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‘Government always gets bigger’

When Mr. Gates announced an attempt to freeze civilian jobs in 2010, he stated that “our headquarters and support bureaucracies, military and civilian alike, have swelled to cumbersome and top-heavy proportions, grown over-reliant on contractors and grown accustomed to operating with little consideration to cost.”

Steven Bucci does not see it that way, after having directed a homeland defense office of civilian employees, military personnel and private contractors in the Donald H. Rumsfeld Pentagon, when troops and bureaucratic manpower grew to fight the war on terrorism.

“I had 60 people working for me and 30 of them were contractors, and I’ve got to tell you, I needed every one of those bodies,” said Mr. Bucci, a retired Army Green Beret colonel who now is an analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

“In the areas I worked in, we didn’t have a lot of fat. I had one admin person who supported all 60 of us. I did not have a personal secretary and a bunch of other people to do budget and that sort of stuff. I did not see a lot of civilian fat in [the Pentagon].”

He recalls Mr. Rumsfeld asking why men and women in uniform were answering the phones and filing papers when civilians could do those jobs and free more troops to fight.

“If you hire a [civil service employee], once hired, if they don’t work out, it is almost impossible to get rid of them,” Mr. Bucci said Mr. Rumsfeld was told. “If the military person doesn’t work out, you get a replacement.”

Christopher Preble, an analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, advocates even deeper reductions in the active force. He has a simple explanation for why the number of civilian workers grows.

“Because government always gets bigger,” he said. “I don’t think there is any question the civilian workforce has grown far more than it should have. … It has grown considerably more costly on a per-person basis in the same way it is more costly to maintain active-duty personnel.

“The U.S. military is far larger than it needs to be for the United States to be extremely secure and safe, far safer and secure than any other country on the planet and maybe in history.”