Should government go on a diet?

Growing layers of bureaucrats spell trouble for getting the job done

"The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government" survey results

The federal bureaucracy continues to grow each year with few efforts to stop the costly expansion, according to a new report released last month.

The study, "Fact Sheet on the Continued Thickening of Government," by Paul Light, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, finds that there are more layers at the top of government and more officials at each layer than ever before.

Thickening the federal bureaucracy complicates communication within agencies and makes it difficult — if not impossible — for vital information to pass from the top of the hierarchy to the bottom and vice versa, Light said.

"Information must pass through layer upon layer before it reaches the top of the hierarchy," Light said. Given the system's complexity, accountability in government is nearly impossible to manage. "Information is often delivered by word of mouth through a process that has come to resemble the childhood game of telephone," he said.

The report cites a number of factors that drive the steady growth of federal bureaucracy:

An expanding federal agenda.

The use of promotions in lieu of pay increases.

The effort to control the federal bureaucracy through denser networks of political appointees.

The creation of new titles, such as chief information officer and inspector general, by Congress.

Light said some titles created since 1960, such as assistant secretaries, CIOs, chief financial officers and a host of others, help the federal government adapt to changing needs and operate more effectively. But most positions do not.

If the layers of government continue to increase, so too will "the number of stories about missed information, the number of stories about senior officials who don't know what's going on at the bottom of their agencies and the number of stories about difficulties recruiting young people to the federal government because they can't see the opportunity for advancement in these dense hierarchies," Light said.

Some argue, however, that there is a difference between a title and a layer of government. The number of senior executive titleholders is less indicative of performance than the organizational structure of an agency's decision-making process.

"You really need to look at the function of the individuals and the decision-making progress of the organization," said Max Stier, chief executive officer and president of the Partnership for Public Service. "You could create a title that recognizes a person's performance but doesn't increase the work that has to be done to make a decision."

Surveys that assess how federal employees feel about their work environment better demonstrate the problems in organizational structure, Stier said. The partnership's Best Places to Work in the Federal Government survey uses data from the Office of Personnel Management and 100,000 federal workers to determine employee satisfaction.

The Interior and Commerce departments are examples of agencies with dense hierarchies that don't necessarily correlate to a dissatisfied workforce. Both agencies have at least 22 layers of executive titles and, according to the survey, boast a top 10 ranking in the categories of most satisfied frontline employees and executive employees.

"That kind of objective data is very helpful in understanding how employees perceive their work environment [and], therefore, how likely they are to get work done," Stier said. "It's a data-driven way of assessing whether government is getting better or worse that will give a much more nuanced and detailed sense of how employees are dealing within their environment."

***

The government's expanding waistline

Growth of senior executives in the past five years:

The Justice Department has 25 new positions, a 13 percent increase.

The State Department has 18 new positions, a 14 percent increase.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has 22 new positions, a 45 percent increase.

The Agriculture Department has 58 new positions, a 24 percent increase.

The Education Department has 22 new positions, a 20 percent increase.

The Transportation Department has 27 new positions, a 16 percent increase.

The Labor Department has 10 new positions, a 9 percent increase.

Source: "Fact Sheet on the Continued Thickening of Government" by Paul Light

NEXT STORY: Army tests portal additions

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.