The Fox in the Henhouse

Most readers say Congress should not be allowed to set its own pay.

When we read hundreds of comments on a survey topic, some trends become clear. In our most recent survey, a common metaphor was used by a number of readers who said that a system under which Congress sets its own pay is like “letting the fox in the henhouse.”

The outcome of this survey was clear. 84% commented that Congress should not be able to set its own pay. 15% said that it should be allowed to set its own pay and 1% were not sure.

Readers who support the current system were not afraid to speak out. A reader from the Navy in Silverdale, WA wrote: “Decisions made by Congress are very visible, so I’m of the opinion they won’t give theirselves (sic) an undeserved raise.”

A management analyst from Seaside, CA said:

“Who better? These are the elected representatives of the people.”

And a manager from Defense in Alexandria contends:

“Voters review the work (or lack thereof) every two years for House members. If pay scale got too out of line, voters would notice. Right now Congress doesn’t make as much as most corporate boards.”

But as you may assume from the lopsided outcome of the poll, most comments were negative.

An employee from the Dept. of Interior in Billings, MT said:

“The disproportionate scale and raises are clear indication that the fox is watching the hen house. The lavish retirement benefits for a single term regardless of how well they did the job are a travisty(sic).”

An employee from the Dept. of Agriculture in Vermont gave his view of how the system is supposed to work:

“What most people fail to realize is that congressional pay should read: stipend. These positions were never meant to be careers, folks. $160,000 stipend is a bit much. Senators and Reps are not supposed to be career positions!!!”

In addition to not approving of the current system, a number of readers had suggestions for how the pay for Congress should be set. A Social Security Administration employee from Salinas, CA offered this solution:

“The President should set and approve their pay.”

A Forest Service employee from Lakewood, CO had this idea:

“Need to tie Congressional Pay to Performance. If they receive a raise it should not come during the term in which it is voted. It also creates career politicians who are not really subject to performance reviews. A majority of State legislatures should vote for congressional pay raises and tie it to getting budget bills passed on time.”

A labor relations specialist from Florida commented:

“Congressional raises should not take effect until the Congress that next convenes after the vote is taken to increase pay, much like that of the President.”

And a management analyst from Pensacola, FL offered this view:

“Allowing congress to set it’s own pay is ridiculous and always has been. Their pay should be a set amount and remain that way. They volunteered for public service and shouldn’t make themselves such a formidable burden on the taxpayers of this country.”

A business analyst from AAFES in Dallas captured the sentiment of a number of readers who sent us their opinion when he wrote:

“Pay raises for congress should be voted on by their customers…the public. We have absolutely no say in how much of a payraise they are getting but they work for us, shouldn’t we have the right to decide how much of pay raise they should get.”

Thanks for all readers who took the time to vote and send in their opinion on this issue.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47