- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The president’s director of the Office of Personnel Management, John Berry, has no problem with expanding the size and scope of government during the most severe economic recession in a generation.

Mr. Berry took to the airwaves to blast Friday’s Washington Times editorial, “Federal bonus bonanza,” which highlighted the unseemliness of doling out hundreds of millions of dollars in “incentives” to a growing number of civil service employees while the rest of the public struggles to make ends meet. Twisting logic, Mr. Berry called it a “very, very glaring error” to suggest that the government has been growing during this recession because the federal government had more employees in the 1960s during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. This is only partially true.

According to the president’s latest budget, federal civilian employment jumped 17 percent from approximately 1.8 million in 2008 to 2.1 million in 2010. The “official” count does not include the 581,070 employees on the U.S. Postal Service payroll. Nor does it include the hordes of federal contractors, which New York University Professor Paul C. Light estimates at 7.5 million. This compares unfavorably to the 3 million federal civilian employees during the height of LBJ’s so-called Great Society.

Mr. Berry - whose previous job, fittingly, was as director of the National Zoo - also was “steamed” when he read that federal employees received pay raises in excess of the rate of inflation for successfully sitting at their desk for a year. We admit that we overlooked some bureaucratic work activities for propriety’s sake. For example, the pay raise also went to employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs who, according to VA’s inspector general, spent the day surfing pornographic Web sites, used official travel for personal vacations, obstructed investigations and doled out lucrative contracts for the enrichment of personal friends. The handful of employees who get caught for such offenses merely face “administrative sanction.”

This is not to say that a spirit of service and dedication cannot be found in some career federal employees. The problem is that excellence is not mandatory. To the contrary, the bureaucratic system’s lack of accountability breeds an atmosphere of entitlement and self-enrichment. With the federal government $12.6 trillion in debt, this country can’t afford to continue expanding the number of federal employees, while piling new benefits on top of old benefits. It’s time for the feds to cut back, just like the rest of America has done.