Gov Careers

By Phil Piemonte

Blog archive

Pay and benefits: It's right there in black and white

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 by Phil Piemonte on Oct 04, 2011 at 12:13 PM


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