Is the Federal Workforce Expanding?

The total number of federal employees has increased in the last 30 years. But has the federal workforce actually “expanded?”

You’ve probably heard it said before that the number of federal employees is growing. In 1978, there were 1,225,000 total federal employees. In 2010, the number grew to 1,360,000 which would indicate an expanding federal government at first glance.

While that is indeed a larger number, the online news site Remapping Debate wanted to know what it meant in context. It asked the question, “Has the American population being served by the government increased along with the number of federal employees, and if so, how much?” The idea behind this question is that if there are many more citizens, then there might be an effective decline in the size of the federal workforce with respect to the number of citizens being served.

To answer the question, the site put together an interactive online tool that compares the size of the federal workforce in 1978, when the federal employment to citizen population ratio was at its highest, to future years. Users can check the number of federal employees going forward from 1978 to see how the increasing numbers of federal employees perform relative to the citizen population.

What the figures show is that if the 1978 ratio had been maintained, the effective size of government actually decreases, meaning that relatively speaking, fewer federal employees are serving the growing number of citizens. Remapping Debate is arguing that the federal workforce has therefore not really grown.

Does this effectively make the government smaller, or has the federal workforce truly expanded? Do you believe it impacts your ability to do your job or affects the efficiency of agencies? You can run the numbers and decide for yourself what they represent.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.