The public service has shrunk for so long that even small increases to its workforce at first appear a change of heart from the Coalition.
There's a prevailing thought in political commentary that COVID-19 has torn down the federal government's ideological trig points, and elevated pragmatism as the supreme measure of good decision making.
The Coalition previously set the Howard government's last year as the arbitrary benchmark for the size of the public service, and proceeded to shrink its workforce regardless of changes in national population and priorities.
Today such thinking looks like the kind of ideological vanity governments can afford in economic prosperity.
New figures from the Australian Public Service Commission confirm that times have changed.
In June this year, federal bureaucrats numbered nearly 150,500, compared to 146,800 in the same month last year. The difference is more stark when considering that in December 2019 the bureaucracy employed 144,700 people.
The Commonwealth public service's growth in the first six months of 2020 indicates the Coalition has become more pragmatic about the federal bureaucracy since 2013.
But pragmatism doesn't explain everything about the uptick in public sector employment.
There are three ways to describe the increase. It's temporary, targeted and, in some ways, small.
The growth is powered by a rise in staff employed for short periods or for specific tasks. Non-ongoing public servants now make up a greater proportion (12 per cent) of the federal workforce.
Once their contracts or projects are finished, there's no reason the public service won't return to its pre-COVID size. There's nothing in these figures to show the Coalition is any less averse to long-term growth in the Commonwealth public sector.
Those new, non-ongoing staff swelling the bureaucracy's ranks are also employed for a small set of particular duties.
Most of them are working for welfare agency Services Australia and the Australian Taxation Office, the two agencies at the front and centre of government efforts to limit the economic devastation of COVID-19.
The temporary staff are working in service delivery jobs, namely in the agencies' contact centres and customer support. The public service's headcount has grown in response to two immediate priorities of the pandemic, delivering welfare to unemployed people and financial support to businesses trying to stay afloat.
It's arguable that the bump in public service staffing is best described as small.
In this climate, nearly 4000 new jobs (or 6000, if you're comparing to December 2019) is a salve for a wounded economy, and creates a living for many people who would otherwise be unemployed. That makes it a significant number.
It's also a lesser one compared to 2017, a year when there was no global pandemic and the public service numbered 152,000.
If the bureaucracy is to implement an economic restructure of the kind to make Australia prosper after the pandemic, the public service's growth appears small.
That task is only just taking shape. For now, the Coalition's been at pains in handing down the budget to say it wants the private sector to lead the recovery.
Any longer-term, steady growth in the bureaucracy will depend on how the Coalition decides to involve public servants.