- The Washington Times - Monday, April 12, 2004

Could federal workers determine the next president, or have I been on this beat too long?

Federal union leaders, who almost always support Democratic presidential candidates, know that Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan and probably George W. Bush won the federal employee vote. But congressional Republicans, except for a few in the Washington metro area, are convinced that the nation’s 2.8 million federal workers are Democrats and that’s that.

And in a close race — which this one is shaping up to be — it could cost Republicans.

When most people think of big concentrations of government workers, they think of metro Washington (334,821 workers), which includes many of the 144,000 in Virginia and 130,100 in Maryland. It does not include another large group — perhaps 30,000 intelligence community feds — who don’t show up on any counter’s radar screen.

Missouri and Ohio don’t strike people as hotbeds of federal employment, but they are “must win” states for the presidential candidates, and in a close race the feds could tip the balance.

There are almost 55,000 feds in Missouri and about 84,000 in Ohio. In Missouri, St. Louis city and county have about 20,000 feds and Jackson County another 15,000. In Ohio, feds are well-represented in the suburbs of Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati.

Federal union leaders have had nothing good to say about President Bush since he took office, or when he ran the first time. They all have — or will — endorse Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat.

Last week, Mr. Kerry tossed them a bone (and it doesn’t take much), saying he would eliminate the jobs of 100,000 private federal contractors, leaving 5.9 million, and cut federal agency “administrative” costs. He didn’t offer to restore the 347,000 federal jobs that President Clinton eliminated, many to be replaced by contractors.

So will feds be players in the upcoming election? Remember, Mr. Bush’s margin of victory over Al Gore was a lot smaller than the 113,267 nervous feds in Florida.

Contractors vs. feds

Contracting takes a beating — from some politicians and portions of the press — even though they, like civil servants, help keep the metro Washington area recession-proof and eternally green. Contractors have been called Beltway bandits for decades. Most have pretty tough hides.

The point a lot of people miss is that there are times when contractors should not be used, for reasons of security and privacy, and times when they are less expensive, even if they charge more. Roughly 33 percent of the people hired by government retire from it. They get lifetime health coverage for themselves, their spouses and in some cases grandchildren, and annuities that are indexed to inflation. Over a 20- or 30-year period, that adds up. Contractors, on the other hand, leave the government payroll when the job is done. The trick is how long that takes.

Mike Causey, senior editor at FederalNewsRadio.com, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or mcausey@federalnewsradio.com

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