In fact, it’s not just those in the middle of the financial spectrum who have cashed in through their secure jobs with the feds. USA Today (as reported on December 11) completed a detailed analysis of federal salary data and concluded that a full 19% of those who toil for Uncle Sam now make salaries of $100,000 per year or more—paid, in part, by taxpayers who commonly earn far less. In the midst of a devastating recession and crippling federal deficits, the percentage of six-figure federal employees has sky-rocketed – from 14% to 19% in just the last six months. The number of those who earn even better wages from Washington (above $170,000 per year!) has gone up even more abruptly – with an increase of 93%, to 22,157.
Meanwhile, the federal workforce not only earns more and receives vastly higher raises, but also enjoys far greater job security than employees of any private firm. While most companies have been shedding jobs at an alarming rate (with 7.3 million positions lost since December, 2007) Uncle Sam is one of the few bosses around who’s actually added workers: the federal workforce swelled by an appalling 9.8% in the same time period, adding 192,700 jobs. When the economy is good, Washington adds workers, and when the economy is bad, the feds tend to add even more.
Unlike private firms, the federal bureaucracy doesn’t attempt to make a profit, so there’s never a pressing drive to cut costs or to trim payroll; unlike state and local governments, Washington doesn’t even need to break even. The ability of the central government to print or borrow money means that all the new hires will remain at their posts, no matter how mediocre or inadequate their performance, or how questionable the value of the often meaningless tasks they perform.
Not only do rising federal pay and swelling federal workforces bear little connection to the job performance of the individual employees, but these costs continue to multiply regardless of the government’s overall ineffectiveness. This anomaly pertains to Big Lie #5 in my just-released book, THE 5 BIG LIES ABOUT AMERICAN BUSINESS – the idiotic supposition that government is more compassionate and reliable than for-profit business.
The truth is that if you go into a local Starbucks the chances are that the barista will treat you decently. To some extent, that’s because he or she hopes for a tip, but more fundamentally it’s because that employee wants you to come back for another Venti Mocha. If you don’t, the coffee oasis could go out of business and the barista could lose a job. At the Department of Motor Vehicles, on the other hand, you’re likely to receive far less considerate treatment, because the employees don’t worry about whether you’re a satisfied customer or a potentially returning patron. If you expect to drive a car, you’ll be back at that office because there’s no place else for you to go. The DMV won’t close down because citizens feel annoyed at long lines or rude service, any more than the government itself will close down because of chronic inefficiency. In every sense, private, for-profit businesses are more directly and immediately accountable to the public than are taxpayer supported bureaucracies.
Instead of agitation for more governmental expansion to clamp down on executive compensation at banks and hedge funds, wouldn’t it make sense for the feds to look first at their own bloated payrolls? If we’re truly concerned about the perverse practice of rewarding incompetence, the right place to begin trimming salaries and slashing jobs would be with the federal government’s own recently re-enforced army of 2.2 million often overpaid personnel.