Our headline is an oft-cited complaint of so-called “small government” protagonists who firmly believe that managing a national government for 325 million people is a rather routine matter and could be accomplished with fewer employees—or better yet, turned over completely to the private sector. Just ask the guy at the end of the bar; he knows.
The most recent figure available for the total number of federal government employees is 4.9 million; this includes 923,000 contractors; 1.3 million in military uniform, and 508,000 postal workers. The total computes to about 1.5% of the nation’s population.
The complaint strongly suggests a lack of knowledge about the actual numbers and any sense of what those 4.9 million folks do to earn their living. The military and postal worker roles are visibly easy to understand. But what about the other approximately 3 million in the unnumbered, myriad of acronym agencies?
One, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was established in 1914 under President Woodrow Wilson as a measure among efforts to stem the abuses of trusts and their control over commerce and trade, specifically to address unfair methods of competition. In 2015, the FTC was reported to have 1,135 employees, and its governance is made up of five commissioners, presently three Republicans and two Democrats.
This month the agency brought action in the form of a restraining order against a Florida group of companies peddling “shoddy coverage” for health care, claiming that the plans met comprehensive requirements under the Affordable Care Act, receiving over $150 million from customers in a 2.5-year period. The plans were aggressively sold by telemarketers from boiler room operations with scripts describing the callers as licensed insurance agents. The agency sought a freeze of the company’s assets as bank accounts in Panama and the Dominican Republic were identified.
The FTC described the activities as “a classic bait-and-switch- scheme designed to trick consumers into paying hundreds of dollars for substandard products under the pretense that they are actually receiving comprehensive health insurance.” Scams such as this can succeed because the healthcare debate and discussion has been so utterly confusing to most purchasers. The situation is exacerbated each year by the pressure of the annual open enrollment period in which consumers must make a decision.
It was further alleged that the company’s owner, Steven J. Dorfman, funded an extravagant lifestyle while also promising sales employees earnings of $4,000 per week. The sales leads were, in part, generated via elaborate websites for Simple Health Solutions, the corporate entity.
The lesson for the guy at the end of the bar offering his simple solutions to managing the federal enterprise is that “it ain’t so simple.” Things like scams and greedy people get in the mix and prey on innocent consumers.
BREAKING NEWS! As we were preparing this article, sources broke the story about Matthew Whitaker, Trump’s newly appointed Acting Attorney General. He, too, is an FTC discovery, having been a major mover in a firm in Florida (where else?) that promoted itself as able to secure patents for inventors. The company, World Patent Marketing, was fined $26 million by the FTC for bilking applicants and ordered to shut down.
These two FTC actions have saved consumers about $200 million or about $176,000 per FTC employee. There has been no word yet on how the FTC’s action affects Whitaker’s security clearance, especially with respect to oversight of the Mueller probe. There have been subsequent reports of an FBI criminal investigation into the matter. Thus, in addition to the Constitutional question of his standing as acting head of DOJ, the FTC blot certainly opens a deep wound concerning his access to security materials.
It is to be hoped that the guy at the end of the bar has not applied for a patent with Whitaker’s company.