Federal Eye: Time for another ‘War on Waste’?

President Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget would expand the size of the federal workforce to more than 2.1 million workers, well beyond the government’s size when Bill Clinton declared in 1996 that “the era of big government is over.”

Most of the hires would come at the Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs. The budget also sets aside money to hire more federal contract acquisition officers and calls for cutting contracts by “insourcing” certain “inherently governmental functions.”

Paul Light, a leading scholar on the federal government and presidential appointment process, has warned in recent days that the proposals could become a political wedge issue, potentially jeopardizing long-needed funding and staff increases, as the growing tea party movement within the Republican Party seeks to organize around the traditional GOP concern about the size of the federal government. (Shorter mentions of his concerns have also appeared here and here.)

“The hires are legitimate, but sooner or later conservatives are going to look at these details and will bang away on Obama and the Democrats,” he said in a recent interview.

Massachusetts Sen.-elect Scott Brown campaigned on the issue of freezing federal salaries, arguing the government should hold off on expansion plans until it found a way to control costs and the debt.

It’s an easier issue to exploit and explain than concerns about the ballooning national debt, Light said. Skeptical voters less familiar with fiscal policy are more likely understand and can be led to believe that the federal government wastes a great amount of money.

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