10 questions and answers about America’s “Big Government”

10 questions and answers about America’s “Big Government”

John J. DiIulio, Jr.Monday, February 13, 2017

The ongoing debate over the Trump administration’s plan to freeze federal hiring has thus far involved arguments and “alternative facts” from those on both sides of the question. This obscures certain hard truths about America’s “Big Government” and its real federal bureaucracy.  What follows is an (I hope brief and user-friendly but duly detailed) attempt to mediate that debate and spotlight certain deeply inconvenient truths about the character and quality of present-day American government and “we the people” to whom it is accountable.



  1. What is “Big Government?”

As commonly used in America, “Big Government” refers to three features of the national or federal government headquartered in Washington, D.C.:

  • How much it spent
  • How much it does, and
  • How many people it employs
  1. How much has federal government spending grown?

Since 1960, annual federal spending (adjusted for inflation) has increased about fivefold: it doubled between 1960 and 1975, and doubled again between 1975 and 2005.

  1. Has Washington been doing more or just spending more?

Doing lots more!


Seven new federal Cabinet agencies have been established since 1960—from Housing and Urban Development in 1965, to Homeland Security in 2002.

Dozens of new sub-Cabinet agencies were also established, like the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 1979.

Batteries of new federal laws, regulations, and programs were enacted on issues that were virtually absent from the pre-1960 Federal policy agenda—crime, drug abuse, campaign finance, sexual orientation, gun control, school quality, occupational safety, the environment, health care insurance, and others.

Take a look at the three figures above.  A crude if suggestive measure of this post-1960 growth in what Washington does is the Federal Register, which catalogues all federal rules and regulations.

As federal spending increased five-fold, the number of pages in the Federal Register increased about six-fold to more than 80,000 small-print pages.

So, spending lots more, check.

Doing lots more, check. Continue reading “10 questions and answers about America’s “Big Government””