By Larry Dignan
Posting in Government
Federal salaries for civilian workers are exploding during the recession and the math doesn't add up. A simple indexing of government and private sector salaries could be the fix.
The Federal employee salary math isn't adding up.
Last week, USA Today reported that Federal employees making salaries of $100,000 or more jumped from 14% to 19% of civil servants during the recession's first 18 months — and that's before overtime pay and bonuses are counted.
Meanwhile, the Transportation Department had one person earnings $170,000 or more when the recession started. Now there are 1,690 employees making that much. The average federal worker's pay to $71,206, compared with $40,331 in the private sector.
The USA Today report is based on data from the Office and Personnel Management. The White House, Congress, the Postal Service and intelligence and uniformed military personnel are all excluded. The data would be interesting with those branches of the government included perhaps it would all balance out as overpaid Congresspeople offset underpaid military folks.
What's wrong with this picture? Taxpayers foot the bill for these Federal employees and the fortunes of private sector workers and their government counterparts should be aligned. Your budget is tight so why would you be handing out raises like candy in a recession.
The solution: Index government salaries to the private sector. There's no way that a government employee---who has a foolproof pension since taxes can always be raised or money printed---should earn more than the private sector schlub who's paying him. In fact, I'd argue that civilian government workers should work at a discount since they do get that foolproof pension.
The USA Today notes that the federal salary jumps were due to pay hikes, a new pay system and the lack of paycaps. That new pay system should be revised already to something more indexed to private sector realities.
Dec 13, 2009
Here are a couple of interesting aspects, on IT salaries. When the number of Federal employees in an organization is capped, the organization contracts out. The per employee cost to the Government is usually HIGHER for a contractor than for a direct employee, yet the actual salary the contract employee receives may be less. Plus, many organizations have had to cost-justify their employees as costing less than a contractor. Historically, IT workers in the Federal government made less (some figures suggested up to 30% less) than counterparts in the private sector. So this increase might be more of a catch-up than a lead-extending. Two values of Federal employment are job security and benefits (like health). And these are often presented as a counterpoint to the lesser salary.
I tend not to give much credence to people who claim to prove things via statistics. My personal favorite was an article I once read in a serious journal claiming to "prove" that the most dangerous seat in an automobile was that occupied by the driver. You might be able to guess that the "safest" seat was middle front (go figure!). Skepticism aside, I would love to see all federal administrative and legislative salaries tied directly to the policies coming out of those offices. Share the bounty, share the pain. Sounds reasonable to me.
Comparability between averages in the private and federal sectors is difficult, if not impossible. How many people in the federal sector work in something like McDonald's or Wal-Mart? Basically none, even though those jobs make up a significant portion of the private sector average. How many people in the private sector are air traffic controllers? Basically none. It would be easier to compare similar jobs. How much does a government accountant make? How much does a private sector accountant make? That's a more reasonable comparison.
Sorry, I should have proofed what I wrote. Federal civilians generally make less than their counterparts in the private sector. The 'average' pay for the private sector includes all manner of jobs not comparable to the Federal system.
You're misinformed. For the last 15-20 years Federal employees have been part of the social security system. Only employees with 25 or so years in are still under the civil service pension system. Also, Federal civilians generally make less than there counterparts in the private sector. The 'average' pay for the private sector includes all manor of jobs not comparable to the Federal system; jobs which lower the average income. The large Federal salaries you're referring to apply mostly to Senior Executive Service employees. While these are Federal employees, they are not career employees who've spent their lives serving the American people. Should they make less money? Probably. But don't bash the career employee, who doesn't make anywhere near what these people make. You've got to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges.