a check directly to citizens. These efforts do not require large numbers of employees.