More and more people are working in federal ministries. They justify this with additional tasks – but unnecessary positions are hardly saved anywhere. The trend could even increase further before the federal election.

When one federal government leaves office and the next one takes office, the big shifting of chairs begins. It is true that the ministries are primarily staffed by civil servants who cannot easily be replaced. But the new ministers can restructure their houses and create new jobs. Because a more powerful and, above all, larger personnel apparatus is power.

No minister likes to cut jobs because of this. This means that the entire federal administration, i.e. the ministries and their subordinate authorities such as the Federal Environment Agency or the Federal Statistical Office, have been growing significantly for several years. After years of job cuts, around 249,000 positions were still planned for 2015. Around 299,000 jobs are planned in the 2024 budget.

Around 28,400 of these positions are in the ministries and the Federal Chancellery. Like its previous governments, the traffic light has once again increased significantly; compared to 2021, around 1,300 positions were added in ministries. These are not distributed evenly across the houses; some ministers were allowed to treat themselves more than others.

The Ministry of Construction stands out the most in the statistics. In the house of SPD politician Klara Geywitz there are now a total of 542.4 full-time positions, in 2021 none were planned for in the budget – because the ministry was only created as the 16th in the government at the beginning of the current legislative period.

With the independent department, the traffic light wanted to stimulate housing construction. The issue was previously dealt with in the Ministry of the Interior with fewer employees, but more than 200 additional positions have been created since then. This has only helped to a limited extent: Geywitz has already achieved its self-imposed goal of 400,000 new apartments per year.

Of the existing ministries, Robert Habeck’s (Greens) department has gained the most jobs since 2021: there are a total of 255 more in the Ministry of Economic Affairs today. This corresponds to growth of almost 12 percent, also a record figure. Only Karl Lauterbach’s (SPD) Ministry of Health has grown a little more in percentage terms.

A spokeswoman for Habeck essentially justifies the increase in positions with three factors: On the one hand, the house has “received new focal points and is taking on new tasks that also arise from Federal Minister Habeck’s vice-chancellorship”. Secondly, the ministry has been particularly challenged “in dealing with the various crisis complexes” in recent years, for example in the corona pandemic and the energy crisis. And finally, the department wants to get ready for the future; this is about positions for AI and other future technologies.

All three points are mentioned more frequently when the ministries are asked about the reasons for the increase. This is not always plausible: If a ministry takes over an area of ​​responsibility from another ministry after a change of government, the number of positions in one house would have to grow, in another it would have to shrink – and overall the total number of positions in the government would have to be approximately the same remain.

But only the Interior and Justice Ministries had to accept job losses compared to 2021. As a result of the change in government, Nancy Faeser’s (SPD) Interior Ministry lost responsibility for housing construction, and Marco Buschmann’s (FDP) Justice Ministry lost responsibility for consumer protection. The other departments don’t quite add up.

The ministries do not want or cannot give exact figures on which departments have grown particularly strongly. As in the Ministry of Economic Affairs, they prefer to refer generally to a trending topic that can be used to justify the increase: The Ministry of the Interior wants to focus more on cybersecurity, the Ministry of Justice wants to focus more on the digitization of courts, the Ministry of Transport on IT strategy and the Ministry of Labor on the digital working world.

But would digitalization not only have to create new jobs, but also save some through more efficient work? Only the Ministry of the Environment refers to this fact. As a result, positions have been saved that can now be used for other tasks without recruiting additional employees.

A completely different trend is also bloating the federal administration. The federal government has more than 40 representatives for special topics. The traffic light has allowed the already large number of representatives to grow even further. East Germany, queer people, start-ups, oceans and so on – all the representatives have a large staff to work on their topic. In the Chancellery’s area of ​​responsibility alone, there will be around 550 additional positions.

Whatever the specific reasons for the job growth, in the end every job costs money. Overall, in most years the federal government spends almost ten percent of its budget on personnel. In 2023 that was almost 40 billion euros.

And in some cases, another cost factor arises: the Federal Chancellery, for example, has grown so much in terms of personnel that it now has to expand geographically. Up to 400 new office spaces are to be created through an extension, at an expected cost of around 777 million euros.

A finance minister can’t like that. That’s why there is actually a rule in the budget laws to cut 1.5 percent of jobs in the federal administration every year. To date, the police, customs and THW have been exempt from this so that important security tasks can be carried out reliably. According to Christian Lindner (FDP), nothing would have changed. But in 2022, the Bundestag’s budget committee decided on further exceptions for environmental and nature protection. The Federal Environment Agency, the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation and the Federal Network Agency – all ministries currently run by the Greens – did not have to cut any positions.

The Union, as the largest opposition party, is of course critical of all this. When there were 10,000 fewer ministry positions, the country did not collapse, said deputy parliamentary group leader Mathias Middelberg to FOCUS online. He is therefore calling for staff in the ministries to be reduced by at least 15 percent, i.e. by around 4,500 positions. This would save the federal budget by around 300 million euros per year.

Although the Union itself was involved in job creation under Angela Merkel, Middelberg identifies the current government as the main culprit: “The traffic light has inflated its personnel like no government before it. The much talked about turning point, which has not yet been implemented in any area, should also be reflected in the personnel budget.”

Middelberg promises to do better after taking over government. “There needs to be a rethink in all parties. An increase in staff must no longer be a ‘trophy’ to be achieved for a ministry in budget negotiations, as was the case for a long time, regardless of whether it was under the traffic lights or the GroKo.” The ministries could even work more efficiently with fewer staff if they checked consistently would determine which tasks are really necessary.

However, it is unlikely that the increase will come to an end quickly. Because just as chairs are moved at the beginning of a legislative period, there is also movement towards the end. Ministers often appoint loyal companions to well-paid positions. Presumably the traffic lights will also follow this, because so far ministers from all parties have taken part in the bad practice known as “Operation Evening Sun”.

In the period from January to May 2021, i.e. shortly before the last federal election, the then Federal Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier (CDU) created 18 new top jobs in his company. Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU), Education Minister Anja Karliczek (CDU) and Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) also treated themselves to ten or more new well-paid positions.

But among the XXL ministries and authorities there are also those whose employees are actually being cut: the Federal Audit Office has shrunk by more than 200 positions in this and the last legislative period – the very authority that repeatedly criticizes excessive federal spending.

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