Economics, Entitlements

Clarifications on Federal Employee Retirement Benefits

Last Friday’s post comparing federal employee retirement benefits to those in the private sector generated a lot of comments—most of them negative, strangely enough. Clearly, the post did the rounds among federal workers. While a range of (mostly spurious) issues were raised, a few in particular came up enough in the comments and in emails I received that I figured they’re worth clearing up.

First, many commenters thought the fact that I assumed a 44-year working career invalidated the whole comparison since the average federal employee doesn’t retire with 44 years of job tenure. One emailer told me I was making an ass of myself for assuming a full-career employee in the federal government. But as I said in the post, “in reality, most people take some time out of the workforce and most federal employees have held other jobs, but for these purposes that doesn’t matter too much.” And guess what? It doesn’t matter much, because I assumed that both the federal employee and the private sector worker had 44-year careers. If I lower the assumed years of work to, say, 30, both employees accrue fewer benefits, but the roughly two-to-one federal advantage stays around the same. The reason is that employer contributions toward retirement benefits are simply a lot higher in the federal government than in the typical private sector job.

Second, a number of comments wonder why I’m not looking at retirement pay for CEOs. Well, for one thing, the typical federal employee’s career choices aren’t between being, say, a GS-12 at HUD or Chief Executive Office of Exxon-Mobil. I compared benefits to what federal employees would likely receive in the private sector. Moreover, CEO pay or benefits is a private matter. If Apple thinks Steve Jobs is worth a billion dollars per year (and looking around there’s some evidence that he is) that’s a matter between Jobs and Apple shareholders. It doesn’t affect me—if I don’t like it, I can sell their stock. And it doesn’t really even affect Apple’s employees, who get paid according to their productivity just as Jobs does. Most importantly, Apple isn’t threatening to put me in jail if I don’t pay Steve Jobs’s supposedly excessive salary. The federal government takes non-payment somewhat more seriously. (P.S. Why do people focus on CEOs rather than, say, professional athletes? A CEO may manage billions of dollars in assets and thousands of employees over dozens of countries. A-Rod hits a ball with a bat for $32 million a year.)

Third, other comments said that because my analysis excluded stock options I was really missing the point. My answer: who do you guys think you are, the first 50 employees at Google? According to the BLS, only around 8 percent of employees nationwide receive any form of stock options, and even among the 10 percent of highest earning workers it’s only around 16 percent. In a similar vein, other comments lament that federal workers lost out during the go-go dot.com years. Maybe, but where’s pets.com and its employees and investors now? Only the sock puppet got out alive. Federal employees receive high pay and have near-total job security. That’s a tough combination to beat.

There’s simply a huge disconnect between what the academic research shows—from my recent work with Jason Richwine back to the first major federal pay study from Sharon Smith in 1976—and how federal employees perceive themselves.

141 thoughts on “Clarifications on Federal Employee Retirement Benefits

  1. I am a federal employee. I make a good deal of money for what I do. If I did not make what I was worth, I would leave. If I wanted to leave, I would have to take a substantial pay increase to counter what I would loose from FERS.
    There was an article, I believe just last week, that showed you are actually better off with FERS than CSRS.
    No one, except for yourself, is saying that “YOU” are underpaid, or overpaid. The author only stated what the average is. If you live in NYC, and you are a fireman, then you should probably work for the NYFD instead of the Federal Govt if you are looking at pay alone. I do not know any Federal fireman in the NY area, but I do have a brother that is crash fire and rescue at an Air Force base; I will speculate that the NY fireman has a much riskier job on a day to day bases. If a Bomber full of fuel and bombs was to catch fire, than I would say that my brother had the riskier job for that one occurrence.

    The point of my rant is stop crying about his or any federal govt pay and retirement articles. If you are over worked and underpaid, then leave. If you will have a better retirement in the civilian workforce, then leave. If your commute is too long, than leave, or move closer to work.

    Unless you are a director of your organization, such as the FAA, DOT, DOD, etc. then you can not cry that he did not include CEO pay. If you are a director and want to cry, then leave and become a CEO of a private company.

    • Well said. Retired from Fed FERS. Whenever I was unhappy, I downgraded. It is always about choice, why can’t people get it?

    • basis moron not bases…. you are overpaid.
      The first several posts were well written and critical of the article… yours is full of bad grammar, full of opinion not facts, and you defend the article. Are you Biggs’ assistant looking for a raise?

    • Wow, Michael such bitterness. That is the exact attitude that we see so much in the Federal Workforce and that we are trying to change. Their is always more than one opinion and yours is not the only nor do we say that yours is correct. Everyone has their own opinion and the right to voice it. Telling people to get another job is extreme for living in America where everyone is entitled to speak… So glad that you are paid what you deserve, so glad that you will retire with more than enough money to survive (I hope), and so glad that you do not know any underpaid federal workers. Guess you have not been very observant of your surroundings.

  2. A review of the 2010 Census reveals that more than half (54.5%) of Federal workers work in nine of the highest-paying occupation groups – judges, engineers, scientists, nuclear plant inspectors, etc. — compared to less than a third (32.4%) of private sector workers in those same nine highest paying occupation groups. In contrast, a fifth of private sector workers work in the four lowest-paying occupation groups as cooks, janitors, service workers, and manufacturing workers. Fewer than one in thirteen Federal workers work in those four lowest-paying occupation groups.

    If you consider demographics, the Federal employee is more experienced, older and lives in higher cost metropollitan areas — there are more than twice as many 50 to 59 year-olds as those under 30 years old (29% vs. 14%).

    The size of the organization also contributes to the differences. Employees from large firms (upwards of 1,000 or more employees) are paid about 15% more than workers from small firms (with less than 100 employees), even after accounting for occupation, education, and other characteristics. Federal agencies are large and face challenges of enormous scale, such as the Social Security Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Internal Revenue Service, Department of the Interior, Department of Defense, Health and Human Services, Department of Labor, Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Personnel Management, civilian employees in the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy – (Whew, I’m exhausted but still go on.)

    Education between the private sector and private sector differs widely. The size and complexity of Federal employment necessitates a highly educated workforce — analyzing security and financial risks, forcasting weather, planning bridges to withstand extreme weather events, etc. About 20 percent of Federal workers have a master’s degree, professional degree, or doctorate vs. 13 % in the private sector. A full 51% of Federal employees have at least a collete degree compared to 35 percent in the private sector.

    In addition, taking all the above into consideration, the Federal sector is committed to hiring a racial, ethnic, and gender diverse population. We are committed to hiring the physically challenged as well, providing reasonable accommodation to allow these individuals to perform the essential functions of their position independently and contribute to the tax-paying public.
    This is not your father’s government workforce. We are leaner, more capable, older, better educated, and by virtue of the nature of the workforce, more committed to our mission than the private sector.

    Now Mr. Biggs, take all of the above into consideration and make your comparisons.

    • Katie, WELL SAID – You quoted the facts – the very same ones that I was busy trying to put together in rebutal. Great Job.

      • Facts? leaner?….it is a fact that the gov’t is bigger than ever…older, well maybe, but it is also a fact that most agencies are facing a huge loss of expertise due to retirements, with a lack of qualified younger people to take their place, due primarily to retention problems, sorry but that’s not a positive…better educated, sorry, but from my experience gov’t are not better educated (or intelligent, big difference)…more committed to the vision?, thats laughable, work in the private industry for awhile where you need to make a profit to remain viable, as opposed to working with the gov’t where money just magically falls from the sky (the same amount or more every year with very little accountibility), and you will learn what dedication to an objective is about…..any objective analysis will show that gov’t employees retirement benefits are particularly lucrative…..if they weren’t I wouldn’t be here..

        • Dear Wolverine: Thank you for your comments:

          In 1953, there was one Federal worker for every 78 residents. In 1989, there was one Federal employee for every 110 residents. By 2009, the ratio had dropped to one Federal employee for every 147 residents. This was even after the influx of people entering government employment after 9/11.

          Yes, our experienced employees are retiring and with more articles like this that trend will increase. I would not want to see high school drop-outs in charge of the Social Security Administration, Medicare, IRS, etc. These may be government jobs but the last time I heard, they do require expertience and knowledge above an undergraduate degree.

          Our service has not had money drop from the sky in quite sometime. Although I admit, I would not mind if it ever did.

          The private sector dodges and darts to shirk their responsibilities to hire minorities and the physically disadvantaged. We seek these out and are better off for it.

          Your experience in the education levels of Federal employees is not at issue. The fact is that 20 percent of Federal workers have a master’s degree, professional degree, or doctorate vs. 13 % in the private sector. A full 51% of Federal employees have at least a collete degree compared to 35 percent in the private sector. If your experience demonstrates otherwise, then you may be in an area of work that does not require education or intelligence.

    • KatieDog — You say “the Federal employee is more experienced, older and lives in higher cost metropollitan areas,” which is completely true. And which, for the umpteenth time, is why our salary comparisons control for education, experience, gender, marital status, immigration status, region, whether you’re in a metro area, etc. Even AFTER those controls, federal salaries are around 14% higher.

      I find it disturbing that no matter how many times we repeat that we’re controlling for differences between the federal and private workforces that we still have people thinking we aren’t. In a sense I don’t blame you, since at a Congressional hearing the OPM Director said we weren’t making those controls when he had to know that we are. You’re being deceived by these people.

      • My gosh, Mr. Biggs – where were you in the 70′s and 80′s when my husband and I were trying to raise three children on a GS salary of approximately $50,000.00 a year for a physician out of school. He was offered $100,000.00 plus profit sharing in private practice but we stayed in Federal service so he would not burn out as fast or die sooner. Too bad – he died anyway. But these are the choices we make in life.

        I so wish you were publishing articles as to the inequities of benefits between the private and public sector at that time. Would anyone have listened? Apples to apples?

  3. My last comment – I am tired of reading Mr Biggs’ posturing to protect his report – It is because of writers like him who cite reports that were equally erroneous in years past that we have congressional leaders who use this bunk to support their claims that government workers are over compensated – yet out the other side of their mouths they advance their staff faster through the pay system and hire them at greater levels in the system than can reasonably be supported in the rest of the country. It washes that these “leaders” are lawyers and know the wording to place in a document that sufficiently proves their point so no average HR manager can see a way to question their ethical, moral or otherwise unreasonable practices.
    It models their work in our law making and their law breaking.
    Sadly – it also mirrors the way our system of government gets things done.
    In a few more years I will be retiring, hopefully with enough in my package to pay the bills and maybe even get SS. I will have left a job that is both appreciated and highly rewarding but rarely compensated at the levels that I could or would get in any private sector job.
    For most of you out there – you can understand and relate – With a Masters in Finance and Business, and a CPA Certification I could easily earn twice what I get where I am, but I find that what I do is important to many and without my exhaustive efforts, there are just too many individuals who would have suffered the injustice of undercompensation and a clearly unbalanced pay scale.
    I take Mr. Biggs’ report personally on many levels and hope that he will one day realize what it means to do proper and thorough research. For those of us who do – what he has said here is highly offensive and bodes ill for every federal worker regardless of their pay system.

    • It is not just Mr. Biggs that I find offensive and misinformed. I find FedSmith to be quite anti-federal govt. employee. I hope that they are not subsidized in any manner by our govt. I guess they call the anti-federal employee articles as their right to Freedom of Speech. The freedom that so many of us DoD employees help to defend everyday. I know when I took my first federal job as a GS-05 my friends thought I was nuts. They were all getting out of college and getting the great dot.com jobs with the great bonuses. I hope that none of those old friends who now may be looking for work are bashing me for the choice I made. By the way I had to work several part time jobs in my early career to keep up with the private sector cost of living!

  4. I’m in my mid 40′s, and when I compare my Federal Employee Benefits and pay with what my friends pay and benefits are, I’d say I’m much better off than they. Most (none) have a job that provides a pension based on years of service. Most have some sort of TSP, but that’s ALL they have. If you’re a fed employee with more than 15 years, the vacation and sick leave we get every year is worth as much as the TOTAL: i.e., Time off, IRA Matching, etc. annual benefits pkg. my friends receive. We Federal Employees are very fortunate, and MUCH More fortunate than non-fed employees when it comes to our total pay and benefits. Get Real ,and be thankful for what you (we) have. It won’t be there for future fed employees…

    • Martin,

      One point I’ll make is that in our big federal pay paper we rely on OPM data on the value of paid time off, sick leave, and other benefits like that, and then compare to what’s given at large private sector firms (which generally pay the best benefits). Even then, the federal government comes out well ahead.

      • I’m pretty sure that after 3 years work for a company, pretty much everyone in a professional capacity gets 3-4 weeks vacation and 10 paid holidays. And after 15 years, they get 5 years vacation and 10 paid holidays.

  5. Leigh

    You are ignoring the difference between government and industry for higher grade employees, it’s called performance and pink slips. Do you know of any federal employee being fired or let go for anything short of criminal activity? Happens all the time in private companies. There are managers and other staff members that simply cannot be fired because of the protections of the federal system. The protections of the government worker are far beyond private industry, many of these workers would not survive in a competitive industry without protections.

    • I agree, and I am not ignoring that fact. In fact, I have been laid of from a private sector job and that was a factor in my decision to work for the federal government. I realized I would sacrifice earnings potential for job security. I really miss my expense account, but overall, I am happier at home and at work. Where I differ from Mr. Biggs is that there is truly a wage premium for federal workers, I know I took a pay cut when I joined the government. In fact, I earned less after earning two masters degrees than I did with only an undergrad in the private sector. I have since made up the difference plus some, but I worked very hard to make that happen and it was necessary for me to see the a long-term benefit for staying with the federal government. I am truly thankful for my job and I work very hard to keep it, but I will tell you that in my current position I don’t have much room for salary or job growth, I am just satisfied with what I have. I truly wish that for all people.

  6. The author comments:

    “First, many commenters thought the fact that I assumed a 44-year working career invalidated the whole comparison since the average federal employee doesn’t retire with 44 years of job tenure.”

    LOL – I retired exactly with 44 years of Federal Service and proud of it…

    • While I was at SSA, they had folks retire with 50 or even 60 years of tenure! So it’s not unheard of, but I think the average is around 28 or so.

  7. I am a retired federal WS General Forman (Wage Grade) when I retired in 2006 I was making good money now with every thing going up except my retirement, it is getting harder to make ends meet. I cannot understaned where you are comeing from. We have not received a cost of living raise just like the people on S.S. for some time and I am on the old CSRS and have to work for four more years to get S.S., but our great President Ragen passed a bill that does not make it worth while for me to go back to work to get S.S.. Congress and all the big shots get around the raise by getting a bonus every year. I sure wish we could get a bonus. Until then I guess I will be just like all the rest of the people in this country and try to make ends meet and read about how you defend the Clarifications on Federal Employee Retirement Benefits.
    Now Mr. Biggs lets here your Clarifications on the Benefits that I am not getting.

  8. Mr Biggs. You are so out of touch. How many people did you know stayed 44 years? Be serious. Why don’t you try a more reality based comparison of averages on both sides of the equation? Let’s see – like compareing apples to apples to apples. Government workers have an average of years of likely 20 up to 30 yrs. Many people in the private sector shuffle around changing jobs – the luxury the Feds have is that when they change to another job in government, it still counts toward retirement. So they can roll their 401k to the next and start from there by not bringing any other pension perks with them. The best thing we have is the health care coverage – you may have noticed that health insurance is paying less and less – so that’s not much bargain either.

    You need to take the blinders off and step into reality more. Better yet keep them on and let other more real world people write the articles.

    • Security Guy: As I noted in this post, it doesn’t make any difference if I assume 44 years, 30 years or whatever. I actually calculated things at 30 years and the ratio of federal to private benefits is almost exactly the same.

      • You missed his whole point, I believe. The point was that most private workers work for several different companies and therefore do not get the benefit of a government employee’s long term pension plan. I know a bunch of people who worked in private companies and didn’t have ANY savings and then worked for the government and accumulated a nice nest egg for retirement (including the small government pension, a 401(k) plan and Social Security)

        Adding to that is the argument that most government employees these days are professionals: attorneys, scientists, etc. If you compare apples to apples, I think you’ll find that the private pensions are MUCH higher than if you compare “government worker” to “private worker” without taking account the type of worker – a government attorney is going to have a bigger pension than a Wal-Mart greeter, wouldn’t you agree?

      • You missed his whole point, I believe. The point was that most private workers work for several different companies and therefore do not get the benefit of a government employee’s long term pension plan. I know a bunch of people who worked in private companies and didn’t have ANY savings and then worked for the government and accumulated a nice nest egg for retirement (including the small government pension, a 401(k) plan and Social Security)

        Adding to that is the argument that most government employees these days are professionals: attorneys, scientists, etc. If you compare apples to apples, I think you’ll find that the private pensions are MUCH higher than if you compare “government worker” to “private worker” without taking account the type of worker – a government attorney is going to have a bigger pension than a Wal-Mart greeter, wouldn’t you agree? But a government attorney is NOT going to have a bigger pension than a private sector attorney.

  9. So here’s the real question, if you’ve uncovered this huge pay inequity, the absolute job security, the pot of gold retirement plan, etc,etc,etc. Why aren’t you a government employee?

  10. Andy, I have a challenge for you. Why don’t you compare our Private Government workforce pay and benefits with the public Gobernment employees pay and benefits????

    DARE YOU!

  11. The reason CEO’s are included in the comments and not athletes is because athletes do not garner large salaries and consistently downsize, lay off thousands of employees just to enlarge their profit margins while collecting huge bonuses for doing so. We won’t even mention the huge bonuses they receive if they forge a merger with other companies while people lose their jobs just because it duplicates what someone else is doing.

  12. I was a Federal employee for over 30 years, retired and went to work in the private sector. After about a year, my pay checks started bouncing like a rubber ball. I left before they declaired bankrupcy. Then I worked for a local government. After working there for about two years, I received a 5% pay cut! I would go back to the Federal government in a heart beat if they would not reduce my salary by the amount of my retirement. Also, my federal health insurance did not go up after I retired. This is unusual outside of the federal government. A federal employee who thinks he/she is getting the short end of the stick is highly delusional. I don’t know of one federal employee who ever had a pay check bounce. Yes, there has been furloughs, but good ole Uncle Sam still paid it back. Whether CSR or FER you have and will have it better than the majority of non-federal employees.

  13. Every comparison of Federal wages and retirement benefits I have seen has totally missed the mark because it uses the “average private sector worker”. The average includes the millions of low level workers who receive no benefits like the dishwasher at Joe’s Crabshak. The truth is that the federal govt doesn’t compete with Joe’s Crabshak for it’s workers so you shouldn’t use Joe’s as part of the comparison. Not even a “similar private sector jobs” comparison really will really tell an accurate picture. What you have to do is look at the salaries and benefits of the companies against which the federal govt must compete for labor. These companies are typically the large federal contractor labor providers like Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, L3 ETC. If you want a “quality”workforce, you MUST pay more than your competition is willing to; whether you want to or not. If you want a Steve Jobs, you must pay Steve Jobs rates to hire him away from Apple. As taxpayers, we are all employers and we must decide whether we want that quality work force or do we want to pay Lockheed Martin for it. Either way, we will be paying someone. A recent study showed that the average contractor makes (and costs) twice what a federal employee does in the exact same job.

    I’m a relatively new federal employee of only a little over a year who left an executive position with one of the larger IT companies to join the federal govt doing substantially the same job. I took a $35K annual salary cut, gave up a ten percent annual bonus and get fewer, more expensive, benefits. The only reason I took the plunge was for the security. The annual pension I will (hopefully) receive will not make up for the, at least, $35K I will lose every year until I retire. I’m worth quite a bit more in the private sector than I am in the public. Not an overinflated opinion but a mathematical fact. If we keep going down the path we are apparently bound and determined to follow, you will be buying my services from one of those aforementioned federal contract companies at twice the cost.

    • Guy — Not every comparison, and especially not ours. We control for the differences you mention — we’re not comparing you to dishwashers. And neither are numerous other academic studies over the past 35 years. Yes, some people make straight comparisons, and we’ve said multiple times that doing so is wrong. But even once you control for the different skill-sets, federal workers come out ahead.

      • My point is that your comparison, and that of almost everyone else is allowing workers into the pool for comparison many that shouldn’t be there. The “only” valid comparison is one that compares federal employees against primarily federal contractors. Even if you compare an executive assistant working in DHS against another executive assistant working in Microsoft you can’t control for the cost/value of the security clearance that the federal executive assistant holds. I did a LOT of hiring of people when I was in the private sector and I can honestly tell you that a candidate who came to me with a Top Secret clearance earned $15K more a year than someone with only a SECRET. A person without the clearance wouldn’t even be considered for the job. Joe Sixpack wasn’t even eligible for work with my company. Ninety percent of our hires were prior military or had prior federal service with experience specific tot the advertised position with at least a bachelors degree and a security clearance. Being IT in nature, it was unusual for a new hire earn under $75K with these qualifications. It wasn’t uncommon for me to have to pay six figures for better qualifications.

        Maybe the federal contractor industry is just an echo chamber bouncing off of he federal govt as regards pay and benefits, but as long as the pay and better benefits of these companies is the benchmark, no other comparison is valid. During bad years everyone wants to work for Uncle Sam but during good years Uncle Sam looses thousands to the contractors annually because he can’t compete. This downturn won’t last but whatever is done to the federal benefits will be forever. This will make it very difficult to develop and keep a quality career federal workforce in coming decades. We’re about to suffer a rather large loss of knowledge and talent since 75% of the workforce is over 40. Once the offered benefits and salary is just average, how will we attract the best and brightest? Or even the just above average? Do we really want the “just average” running the various branches and offices in the federal govt? Most college graduates today have zero interest in a federal job, so what’s *YOUR* plan to attract *them* once the current crop of older workers is retired?

        • “The “only” valid comparison is one that compares federal employees against primarily federal contractors.”

          Guy, what if federal employees and federal contractors were both overpaid — or both underpaid?

          • I think it’s far too broad a statement to say all are or none are overpaid in any industry. The contractors are private so market forces will determine the salaries that they can demand. As long as the contract companies continue to pay higher salaries, federal employees will use that as their benchmark. Just because a person makes less than another with similar qualifications and a similar job doesn’t mean that he’s underpaid or the other is overpaid. If an employer values the labor enough to pay a given salary and benefits, it’s a pretty good bet that the employee is paid what they are worth. But to think all are overpaid or all are under paid is clearly ludicrous, even if the majority of taxpayers isn’t making the same. And for those same taxpayers to bear animus toward a federal employee because he makes more is little better than the wealth envy that the left shows toward those better off than they are. Over the years I hired many that earned considerably more than I did because they had more valuable, profitable skills that could demand that salary.

            The truth is that throughout the federal govt there are a large number who might be considered overpaid. And there are a large number that might be considered underpaid. If you take your analogy of the GS12 but add the career field vice just picking a generic GS12, you might get some fidelity. Let’s use a UNIX engineer. The *average* salary for a UNIX Engineer is about $94K (http://www.indeed.com/salary/Unix-Engineer.html). But the maximum a GS12 can possibly make after decades of service is about $90K. Clearly a UNIX engineer at a GS12 rate is paid considerably less than a typical private sector engineer. Now let’s look at another field. Let’s take a 0030; that’s a recreation specialist. They run gyms and recreation facilities. With a MS they might make $50K in the private sector. In the public sector if you do everything right you have the potential to make almost $90K if you can get to step 10 as a GS12. Another inequity in the system is what I call pay compression. At the entry levels, civil service seems to pay considerably more than the private sector. But once grades above GS13 or so are reached the paradigm seems to reverse. Consider a CIO of a ~50K organization; he’s probably in the Senior Executive Service and limited to what a congressman can make. In the private sector that same CIO can be worth considerably more. Let’s not limit this to just SES’s though. As I said in my first post, I gave up quit a lot to serve my country. I’m a Director of IT (GS14) supporting several thousand people spanning multiple states. I was doing much the same in the private sector for $35K more annually. Look at an Admiral or General (or a civilian SES member) in charge of hundreds of thousands of servicemen/employees. There are CEOs with the same jobs making millions with the same level of responsibilities. This is clearly unequal but I don’t see anyone screaming to fix this. All I hear is that federal employees are over paid.

            To me the issue is not whether all federal employees are under or over paid, it’s what can be done to make the system more market based. We need a system that is competitive within our given labor market and will pay what a new hire is worth at hire and continue to reward for stellar performance; or not for less than adequate performance. For our leadership to suggest (and for folks like you to push for) an across the board cut on anything without a true reform is to ignore the realities of the labor market. I want to work in a system in which I can go to my boss and present him with the offer I just received from company xyz and give him a chance to match it before I walk. Or I’d like to be able to give a pay raise (or withhold one) based on a given employees last year of work. We had nearly that under our recently deceased NSPS but the unions hated it and President Obama killed it off. Oh, and FWIW I’m very conservative and want to see our pay and benefits system reformed properly, not gutted to satisfy some misplaced sense of fairness. But none of these federal benefits gyrations will have any substantial effect on our current budget situation. Federal salaries are only 11% of the budget so you could eliminate 100% of all federal employees and still have a $1.2T budget deficit. The little tinkering around the edges of pay and benefits for federal workers will ultimately do more harm than good. Let’s do the hard thing and disband whole agencies that have outlived their usefulness. That will have much more of an impact on our annual outlay than benefits and pay reform.

  14. The author has hit a sore point with feds but, unfortunately, is accurate in his observations. I conducted training seminars for a federal agency for a number of years and also worked in a variety of federal agencies. There is a culture in the federal workforce, as there often is in organizations represented by unions, where people consider themselves overworked and underpaid. They ignore the incidents that scream out against this paradigm which would be against their own self-interest. A number of federal employees should be fired. They aren’t because it takes too long and is too expensive. They get moved around and ignored until they retire or die–usually while filing complaints and grievances along the way.

    If an agency were forced to fire 5% of its workforce each year, and could do so without dealing with appeals and complaints for decades after doing so, the government would be much more efficient.

    Many people complain about their pay based on the job they do. Having worked in both sectors, there is often no comparison. Federal employees usually do not make decisions on their own. They are reviewed, scrutinized, and criticized to make sure they follow the rules set up to prevent independent thought and decision-making. One agency where I worked how has about 6 people in HR making over $110,000 per year–while the organization is getting smaller each year and now totals a workforce of about 1500 people. Grade creep is alive and well. We make up stuff and put in position descriptions to make the jobs sound much more important than they really are.

    Those working for the federal government have it made. Unfortunately, getting hired or promoted is often based now on considerations other than merit. Looking good for EEO statistics is more important than competence.

    It is not a good situation. The taxpayers are getting taken for a ride–while the employees scream about being shafted for not getting stock options.

    The author is right. I worked for several companies. I never got stock options, often made less money than working for the government but had more freedom and responsibility. Stock options are few and far between. Most feds would not be in positions where they would qualify. It is a straw man argument.

    Congrats to Andrew Biggs for pointing out “the emperor has no clothes.” Most of the media that panders to the federal workforce would never allow this article to see the light of day. So much for freedom of the press but the reason for their reluctance is obvious–just look at the whining from those who don’t like reading about the government “enslaving” them with too much work, not enough benefits, and no stock options but, without much comment, giving them lifetime employment, automatic raises based on seniority, and a pension system that is the envy of most private sector workers. But, obviously, the argument from the elites occupying government jobs and trying to control the lives of those who pay their exorbitant salaries, “Let them eat cake.”

    I am, by the way, an overpaid GS-15.

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