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Trump’s press secretary said the federal workforce has seen a “dramatic expansion.” It has not.

The size of the federal workforce barely changed during the Obama years.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday vowed to be honest with the press after facing criticisms for claims he made about the size of the crowd during President Donald Trump’s inauguration. “Our intention is never to lie to you,” Spicer said.

But in the same press conference, he made a misleading claim. Explaining Trump’s executive order to freeze federal government hiring, he said it would come after a “dramatic expansion of the federal workforce in recent years.”

This isn’t quite right. The federal workforce has grown since 2014 — by about 78,000, from more than 2.7 million in May 2014 to slightly over 2.8 million in December 2016.

But in historical terms, the total size of the federal workforce isn’t extraordinary: It was just a little below 2.8 million when President Barack Obama took office in 2009, and it was regularly above 3.1 million when President Ronald Reagan was in office in the late 1980s. So the size of the federal workforce has actually remained relatively flat — and even been reduced since the Reagan years — at a time when the national population has grown by the tens of millions.

Here are the latest numbers for the federal workforce from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in chart form, noting that there’s a spike every 10 years for the US Census:

So Spicer is right that the federal workforce has grown in size. But a “dramatic expansion” seems like a stretch.


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