Gates starts the process

No, not the process of paring away Cold War weapons systems.  His recommendations were eminently sensible in that regard, and for those who consider them boringly tame, consider this ancient wisdom:  The Administration proposes, Congress disposes.

What I’m referring to is the process predicted by Fabius Maximus in his column of 19 March:

After this downturn, a majority of Americans will see the government as the ideal employer. Usually with pay equal to that of private sector equivalents (except for the top tier), usually with superior benefits, and — most important — always far better job security.

What Secretary Gates said was:

A final recommendation that will have a significant impact on how defense organizations are staffed and operated. Under this budget request, we will reduce the number of support service contractors from our current 39 percent of the workforce to the pre-2001 level of 26 percent and replace them with full-time government employees. Our goal is to hire as many as 13,000 new civil servants in FY10 to replace contractors and up to 30,000 new civil servants in place of contractors over the next five years.


This budget will support these goals by increasing the size of defense acquisition workforce, converting 11,000 contractors and hiring an additional 9,000 government acquisition professionals by 2015 — beginning with 4,100 in FY10.

I began my career as a GS-11 civil servant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, back when most of my new colleagues still remembered Robert S. McNamara.  So I have nothing against the US Civil Service.  However, once a function is incorporated into the government, all competition vanishes and along with it, a great deal of the potential for improvement.

As Tom Barnett writes (in a different context) on his blog today:

Every fix (to the economic system) does that to a certain extent. That’s the nature of markets.

If a bunch of guys sitting around a table could do it better, then the USSR would still be around.

The same is true in the marketplace of ideas.  What we need is to return private enterprise to the rule of law, to create a system that is fair but strictly enforced, within which people with better ideas are free to risk their own capital and time to try them out.  Not what we’re going to get by expanding government.

Although it probably will expand and continue to expand for the reason Fabius identified.  It’s understandable why individuals would prefer the security that government jobs offer (“… increasingly Americans will realize that for most of us the risk-reward odds favor civil service.”); it’s not clear that our country seen as a whole will be the better for it.

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