Overstaffing is a serious problem in government, and the best evidence is a simple empirical fact: Government employees don’t work as much as private employees. If public-sector employees just worked as many hours as their private counterparts, governments at all levels could save more than $100 billion in annual labor costs, say Andrew G. Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and Jason Richwine, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.
New evidence from a comprehensive and objective data set confirms that the “underworked” government employee is more than a stereotype. In the past, researchers have measured work time with what are called “contract hours,” meaning the time that employers require their employees to work. But many people routinely take work home with them, or skip lunch breaks, or pass up vacation days, or go to the office on weekends. Others may regularly come to the office late and duck out early. Little of this variation is captured by contract hours.
Alternatively, researchers have used surveys that ask individuals how many hours they usually work each week. But answers are susceptible to exaggeration and subjectivity regarding what each respondent defines as “work.”