Credit: The White House/Flickr

Eight hundred thousand federal employees are furloughed and the government–shutdown by President Donald Trump’s insistence on funding a Southern border wall–is unlikely to reopen soon. Yesterday, Trump signed an executive order freezing pay for federal workers in 2019. “We must maintain efforts to put our nation on a fiscally sustainable course, and federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases,” he said in August, when he first proposed freezing pay.

Seeking budget cuts by freezing government pay or reducing the size of the federal civil service isn’t some new Trumpian invention. A bipartisan commission during the Obama administration once proposed cutting the federal workforce by 10 percent and freezing pay.

But, as the Washington Monthly has reported for years, instituting hiring freezes or cutting the federal workforce doesn’t reduce the size of government or even the size of the workforce. It instead results in increasing privatization of the workforce via contractors who often do the same work as a civil servant but for twice the cost; and it becomes less accountable and less efficient.

As our executive editor Gilad Edelman reported in a cover story for the magazine last year:

In 1966, there were about 2.1 million executive branch civil servants (not including Postal Service employees). Since then, the country’s population has increa from 196 million to 323 million. The annual gross domestic product, along with annual government spending, more than quadrupled. And the workforce? In 2016, there were still only 2.1 million federal employees.

If Donald Trump were actually interested in making government less costly and more efficient he would wean the bureaucracy off of its dependence on private contractors and institute a hiring spree (hey, jobs!).

This is, obviously, an unpopular position, made so by 40 years of “government is the problem” posturing by leaders in both parties. But here at the Monthly we are more interested in what actually works–and take pleasure in going against the consensus.

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Joshua Alvarez

Joshua Alvarez is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal. He edits syndicated opinion columns at the Washington Post, and can be reached at