From National Review, George Will writes ‘Big Government’ Is Ever Growing, on the Sly

In his 2014 book “Bring Back the Bureaucrats,” he argued that because the public is, at least philosophically, against “big government,” government has prudently become stealthy about how it becomes ever bigger. In a new Brookings paper, he demonstrates that government expands by indirection, using three kinds of “administrative proxies” — state and local government, for-profit businesses, and nonprofit organizations.

Since 1960, the number of state- and local-government employees has tripled to more than 18 million, a growth driven by federal money: Between the early 1960s and early 2010s, the inflation-adjusted value of federal grants for the states increased more than tenfold. For example, the EPA has fewer than 20,000 employees, but 90 percent of EPA programs are completely administered by thousands of state-government employees, largely funded by Washington.

Finally, “employment in the tax-exempt or independent sector more than doubled between 1977 and 2012 to more than 11 million.” Approximately a third of the revenues to nonprofits (e.g., Planned Parenthood) flow in one way or another from government. “If,” Dilulio calculates, “only one-fifth of the 11 million nonprofit sector employees owe their jobs to federal or intergovernmental grant, contract or fee funding, that’s 2.2 million workers” — slightly more than the official federal workforce.

To which add the estimated 7.5 million for-profit contractors. Plus the conservative estimate of 3 million federally funded employees of state and local governments. To this total of more than 12 million, add the approximately 2 million actual federal employees. This 14 million is about 10 million more than the estimated 4 million federal employees and contractors during the Eisenhower administration.

So, today’s government is indeed big (3.5 times bigger than five and a half decades ago), but dispersed to disguise its size. This government is, Dilulio says, “both debt-financed and proxy-administered.” It spends more just on Medicare benefits than on the official federal civilian workforce, and this is just a fraction of the de facto federal workforce.