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Cato’s innovation agenda: Downsize the federal government; No eating Doritos on the job

Cato’s innovation agenda: Downsize the federal government
Here’s how to keep America competitive: Cut government pay and benefits, so that private-sector work, which boosts the economy, becomes more attractive to top-notch talent.

Chris Edwards, tax policy studies director at the Cato Institute, wrote in Cato’s Tax and Budget Bulletin, “For the overall economy, federal hiring of top-caliber workers is a problem because it draws talent away from high-valued activities in the private sector.… In France, most of the best minds move from the elite schools into the national government, and the economy is weaker for it. In the United States, most of the best minds are attracted to places such as Silicon Valley, not Washington, and we prosper because of it.”

Edwards wrote that, in 2004, the average federal worker earned $100,178 in wages and benefits, compared with $51,876 for the average private-sector worker. Those numbers are from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data. In wages alone, federal workers earned an average of $66,558, which is 56 percent more than the $42,635 that the average private-sector employee earns.

Besides high pay, the report states, the federal government offers benefits that are nearly extinct elsewhere: health insurance, a pension plan with inflation protection, a matching retirement savings plan, generous holiday schedule and a more relaxed pace of work. The ultimate perk: job security.

“All these federal advantages in benefits suggest that, in comparable jobs, federal wages should be lower than private-sector wages,” Edwards wrote. “Congress should restrain federal compensation by freezing federal wages for a period of years and examining fringe benefit programs for possible savings.”

Downsizing can come later. “As government air traffic controllers, space scientists and others retire in coming years, these activities should be handed over to the private sector so that they can be better managed and have more efficient compensation policies,” Edwards added.

Click here to enlarge graphic(.pdf).

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No eating Doritos on the job
At a Coalition for Government Procurement Partnership Dinner held in San Antonio, Texas, David Bibb, the General Services Administration’s acting administrator, described a scene from the filming of the movie “The Alamo” to illustrate a point.

“We’re here tonight in part to celebrate the continuing partnership between industry and GSA, particularly the success of the GSA Multiple Award Schedules program, which is on track for a record-setting year. On that score, and given that we’re here in San Antonio, let me quote a Davy Crockett line from the most recent film version of ‘The Alamo.’ During the movie, Davy at one point looked into the camera and said, ‘It’s amazing what a little harmony can do.’ How true…

“Here’s something else that happened while they were shooting the film: A big battlefield scene was coming up… one of the extras grabbed a bag of Doritos right before he was called to the set.… Now everyone knows they didn’t have Doritos in 1836. So the actor shoved the bag into his costume and got ready to go out in a blaze of battlefield glory. Of course, when he fell, the Doritos bag slipped out, the camera caught it, and they had to reshoot the whole scene.

“There’s a lesson in that, and it’s not about the danger of junk food. It’s about thinking ahead, paying attention to detail and getting the job done right the first time.”

During the same Texas conference, some government officials felt compelled to do some filming of their own. Marty Wagner, acting administrator of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, knelt down a few feet from an armadillo to take a picture using his camera phone. Most of the other Washingtonians watched the creature from a safer distance.

Got a tip? Send it to asternstein@fcw.com.

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