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Lankford misstates federal employment level

WASHINGTON — In a speech Friday morning speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition here, Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said this:

"You know what? We have 4.1 million federal employees right now — the highest number of federal employees in the history of the government.

"Our federal budget is over $4 trillion — the highest budget that it’s ever been in the history of the government."

The second statement is accurate, but the first is way off.

Since 1962, the highest total federal employment was in 1968, when there were at 6.6 million federal workers and military personnel, according to figures from the Office of Personnel Management.

In 1968, during the Vietnam War, there were 3.6 million uniformed military personnel, compared to 1.46 million in 2014, the latest figures available.

Federal civilian employment that year was just over 3 million, more than 300,000 higher than it was in 2014.

Total federal employment was fairly constant during the 1980s at about 5 million.

Civilian and military employment dropped steadily during the 1990s, when Bill Clinton was president. In 1993, Clinton's first year in office, total employment was 4.76 millions. In 2000, his final year, total federal employment was 4.13 million. Civilian and military employment fell during those eight years.

Military and civilian employment rose slightly during former President George W. Bush's time in office. During his last year, 2008, total employment was 4.2 million.

Military and civilian employment rose slightly in President Barack Obama's first years in office. However, in 2014, total employment was about the same as when Bush left office, 4.185 million.

That is about 2.4 million federal employees below the 1968 level and more than 1 million below what federal government employment was for much of the 1980s.

In response to an inquiry from The Oklahoman about Lankford's claim, D.J. Jordan, a spokesman for the senator, said, "Senator Lankford regrets that he misspoke when describing the federal employee number, but his broader point on the size of the federal government is accurate. Federal government spending is currently the largest in the history of the government."

Chris Casteel

Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. Casteel covered the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City. From 1990 through 2016, he was the... Read more ›