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News Briefs 2

Federal Workforce Continues to Shrink

The Washington Post

Cynics maintain that the federal government puts on weight whenever politicians try to put the bureaucracy on a crash diet. It can happen because of military or economic events (President George Bush was closing military bases until Iraq invaded Kuwait) or because politicians protect pet projects.

War, or the threat of a war, or a major economic downturn can cause parts of the government to grow quickly in response to the problem. If the two Chinas or the two Koreas decide to go at it, military downsizing will come to a screeching halt.

But the Clinton administration appears to have succeeded in trimming government faster and deeper than any administration in memory.

Federal employment levels are at their lowest since the pre-Vietnam buildup of the Kennedy administration, the White House says. And there are more cuts to come, especially here at headquarters.

Ironically, about the only growth area in the federal government today is the U.S. Postal Service. It is a model for how a federal agency is run by a hardheaded businessman, rather than some political appointee or pencil-headed bureaucrat.

But when politicians give their government-is-shrinking pitch to the public, they usually leave the Postal Service out of the equation.

That there are fewer federal workers - especially in Washington - is joyous news for anti-government types, devotees of lean government and the private contractors who are taking on a growing number of federal functions. Contractors don't work free. On the other hand, they don't show up on federal work force charts or payrolls.

News of the incredible shrinking bureaucracy is not so well received by federal workers. Some are just trying to hold on to their jobs and pay their bills. Others are mid-career workers who hope to move up the promotion ladder while the administration is cutting middle-management jobs and trying to halve the ratio of supervisors to employees.

Shanghai Tries to Abolish the Chamber Pot - With Style

Los Angeles Times

They're made of marble, glass and granite, and though there's a small admission fee, they've become favorite neighborhood hangouts. New hotels? Nightclubs? No, they're Shanghai's new public toilets - part of this commercial city's campaign to abolish the chamber pot.

The Shanghai government - feeling flush - has invested nearly $1 million to build "hotel-grade" public toilets that resemble European villas, glitzy bars, even office buildings.

"We care about toilet culture," says Cui Yuzhen, 47, deputy director of the Jing An District Sanitation Department.

"The mayor of Shanghai decided we should do some real things to solve real problems for the people of Shanghai," Cui says.

"Only 60 percent of families have indoor plumbing now, but by the year 2000 we will have ended the era of the chamber pot."