Federal vs Corporate: A Comparison

Earlier, when I was watching the video about the Department of Agriculture, I started wondering just how many government employees there are–just in the various cabinet level departments. So, I did a bit of checking. The following graph shows the number of direct, civilian, employees (not contractors) for the 15 departments. Note that this does not include more than 2 million members of the military and those who work for agencies, bureaus, government corporations (such as Amtrak), the courts and many more. For a list of all the different entities where one can find our tax dollars at work supporting the federal government payroll, one can start here.

For purposes of the comparison that I would like to set up, here is a chart for the 15 agencies showing their employees (from the most recent years I could find data–some as old as 2004, some as recent as 2009).

Employees by Cabinet Level Department ca. 2008

The chart gives one a visual comparison, but here are the numbers: Education (5,000); Housing (10,600); Energy (16,000); Labor (17,000); State (30,000); Commerce (36,000); Transportation (58,000) Health (67,000); Interior (71,000); Agriculture (105,000); Justice (112,000); Treasury (115,000); Homeland (208,000);Veterans (278,000); Defense (700,000).

In sum this works out to about 1.82 million federal employees.

By simple comparison, let us look at the current (2009) Fortune 15–assuming that is good name for the top 15 companies on the Fortune 500 list.

First, here is the chart.

Fortune 15 Top Companies 2009

Now, here are the numbers from which the chart was derived: Valero Energy (21,600);

Berkshire Hathaway (23,300); McKesson ( 32,000); ConocoPhillips ( 32,600); Chevron (60,000); Exxon-Mobil 82,000); BOA (171,000); Ford (245,000); GM (252,000); AT&T (303,000); HP (321,000); GE (323,000); Citigroup (326,900); IBM (398,000); WalMart (2,100,000).

(One notices that WalMart does rather kill the curve, doesn’t it?)

In sum this works out to about 4.69 million employees, or about 2.5 times as many employees in these public companies as in the departments we are comparing them to.

Let’s now do one more thing and look at how many of these corporate employees are now directly being driven by federal government control (Bank of America, GM, and Citigroup for certain). If we do that, 750,000 employees would need to change categories.

That is not unsubstantial. Further, that is just from those businesses in our list of 15 and does not include Chrysler and others who may have fewer employees than some of those listed here but are nonetheless major players.

I do realize that one ought to be careful about drawing particular conclusions. I know that this comparison is flawed (for example, not all of these employees are US employees) but I think, at the very least is shows the massive and increasing influence of the federal government as either an employer or a employer by proxy for substantial portions of the working populace.


Here is the corporate graph without WalMart (so that the scale is closer to that used for the federal graph).

Fortune 15 Top Companies sans WalMart

4 thoughts on “Federal vs Corporate: A Comparison

  1. Wal-mart does indeed wreck the curve, but it also wrecks the horizontal scale. You appear to make government employment look even bigger proportionately by compacting the horizontal scale on the corporate employment graph. If I just look at the bars, I think, “Wow! Look how slim corporate America is compared the federal government.” But if you used the same scale for the corporate graph as you use for the federal graph, the corporate bars would be about five times wider… and would offer a more accurate visual comparison.

  2. CAH,

    Much of what you say is true. However, my scale wasn’t picked by me (rather the software I was using to build the graph). I would hope that people would consider the numbers (both on and off the scale) before drawing their own conclusions.

    I shall, in the interests of clarity, include another graph (leaving WalMart out).

  3. Darn software! 🙂

    As you mentioned in your comment on my side of the fence, a breakdown of budgets and salaries for those entities would be very interesting… and would require a heck of a lot of research!

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