Not a Detail Man

Good catch by Josh Marshall on Newt Gingrich’s breezy statement during last night’s presidential candidate debate that civil service reform could save the federal government “a minimum of $500 billion a year.”

That sounded pretty crazy to me since that’s like 15% of the entire federal government. And the vast majority of federal spending goes to the military and transfer payments like Social Security and Medicare.

Well, we looked into it and it turns out that the federal government’s entire payroll, even including the military, came to just $432.6 billion in fiscal 2011. In other words, if you fired everyone who works for the federal government you couldn’t save $500 billion.

Our requests for comment from the Newt campaign have yet to be returned.

But then we know Newt Gingrich is a big-picture kinda guy who can’t much be troubled with getting the facts straight. He might have been within a few hundred billion of the right figure.

It reminds me of the story about Will Rogers’ suggestion, at the height of the German U-Boat campaign on Atlantic shipping during World War I, that the problem could be solved simply by draining the ocean. Asked how that feat could be accomplished, Rogers replied: “That is a detail, and I am not a detail man.”

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.