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By Steve Kelman

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Kelman: Annoyed by pay complaints and cynical procurement lawyers

Maybe it is because classes this year are starting before Labor Day, I am in a slightly sour mood and thus more easily annoyed than usual, but I ran across two items this week that I didn't like.
First, I was reading the most recent issue of Contract Management magazine, published by the National Contract Management Association, and saw the bio squib for one of the authors. The article didn't bother me at all, but the bio squib did. The author was identified as a lawyer in the "Government Contracts and White Collar Crime" group at a Washington law firm. Is it really possible that this is the same group of lawyers?  This identification says a whole lot about the problems the procurement system faces today. The message sent by conflating procurement and white-collar crime directs the system away from paying attention to how do we use procurement to produce better value for the government. It suggests both that contractors are crooks and that in dealing with the government, contractors should focus on staying out of jail rather than on achieving excellent performance. To the workforce, it says: this is not a field where I want to make my career.
Second, I was reading a story by Alyssa Rosenberg in the daily Government Executive called "Obama Stands Firm on 2 Percent Civilian Pay Hike." The theme of the article was that the administration had decided to use a national-emergency authority to limit pay raises to 2 percent this year, and that federal employee unions had criticized this as an insufficient pay hike. At the risk of upsetting some readers, may I ask:  on what planet are these people living? In this economy, the world is filled with pay freezes and pay cuts -- not to speak of the almost 10 percent of the workforce that is unemployed. I am working under a salary freeze at Harvard, and, indeed, with changes in the way I am credited for activities I do, I am required to do more activities than before to earn that salary. Just two days ago a carpenter who does work for us informed us that he is lowering the hourly salary we pay him for work we hire him for, because of the economy. At Stanford Law School, where my brother teaches, they not only have a salary freeze, but the faculty voluntarily agreed to return their previous year's salary increases to provide the school money so they wouldn't need to lay off some low-paid workers. And let's not even talk about what's happened to the wages and benefits of auto workers.
I am proud to count myself a strong friend of the career federal workforce, and I also agree there are some government jobs (not all) that are underpaid. But with economic hard times and a massive deficit, I am actually surprised federal employees are getting any salary increase this year at all. And to criticize the increase for being too small suggests a sense of entitlement and lack of sympathy for the situation of others that goes beyond the bounds of decency.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Sep 03, 2009 at 12:08 PM

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Reader comments

Thu, Oct 29, 2009

With respect to "pay complaints", as a Federal employee, (1) I agree with basing our pay raises on combined inflation and economic indices, provided they both reflect actual statistics (i.e., no intermittent, subjective economic influence) and (2) for NSPS personnel, a significant portion of each raise gets shifted to the highest-paid employees (i.e., the pay-pool managers) anyway.

With respect to "cynical procurement lawyers", as a program manager having to overcome extreme contractor fraud to make my program responsibilities executable, and having confirmed this is the norm for many programs and their respective contractors, I know (1) there are indeed many crooked Government contractors and (2) inadequate Government defense against their fraud is allowing it to contribute significantly to our deficit and debt.

Wed, Oct 7, 2009

I've heard over and over why I should sacrifice. Heard it in times of plenty and hear it now in times of less. I'm sick of hearing about why I should not expect the same that the previous generation took for granted. How about the previous generation fess up to having created a predominance of the debt and not tending to the infrastructure? Over 55 years of age... send an additional 10 percent with your tax return for the next 5 years... that's called being FAIR.

Tue, Sep 8, 2009 DC

As a Federal employee, I also agree. We have stable jobs, health insurance, and retirement benefits. In the current financial environment, that should be enough. It's disappointing, embarrassing, and distressing to see the same egocentric Me-Me-Me mentality in the Federal workforce that runs rampant on Wall Street & in the boardrooms of the corporate world! Reading some of the comments it’s ‘Shame on them (CEO’s, Congress, etc.), but gimme, gimme mine!’ Enough with the greed, already!

Tue, Sep 8, 2009

i'm a government worker, we have had pay cut thru out when ever one was getting large raises. even last year when every one got 5% we got less. maybe some one making a 100k can see us not getting a raise (Harvard law) but the little people 32k sure need it with food prices doubling in the last 18 months.

Tue, Sep 8, 2009 John Melvin Texas

I usually don't participate in such banter, but, in light of what has been stated in the earler responses I must say something. Before I pass "Judgement" on the President's proposal of limiting the pay raises of Federal employees to 2% I would like to know what the pay raises for the other two brances of federal government will be for 2010? The President's decisuion only affects the Executive branch employees, what about the pay raises of the legislature and judicial brances of our government? I have not heard enough evidence to applaud or complain on the President's propposal, but, I'm only a federal employee (executive branch) and we make rash decisions all of the time, not like congress. By the way, if we are concerned about the federal budget, when do we start bailing out the federal government, say, in a share of the supposed profits through the interests the former "troubled" financial institutions paid back to the government? I do believe we are "brain-washed into looking in the shallow end of the pool and we don't evaluate the entire financial picture.

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