Big Government and Campaign Politics

October 15, 1976

Report Outline
Issue Over Federal Pay and Jobs
Development of the Federal Service
Efforts to Control the Bureaucracy
Special Focus

Issue Over Federal Pay and Jobs

Political Campaign Attacks on Big Bureaucracy

The size of the federal bureaucracy is a perennial target of public and political criticism. And this year's presidential campaign has provided a national forum for that criticism. “Our government in Washington now is a horrible bureaucratic mess,” Democratic presidential nominee Jimmy Carter has said. “It is disorganized, wasteful, has no purpose; and its policies—when they exist—are incomprehensible or devised by special interest groups with little regard for the welfare of the average American citizen.” Carter has promised to pare some 1,900 federal agencies down to about 200. He has also recommended the use of “zero-based” budgeting—a procedure to encourage lawmakers to question the value of existing programs by asking what would happen if agency budgets were zero.

While Carter has been attacking the executive branch, President Ford has chosen to attack what he considers a wasteful and lethargic Congress. He has pressed for a decrease in federal regulatory control and has espoused the virtues of the private sector. “We must not continue drifting in the direction of bigger and bigger government,” he said in his budget message to Congress on Jan. 21, 1976. “The driving force of our 200-year history has been our private sector.” This thought has recurred in his campaign speeches. Ford has pointed with pride to the fact that he has reduced federal employment by 11,000 since taking office two years ago.

Put on the defensive by the attacks on big government are some 2.9 million federal civilian employees. Many have begun to strike back at what they feel is unfair criticism. “Federal employees will not continue to be second-class citizens,” Francis Filbey, president of the American Postal Workers Union, said at a protest rally in Washington last June. “We have too many politicians running against Washington and blaming the federal employee for everything they think is wrong in Washington.”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Budget Process
Campaigns and Elections
Government Labor-Management Relations