Here’s an easy way to double your salary: Go to work for the U.S. government.
GovExec.com reported earlier this month that in 2005 average compensation for federal employees was “double that of private sector workers for the first time,” according to figures released by the Commerce Department’s U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. In 2005, federal workers’ average compensation, including benefits, was $106,579, compared to $53,298 for the average private-sector worker — that is, the people paying the taxes that fund the salaries of the federal functionaries.
The immense compensation differential was defended by Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley, who told GovExec.com that in recent years, the government has outsourced a lot of jobs, especially lower-paying blue-collar jobs, with higher-pay jobs remaining.
There may be some truth to that, said Chris Edwards, the Cato Institute’s expert on federal budget issues. But he pointed out that the private sector also has been moving away from lower-paying jobs, for example reducing the number of typists because of computerization (executives now usually do their own e-mail instead of dictating letters).
Even if one accepts that rationale, Edwards said it accounts for only part of the explanation. The main reason for the pay differential, he said, is that federal workers automatically get “steady and generous” pay increases every year, no matter what the economic climate, whereas private-sector pay increases are low or stagnate during recessions. He said average federal pay increases in 2005 were 5.8 percent compared to 3.3 percent in the private sector.
And the pay gap has been increasing, with average federal compensation rising from 51 percent higher than private compensation in 1990 to 100 percent higher in 2005. Federal workers, Edwards charged, have become “an elite island separate from the rest of us.”
So much for a “fiscally conservative” and “thrifty” Republican president and a Republican-controlled U.S. Congress.
What’s a taxpayer to do? At a minimum, average federal raises should be tied to the average wages in the private sector. The compensation gap moves us to question, once again, the true value of some federal departments, such as agriculture, education and energy. It is more government than we need, and high priced, at that.