By Phil Piemonte
Over the years, the general press has gotten a lot of mileage out of federal pay and benefits -- and helped turn fed-bashing into a national sport.
Take USA Today, for example. Back at the end of 2009, it ran the headline: “For feds, more get 6-figure salaries.”
A couple of months later, it published this story: “Federal pay ahead of private industry.”
Five months after that: “Federal workers earning double their private counterparts,”
Over succeeding months, as more media and politicians bellied up to the news trough, the publication occasionally stoked the fire: “More federal workers' pay tops $150,000,” and “Some federal workers more likely to die than lose jobs.”
The most recent headline from their pages, if you have not seen it, summarizes the findings of USA Today's latest analysis: “Federal retirement plans almost as costly as Social Security.”
The story furnishes numbers to support its case. But as a professor of our acquaintance once said: “Anyone can come up with a number. The question is: What does it mean?”
For example, this latest article lays federal retirement costs up against Social Security costs: “In all, the government committed more money to the 10 million former public servants last year than the $690 billion it paid to 54 million Social Security beneficiaries.”
That’s a lot of numbers to parse out. But in this case, before even asking what the numbers mean, one might ask: What does “committed” mean? Does it mean allocated? Paid? Spent? Invested? A combination? Was the entire amount expended? Does the amount “committed to” feds include/not include Social Security (for FERS retirees) and Medicare?
In short, it’s not entirely clear. At the same time, the subtext of stories like these seems entirely clear: Feds are the “haves” and the rest of the folks out there are the “have nots.”
Unfortunately, average consumers of news—if there are such people—usually haven’t had their brains crammed full of seminars on advanced statistics and communications analysis by professors like the one mentioned above. On the other hand, their knees jerk quite readily when they see information like this.
But there might be a trace of good news. While stories about “overpaid” feds continue to pop up in the media (to be amplified by some politicians), from our perch here it seems that each new story raises a bit less public indignation than the one before.
Maybe the story has run its course for most members of the public, who probably have little real concern about what your pay or benefits are. After all, their real worries pertain to their own pay and benefits, not yours.
Regrettably for feds, some members of Congress are determined to hang onto that story line long after the headlines fade.
Posted on Oct 04, 2011 at 3:11 PM29 comments
According to OPM’s 2011 Employee Viewpoint Survey results, almost all feds agree with this statement: “When needed I am willing to put in the extra effort to get things done.”
Among 265,711 feds who responded to that statement, 32.6 percent agreed with it, and 64.3 percent strongly agreed with it, for a total affirmative response of 96.9 percent.
Another 2.2 percent of respondents were on the fence, and neither agreed nor disagreed. Only 0.5 percent disagreed, and 0.4 percent strongly disagreed.
Applying the math, an overwhelming 257,473 of those 265,711 feds indicated that they would do what it takes to get things done.
The very high percentage certainly makes this result stand out. But since this is a “viewpoint” survey after all, we’re wondering how this plays out in practice.
It seems to beg the question: Do 97 percent of your co-workers really put in the extra effort to get things done? Or would you say it’s closer to 80 percent? Or 70 percent?
What do you think?
Posted on Sep 23, 2011 at 1:47 PM23 comments
Most of you won’t be surprised at this, but in general it costs the federal government a whole lot more to hire contractors to do the same jobs done by federal employees.
Naysayers will be quick to point out that comparisons of federal employees and private-sector employees in comparable jobs do not take into account total compensation—which has become the monster point of contention in this ongoing public pay/private pay debate.
That’s why a good-government group, the Project on Government Oversight, decided to compare total compensation. But it compares three numbers rather than two: full federal annual compensation, full private-sector annual compensation, and … contractor annual billing rates.
Guess what they found?
In some cases, federal workers made more in total annual compensation than their private-sector counterparts.
In other cases, private-sector workers made more in total annual compensation than their federal counterparts.
But in 33 out of the 35 occupational classifications reviewed by POGO, the amount paid out under contractor annual billing rates exceeded the total annual compensation of both feds and private-sector workers. And far more often than not, that amount was a whole lot more .
In fact, POGO found that, on average, contractors may be billing the government about 1.83 times what the government pays feds to perform similar work.
And when it comes to those private-sector workers, the billing rates charged by contractors on average were more than twice the amount private-sector employers pay out for the same services.
In one instance—claims assistance and examining—contractor billing rates were nearly five times more than the full compensation paid to federal employees performing comparable services. In that case, total annual compensation for a fed was $57,292, compared to $75,637 for a private-sector worker, compared to a whopping $276,598 that a contractor would charge to fill that slot.
Moreover, private-sector compensation (to which feds’ salaries are often compared when anti-fed types howl) was lower than contractor billing rates in all 35 occupational classifications POGO reviewed.
If this has whetted your appetite for more information—and ammunition for the next time you hear someone griping about your salary—you can find the report right here.
Posted on Sep 15, 2011 at 2:57 PM47 comments
Ten years ago, an acquaintance of ours, then a Marine officer, found himself booked for two meetings that took place at the same time.
Rather than go to just one of them, he decided to attend the first half of one meeting and then leave, jump in his car and race off to try to catch the second half of the other meeting.
So on the morning of the meetings, as he had planned, he sat through the first half of one meeting — at the Navy Annex in Arlington, Va. — and left to go to the other meeting.
As he steered his car southeast on Columbia Pike where it takes a long, downhill swing to the right, he had a perfect view through his windshield of American Airlines Flight 77 as it roared toward the Pentagon and smashed into the building’s E Ring — right in the part of the building where his other meeting was taking place.
Less than a minute later, inside the Pentagon, another acquaintance, a former neighbor and Defense Department employee, was being led by her boss through smoke-filled halls away from her office. Her husband, a retired NOAA oceanographer, was sitting at their home only two miles away, anxiously trying to reach her over jammed phone lines for what seemed like forever.
Following the attack, another person we know — one of those guys who owns a car with a whip antenna and amateur radio call letters on the license plate — arrived on the scene at the Pentagon. As a disaster communications specialist and former FCC engineer, he set up shop to help untangle on-site communications.
Those are just a few things that come to mind on this 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Clearly, everything changed that day. Feds and non-feds alike, especially those near the attack sites, realized how quickly the world can turn upside down and how unprepared we all had been.
And although the implications of the attacks were national and international, if one lived in New York City or the national capital area, the impact was clearly local.
People all across the Washington region realized there had been no local plans to deal with something like this — at least none that reached individuals. That’s why in the weeks after 9/11, a lot of us in the Washington area found ourselves on hastily assembled lists.
There were new lists of communications people like the fellow above (who fortunately already had been on a list). There were new lists of nurses, doctors and other medical professionals who, at the request of local and state authorities, had agreed, if needed, to assemble at a given location to conduct emergency triage and treatment.
There were even lists of parents. Some local schools sent letters home with their students, soliciting families who would agree to take in and care for the children of military service members or government employees who might have to remain on duty during an emergency.
Families and individuals threw themselves into emergency preparations as well. Suddenly there were people in the Washington area who had pick-up-and-run “go bags” full of necessities and emergency gear, just in case they had to make a break for it. And families — realizing they were separated during the day at various schools and work locations — now agreed on emergency rendezvous points and routes of escape.
It’s been 10 years now. Time has knocked the edge off a bit. But only just a bit. When the recent earthquake struck the capital region, the first thought that ran through the minds of many was not “earthquake.”
Federal agencies charged with anticipating and managing events like this have told us we are safer and more prepared than we were 10 years ago. We only hope they are right.
Posted on Sep 09, 2011 at 2:11 PM1 comments