August 30 – Our Government: Size and Accountability

How Big is Too Big?

Vital Sign Religious Freedom

When President Obama entered office during the Great Recession, the federal workforce was about 10 million. This figure included civil servants, postal workers, active duty military, contractors, and grantees. During his term, he raised the total with billions in economic stimulus to 11.3 million, but it was back down to almost 9 million when he left office. 

As President Trump assumed office, more than 2 million jobs were added to the federal workforce, including 1 million in the Departments of Defense, Transportation, and Health and Human Services alone. 

President Biden’s administration has been adding to the federal workforce, and in fiscal 2023 will add another 3.6 percent, bringing the massive civil service to its highest total since 1969. Nearly every federal agency has received a funding boost in the president’s budget, and all but one are planning staff increases. The newly passed Inflation Reduction Act allots nearly $80 billion to the Internal Revenue Service—but that is across a ten-year period and over the same 10-year period they will add 87,000 new agents. 

An important principle that America’s founders placed in the Constitution is the separation of powers. Within the federal government, the three branches create a system of checks and balances. From the Constitution, the federal government has expressly spelled out powers, implied powers, and inherent powers. But it does not have all power. The Tenth Amendment declares, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” In other words, the states have a great deal of power… all the powers not granted to the federal government by the Constitution. 

And across the 50 states, you see that power exercised quite independently from one state to another. Just consider the differences between New York and Texas, or between Minnesota and Florida. 

In June 2019, the Bureau of Economic Analysis identified the states with the largest and smallest governments. The state with the smallest percentage of its workforce employed by the government was Nevada (10.0 percent). On the opposite end, the state with the highest percentage of its workers in government jobs was Wyoming (21.1 percent). 

When it comes to holding the government accountable for what it does, citizens desire more than they are getting. The responsibilities of those in government positions are often not clearly defined, and those who would hold officials accountable often lack the necessary information to understand how well the responsibilities of a public office are being discharged.  In a democracy, accountability is an implicit tenet in popular representation. That is precisely why elections are held. The ultimate “accountability officer” is the American public. 

The Government Accountability Office, established over a century ago by Congress, is a legislative branch government agency that audits, evaluates, and investigates services for Congress. The whole of the federal government is within its supreme auditing authority, and it is often seen as the Congressional “watchdog.” In 2018, the GAO had over 30,000 employees and an annual budget of $637 million. 

Within the last month, the GAO has released reports on policies of the U.S. military regarding tattoos and how they need to be updated; about how education costs have increased and the sustainability of the student loan program; and how programs to reach older adults and adults with disabilities are limited. Along with their reports, the GAO offers recommendations to the agencies or departments of the government concerned. 

God is big on accountability. Followers of Christ are accountable to the Lord and to one another (James 5:16). Ultimately, everyone will have to give an account of himself to God (Romans 14:12).

When it comes to government, 1 Peter 2:13-17 says, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.“

How then should we pray? 

  • For discernment for voters as they consider the work of incumbents and the platforms of those who are seeking office. 
  • For strength of character for members of government to be accountable to one another, and transparent with the public. 
  • For wisdom for the president and his administration as they continue to add and appoint individuals to federal posts.
  • For the officials in the Government Accountability Office to conduct the oversight functions of their agency impartially. 
  • For believers in Jesus to reflect His character and be led by His Spirit as they interact with friends, family, and neighbors.

See previous Pray 7 daily featured readings.

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