"The era of big government is over."

-Bill Clinton, 1996 State of the Union Address

When President Clinton said the era of big government is over, he wasn't just making a promise, he was reporting on his progress. The Clinton-Gore Administration has made the federal government smaller by nearly a quarter of a million jobs. (1) This is the largest, swiftest government-wide cut in the history of the United States. It's not just a post-Cold War defense reduction; every department except Justice has become smaller. (See Figure 1.)

The federal government workforce is now the smallest it has been in more than 30 years, going all the way back to the Kennedy Administration. (2) The cuts were long overdue. People had long since grown tired of new government programs initiated each year, with none ever ending. They were tired of stories about senseless sounding government jobs, like the Official Tea-Taster, tired of larger and larger bureaucracies in Washington interfering more and more with their lives. For years, presidential candidates have been promising to make government smaller. But until Bill Clinton, none delivered.

The workforce cuts are saving lots of money. For fiscal year 1996, the average government worker costs more than $44,000 a year, not including office space and supplies.(3) Cutting a quarter million jobs, therefore, can save well over $10 billion annually. But that's not the half of it. The savings from all the common sense reforms we have put in place total $118 billion.* Put that together with the benefits of our healthy economy, and you'll see that the Clinton-Gore Administration has come up with another one for the record books: four straight years of deficit cuts, for a stupendous total reduction of $476 billion. (4) (See Figure 2.)

Even though big cuts in government were long overdue, and even though they are a crucial step in getting the country out of the red, there is a right way and a wrong way to cut government. The right way is to show some consideration for the workers.


It is wrong just to hand out the pink slips and let government employees fend for themselves -- workers who have devoted their careers to public service and who have families to support.

We've made the cuts the right way, with layoffs as a last resort. First, we slowed down hiring. The government used to hire well over 100,000 people each year just to replace those who retired or quit. We brought hiring down to fewer than 50,000 a year. (5) We did not stop hiring altogether because many government jobs, such as air traffic controllers, simply must be filled.

Next, we encouraged our current employees to retire or quit by offering them buyout payments. The offers ranged from a few thousand dollars up to $25,000, depending on the workers' salaries and how long they had worked. It was a good deal for the employees and for the taxpayers. Even at $25,000, a buyout costs less than the paperwork and severance pay that goes with a layoff. (6) Nearly 115,000 workers took buyouts.(7)

By slowing down hiring and speeding up retirements, we've managed to limit layoffs to a small proportion of the workforce that left federal service.(8) We are helping those who have been laid off to find jobs with private companies. It's tough, but we're trying. It's all part of making cuts the right way.

Figure 2

Another part of cutting government the right way is to be selective and cut out just the parts we don't need any more -- not the parts we do need. It's wrong to cut activities and services that most people depend on -- things like ensuring that our food and water are safe, that our neighborhoods are free from drugs and crime, that tax refunds and social security payments arrive on time. Our plan is ultimately to eliminate jobs we no longer need: jobs in bloated headquarters, excess layers of management, and offices that churn out arcane rules, like the rules that have made government procurement so costly and ridiculous. So far, the personnel reductions have occurred pretty much across the board, because we were trying to avoid layoffs. We'll have to retrain and reassign some people to get them into the right jobs.

A lot of the credit for cutting goes to the very federal workers whose jobs were at stake. For example, it was a procurement specialist, Michellee Edwards, who suggested that we change the law to make small purchases so simple that we no longer need a procurement specialist. Those small purchases used to generate 70 percent of the work in a typical procurement office. (9) Michellee says, "I don't think any government employees would cling to senseless work just to protect their jobs. I certainly wouldn't. For me, it's more important to keep in mind the bigger picture and promote change where it makes sense. We're all taxpayers too, you know."

This might be surprising, but lots of government workers think like Michellee. Why else would teams of personnel specialists have worked so hard to scrap the 10,000 page Federal Personnel Manual and have then gone on to cut out much of a typical personnel office's day-to-day workload by letting employees use self-serve computer kiosks? Why else would U.S. Customs Service employees have come up with the plan that eliminated an entire layer of regional Customs headquarters that was full of high-paying jobs? Even Washington's regulation writers are tossing out 16,000 pages of their own creations and removing the bureaucratic jargon from another 31,000 pages. (10) Behind virtually every bit of our successful downsizing and streamlining are the ideas and the enthusiasm of federal workers. More than anyone, they have the know-how and the desire to make government cost less. Our hats are off to them.

A cheaper, smaller government was only half our goal. President Clinton and I were determined to make government work better, too. You probably haven't read or heard much about this part of reinvention -- although we never intended it to be a secret -- but we've made real progress. The government is beginning to produce more results and less red tape. I'll be the first to say that there is still plenty of room for improvement, but Americans are beginning to see the results in the form of fast, courteous service. Business owners and local government leaders are noticing the change, too, as the federal government becomes more of a partner and less of an adversary. President Clinton and I think it's time everyone knows about these changes -- it's time for these secrets to get out.

No one can explain the improvements better than the people who are on the receiving end. So, in the following chapters you'll hear from a front-line federal worker, a homemaker, a business executive, and a mayor. They'll discuss their bad experiences with government in the past. And, frankly, they will tell that there are still some bad things going on. After all, putting common sense into government is a big job, it's still a work in progress, and it probably always will be. But these individuals will talk about a change the likes of which they have never seen before -- a change very much for the better.

President Clinton and I are just as proud of making government work better as we are of making it smaller. It isn't good enough yet, or small enough yet, but we sure have things headed in the right direction. We are rebuilding a government that all Americans can be proud of.

Al Gore

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