Cover image for The true size of government
The true size of government
Light, Paul Charles.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Washington, D.C. : Brookings Institution, [1999]

Physical Description:
xii, 238 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
The illusion of smallness -- The true size of government -- The politics of illusion -- The tools for staying small -- The tools for sorting out -- Managing a government that looks smaller and delivers more.
Reading Level:
1510 Lexile.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
JK692 .L54 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



This book addresses a seemingly simple question: Just how many people really work for the federal government? Official counts show a relatively small total of 1.9 million full-time civil servants, as of 1996. But, according to Paul Light, the true head count is nearly nine times higher than the official numbers, with about 17 million people actually providing the government with goods and services. Most are part of what Light calls the "shadow of government"--nonfederal employees working under federal contracts, grants, and mandates to state and local governments. In this book--the first that attempts to establish firm estimates of the shadow work force-- he explores the reasons why the official size of the federal government has remained so small while the shadow of government has grown so large. Light examines the political incentives that make the illusion of a small government so attractive, analyzes the tools used by officials to keep the official headcount small, and reveals how the appearance of smallness affects the management of government and the future of the public service. Finally, he points out ways the federal government can better manage the shadow work force it has built over the past half-century.

Author Notes

Paul C. Light is the Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service at New York University. He is also Douglas Dillon Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, where he founded the Center for Public Service. Light is the author of numerous books on public service and management, among them Pathways to Nonprofit Excellence (2002), Government's Greatest Achievements (2002), Making Nonprofits Work (2000), and The New Public Service (1999).

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Light, Douglas Dillon Senior Fellow and founding director of the Center for Public Service at the Brookings Institution, shows that official statistics on the size of government are misleading and significantly below estimates of the US government's true size. Contractors, consultants, and grantees now perform and provide many of the functions and services citizens expect from the US government. Light goes on to examine the incentives of various actors within the US political system for keeping the formal size of the US government small while continuing to expand the services and functions provided. Finally, Light examines the challenges created in using noncivil service personnel to provide governmental services. The strength of this book is the development of estimates for the true size of the US government and the incentives of various political actors to keep the formal size of government small. The weakest portion is the discussion of the implications of using so many contractors, consultants, and grantees to provide governmental services. Light could have discussed in more depth the accountability and equity problems created by reliance on outsiders. Recommended for upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty in public administration. K. Buterbaugh Northwest Missouri State University

Table of Contents

The Brookings Institutionp. v
Forewordp. vii
Chapter 1 the Illusion of Smallnessp. 1
Chapter 2 the True Size of Governmentp. 13
Conclusionp. 44
Chapter 3 the Politics of Illusionp. 46
Conclusionp. 97
Chapter 4 the Tools for Staying Smallp. 99
Conclusionp. 136
Chapter 5 the Tools for Sorting Outp. 138
Conclusionp. 173
Chapter 6 Managing a Government That Looks Smaller and Delivers Morep. 175
Conclusionp. 196
Notesp. 211
Indexp. 225