Governments are established to ensure people’s rights and well-being, along with a fair, well-functioning society. Government agencies need to have appropriate levels of human and financial resources to effectively carry out this mission. Since the 1980s, Republicans have led on-going efforts to shrink government and reduce agency resources (except for Defense). The result is that government agencies are unable to effectively fulfill their missions and serve the public. This undermines the public’s faith in government and in democracy.

(Note: If you find my posts too much to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making.)

According to the Declaration of Independence, governments are established to secure people’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To ensure these rights, governments must have the resources and policies to function effectively. Well-functioning government agencies are necessary to have a fair and smoothly operating society. (See previous posts here and here for more details.)

Since 1980, it has been the ideology of the Republican Party to shrink government so that it does not have the capacity to ensure these rights for residents – although Republicans rarely say the second part of this out loud. In the 1980s, President Reagan and other Republicans (abetted by some Democrats) began cutting taxes (primarily for the wealthy) and the budgets of many government agencies, while claiming that they could do this without cutting government services.

Their claim to be able to cut taxes and budgets without cutting services is essentially promising people a free lunch. It was a lie, as has been proven over time, and as I believe many of them knew at the time. In many cases, this claim was a smoke screen for two Republican ideological initiatives:

  • Defunding of services and supports for poor people, which has racist implications, and
  • Privatization of public services to allow the private sector to make profits delivering them.

Forty years of work defunding and shrinking the federal government have taken a toll. Public services and regulation of the private sector that people want and that protect their rights as stated in the Declaration of Independence have been weakened or eliminated. One measure of this is the decline in the number of federal employees, despite growth in the economy and the population. Furthermore, the scope and complexity of what society needs and wants public employees to do has escalated. For example, the Covid pandemic and the growing number and severity of disasters (from hurricanes to forest fires) have placed new burdens and challenges on the federal government and agency employees.

Declining financial and human resources coupled with a growing workload mean that the government can’t effectively serve the public. This undermines faith in government and democracy, which may have been a goal of some of the right-wing architects of the efforts to shrink government. Underfunding not only starves agencies of the employees needed to fulfill their mandates, but also of other necessary infrastructure such as effective, up-to-date computer systems. [1]

In 2011, the Republicans in Congress used negotiations on lifting the debt ceiling cap to force dramatic cuts in federal civilian employment. (They are trying to do this again right now.) After these cuts were implemented, largely between 2013 and 2017, President Trump took office in 2017 and implemented further cuts in executive branch employees especially at the Departments of Interior, Labor, Justice, State, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services. The number of employees at independent agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Social Security Administration have also dropped significantly.

From 2010 to 2022, the number of employees at most federal agencies (other than Defense and Veterans’ Affairs) declined, some dramatically. For example: [2]

  • Interior: down 23%, i.e., 18,500 employees (manages national parks and wildlife refuges; responsible for environmental initiatives and protecting endangered species)
  • Agriculture: down 21%, i.e., 22,500 employees (oversees food safety, nutrition programs, agriculture, natural resources, and rural development)
  • Environmental Protection Agency: down 20% (protects the environment and public health)
  • Housing and Urban Development: down 18% (provides housing and community development assistance; works to ensure fair housing)
  • Treasury: down 10%, i.e., 10,900 employees (manages federal finances, collects taxes, oversees banks, enforces finance and tax laws)
  • Labor: down 10% (oversees workers’ rights to fair, safe, and healthy working conditions; minimum wage and overtime pay; unemployment insurance)

On top of the reduced number of employees, there has been a significant loss in experience, expertise, and institutional knowledge due to the departure of employees with longevity. There has also been a serious loss of diversity. The Biden administration is beginning to rebuild federal agencies, but, even if Congress were cooperative, it would take significant time to rebuild the numbers, and even longer to rebuild the expertise and therefore the full effectiveness of the federal government.

From a longer-term perspective, the number of federal civilian employees is about 2 million, roughly the same as in 1966, despite a population that has grown by 68% and a federal budget that is five times what it was then.

These cuts mean, for example, that the EPA is taking the fewest civil enforcement actions against polluters in 20 years. Food inspections are down and our railroads aren’t as safe as they should be. At the Internal Revenue Service, audit and enforcement actions on taxpayers earning $1 million a year or more has dropped from 7.2% of returns filed in 2011 to just 0.7% in 2019. [3]

Providing federal government agencies with appropriate financial and human resources is essential to their ability to fulfill their missions, serve the public effectively, ensure people’s rights, and oversee a fair, well-functioning society and democracy.

I urge you to contact President Biden and your U.S. Representative and Senators to ask them to support appropriate funding for federal government agencies so they can fulfill their missions and effectively serve and protect the public. You can email President Biden at http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments or you can call the White House comment line at 202-456-1111 or the switchboard at 202-456-1414. You can find contact information for your US Representative at  http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ and for your US Senators at http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm.

[1]      Panditharatne, M., 4/5/23, “Rebuilding federal agencies hollowed out by Trump and Congress,” Brennan Center for Justice (https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/rebuilding-federal-agencies-hollowed-out-trump-and-congress)

[2]      Panditharatne, M., 4/5/23, see above

[3]      Cox Richardson, H., 4/7/23, “Letters from an American blog,” (https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/p/april-7-2023)


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