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Debating the Cost of Federal Employees

by Ian Smith |

The battle over federal employee salaries and benefits is ongoing with different twists and turns. With the huge budget deficits facing this country and those in Europe, we can expect the debate to continue.

Recent reports in the media about the cost of providing federal employee salaries such as this recent USA Today article have sparked a debate about whether or not federal employees are overpaid at a time when the federal deficit is soaring. Federal employee unions contend that federal employees are substantially underpaid, whereas others argue that federal pay far outpaces that of the private sector.

Regardless of where one falls on the issue, it continues to come up as seen from some recent interviews with politicians.

In a recent interview, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) said that the cost for federal employees is “simply not sustainable” when juxtaposed with private sector labor costs.

In the interview, Johnson said, “There is a class division in this country between rich and poor, but I think an even more significant one is emerging between public sector and private sector, and quite honestly it’s the private sector that pays the salary of people who work in the public sector.

“I don’t think any American wants to underpay people that work for us in government, but right now with our fiscal situation we can’t afford to overpay them, and that’s basically what we’re doing right now. The cost for federal employees according to a study done by USA Today is $123,00 versus the total cost of the private sector is about $61,000 and that’s simply not sustainable that type of differentiation.”

Johnson’s position is not new; he introduced legislation in September 2011 to cut the federal workforce by 10% through attrition.

The minority staff of the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia also prepared a report at the behest of Senator Johnson around the same time period which found more than $1.4 trillion in savings over 10 years in areas under the subcommittee’s jurisdiction, some of which would directly impact the federal workforce if they were to be enacted. 

Over the weekend, a federal employee asked Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich how he would cut the federal deficit without cutting federal jobs.

Gingrich noted in his reply that getting rid of the federal positions that are “wasteful” or the employees who ideologically want to “dictate to the rest of us” would be his solution:

“I think an intelligent conservative wants the right federal employees delivering the right services in a highly efficient way and then wants to get rid of those folks that are, in fact wasteful, or those folks who are ideologically so far to the left, or those people who want to frankly dictate to the rest of us.

“I do believe we can have a dramatically more productive federal government, but I think good federal employees would like the chance to break out of the current rules and regulations and actually be productive and not be trapped in bureaucracy that is unproductive.”

You can see the full question and the entirety of Gingrich’s reply in this video. 

As Congress prepares to return from its three week Christmas and New Year’s break, many are expecting talks to resume on extending the Social Security payroll tax cut. Republicans in the House have said before the break that they would extend the current pay freeze through 2013 and cut federal employee benefits to fund the tax cut. 

What may or may not happen leading up to the Presidential election is anybody’s guess, but you can expect the debate over federal pay and benefits to continue in the coming months.

© 2014 FedSmith Inc. All rights reserved. This copyrighted article may not be reproduced without express written consent of FedSmith Inc.

About the Author

Photo of Ian Smith

Ian Smith

Ian Smith is one of the founders of FedSmith.com. He writes about current topics that impact federal employees.

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