Which president created smaller government?

This data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics should dispel the myth that Republicans are for smaller government:

I’ve added the blue and red coloring to indicate Democratic and Republican administrations, respectively. In my lifetime (I was born in 1976) the United States Federal Government has employed about 2.2 million workers each year. Reagan, Carter, and both presidents Bush & Bush Jr did not change the size of the government. Bill Clinton alone shrank the size of the Federal Government from 2.2 million to 1.9 million, a 15% decrease. Obama has again raised the size of the government, but not to the levels seen under Reagan and Bush Sr. Keep in mind that over this same time period the total population of the US has increased by 50%, and both State and Local governments have doubled in size.

Note: The spikes in employment are real data. They happen every ten years. That is the labor required to conduct the census.

Did you know?

Federal Employees (2012) ~2,200,000

State Employees (2012) ~5,000,000

Local Employees (2012) ~14,000,000

For fun, here is the full scale historical trend about the size of the government.

When the number of Federal Employees is compared with population growth, you can see that it isn’t the size of government that is a crisis – it is pressure that our growing population puts on an economy that just isn’t big enough to support the population anymore.

We can cut out government waste, but that also means recognizing where government is most efficient. Something these numbers hide is the shifting burden from Federal mandates for welfare and social services onto the States in the 1990s. There might not have been any net jobs eliminated. I can’t tell from these data.

Brought to you by your Federal tax dollars via the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Postscript: When comparing dollars instead of employees, Obama comes out as rather fiscally conservative


The job of spending the government’s money is really owned by congress, and how Obama’s people define government spending is not clear – but assuming this is only discretionary spending, Obama is a fiscally conservative president.

6 thoughts on “Which president created smaller government?

  1. Also hidden by the statisticians: Millions of government contractors hired post 9-11 to carry out new surveillance and fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So under Bush Jr, government likely grew bigger and certainly more costly (a trillion more), and became less transparent.

  2. Clinton vetoed all the legislation to cut government that Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress Passed.. The cuts were only because the Republican Congress OVER RODE the Vetos of the Government cuts. It is stupid to credit Clinton with the cuts. Check it out.

  3. I agree. Presidents are not solely responsible for the number of government employees any more than they can take the credit or blame for changes in the economy.

    A more complete story of the 1990s is that the Federal government pushed the administrative role of welfare and social services onto the states, leading to more state/local/federal employees overall.

    When looking at all levels of government, only in Reagan’s first term and during Obama did the total number of government employees remain constant. Consult my links to the bureau of labor statistics and see for yourself.

    The ambiguity with numbers begins when we try to assign attribution to the changes that did occur.

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