Book Review: Bring Back the Bureaucrats

Eric Martin
4 min readJul 24, 2021


Bring Back the Bureaucrats, John J. Dilulio Jr, is a short book about the dangers of Big Government by stealth in the United States. John Dilulio Jr. is a political scientist who asserts his devotion to the Founding Fathers' principles and his love for the United States government. Dilulio uses facts and statistics to show us how America’s big government works and why reforms, including adding a million more workers to the federal workforce in the next decade, might help slow the government’s growth while improving its performance. He tells us that the size of the federal workforce hasn’t increased since the early 1960s, even with the federal budget going through the roof and the size of government growing bigger and bigger each year. He says that as a result that there are not enough federal workers to do work that’s essential in the current state of government.

The United States government is, as John Dilulio Jr. calls it, Leviathan by Proxy, a swamp of debt-financed big government that guarantees bad government. Dilulio makes basically three main points in what the problems are: 1) Washington relies on State and local governments, for-profit firms, and nonprofit firms to implement federal programs and policies. Those same people then lobby Congress for more and more federal spending to line their own pockets. 2) The proxy system fumbles on tasks such as cleaning up toxic waste, caring for Veterans, handling plutonium, collecting taxes, and policing where the money goes. 3) The lack of federal bureaucrats causes severe inefficacy in government and allows mess-ups like the federal response to Hurricane Katrina and the troubled launch of Obamacare.

Dilulio explains in the first part of the book that the federal government under President Eisenhower spent about $600 billion a year, inflation-adjusted while employing around 2 million bureaucrats. The federal government under Obama spent about $3.5 trillion a year and employed around 2 million bureaucrats. He says that this results in Leviathan by Proxy: ‘a federal government that is at once hyperactive and anemic, overgrown and understaffed.’ All three branches of government and We the People are responsible for simply displacing the tasks formerly carried out by bureaucrats onto more expensive, less effective, and less controllable proxies. Washington relies on State and local governments, for-profit firms, and nonprofit firms to implement federal programs and policies.

More than two dozen federal departments and agencies spend a combined total of more than $600 billion a year on more than 200 intergovernmental grant programs for and local government. The federal government spends more than $500 billion a year on contracts with for-profit firms

John Dilulio gives us a few examples of how ‘big government in America is Leviathan by Proxy,’ but I will give one brief example:

The Department of Energy spends 90 percent of its annual budget on contracts and pays for-profit firms to implement all programs, including its most important and high-risk ones (like the Plutonium Disposition Program)

How did we end up with this debacle? It has a lot to do with the distaste for Congress and government in general by the American people. Starting with President Reagan, there have been efforts to ‘control or reduce the size of the federal workforce, as part of the overall attempt to make government better, smarter, and cheaper (Dilulio). But Dilulio claims that because of this, we ended up with a federal workforce that was overloaded.

How does Dilulio think we can achieve better government? By hiring enough people to do all the jobs, Americans want the government to do. He says hiring 1 million more federal civil servants by 2035, pushing them for an administrative presidency, rethinking services subsidized nonprofits are expected to provide in the government’s stead, reforming federal contracting, and freezing and then undoing many joint federal-state aid programs.

One of the strengths of John Dilulio’s book is his use of facts and statics to lay out the problems. This helps readers visualize the actual problems in the federal government. I wished that he didn’t go into much detail about how we ended up with such a proxy government. His proposals to “fix” government are unique. Overall, the book lays out a pretty good road map as to what the problems are and what he believes will fix most of those.

My personal response to this is basically almost word for word what Charles Murray’s dissent was. While I believe that the federal government is as dysfunctional as Dilulio portrays it to be, adding more to the federal workforce isn’t going to solve that. The government has gotten too big and gone into way too many corners of our lives to be efficient.

Murray says, “The problems that Dilulio has identified are not the result of a federal workforce too small for the important tasks it has been assigned, but a federal government that has reached an advanced stage of sclerosis.” Instead of hiring more bureaucrats and reforming their pay and work rules (which we should immediately anyway), we should cut the scope of the federal government. Split up the federal-state programs. Get rid of federal spending in areas and leave the responsibility to the states. Like education, transportation, environmental protection (in the means of policing clean water and air, not nuclear material). Cut federal spending and size, so the need for more bureaucrats is not necessary.

The book sits at just 142 pages. It has passion and catchy phrases. It is not an academic book but is full of clearly presented and relevant facts that would provide a useful starting point for discussion for anyone interested in being more aware of the encroachments of freedom. I found it an excellent and useful read. I was presented with evidence that backs up my belief in limited government and was exposed to a new viewpoint on fixing the United States government's disaster.



Eric Martin

Husband. Father. Veteran. Purple Heart Recipient Twitter: @actionaxiom