Those who paint Bill Clinton as a tough centrist like to point to his success with welfare reform. From the beginning of Clinton's reign through 1999, the nation's welfare caseload fell 53 percent, thanks partly to tougher welfare standards and partly to the booming economy. But tens of thousands of people have left the welfare rolls not for either of those reasons, but because of a Clinton initiative: a "welfare-to-work" program that encourages federal agencies to hire welfare recipients.
By its own standards, the program was a runaway success. Clinton's announced goal was 10,000 new federal hires, but the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) reports that, as of January, 50,827 former welfare recipients had found work with the feds. Over 35,000 of those jobs were created during Clinton's last year in office.
Critics of the program condemn it as pure make-work that costs taxpayers more than just keeping the people on welfare, and according to some sources, President Bush is considering killing the program. (In theory, experience with job discipline, even at a government post, might help them get and keep other jobs in the future.) An OPM spokesman told WorldNetDaily that "most" of the jobs were temporary posts related to the Census. OPM's tally shows that 37,780 of the 50,827 jobs were within the Commerce Department, of which the Census is a subdivision.
Getting people off welfare by turning them into junior bureaucrats might seem to work against another grand Clintonian initiative: right-sizing government and shrinking the bureaucracy. While on a federal hiring spree to make welfare reform look better, Clinton also crowed about falling federal employment during his administration.
This may be as misleading as taking 50,000 people off the dole by making them bureaucrats. In his book The True Size of Government, Paul Light of the Brookings Institution argues that official figures grossly understate the size of the federal workforce. Officially, fewer than 1.8 million people work for Washington. But when you consider all those working under contract to the federal government, working under federal grants, or working under federal mandates to states and localities, the figure climbs to nearly 17 million.