Economy & Budget

Federal Workers Aren’t Feeling the Pain

While the President touted the 160,000-plus job gains in February, it should be noted that this year government union workers will exceed private-sector workers in unions. When the largest union membership represents federal workers, how do you cut the budget?

As America is faced with increased deficits, federal workers are growing in number and getting pay increases. In most state, local and municipal governments—where they must balance their budgets every year—furloughs days, or days without pay, have become a way of life. Many governments have had to make the tough choice to cut benefits, reduce or eliminate contributions into retirement plans and eliminate cost of living adjustments. Federal employees have not taken furlough days or felt the pain of the economic downturn.

On average, federal workers are making more than a private-sector worker in the same job. The difference depends on the location of the private-sector worker but it ranges from 25% more to more than double. The number of federal employees making $100,000 a year or more has doubled and many are reaching the cap of about $172,000 a year. This government has spent a great deal of time and effort demonizing the salaries of a relatively few executives in the private sector. However, they won’t acknowledge that outside of unchecked entitlement spending, federal workers are the biggest drain on the economy.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) has become the largest union representing federal workers. In January, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that for the first time in American history, a majority of union members are government workers rather than private-sector employees. The report revealed that in 2009, union membership fell so fast in the private sector that public (government) workers easily outnumbered private-sector union members. On Friday, the President touted the 162,000 increase in jobs for February. What he didn’t say was over 40,000 of those jobs were temporary Census takers working for the federal government.

Over the last two months, the Senate has taken up legislation they say is about extending unemployment benefits. Sen. Jim Bunning (R.-Ky.) took heat and was called heartless for opposing the $15 billion bill. He was painted as someone who didn’t want to help the unemployed. The dirty little secret is that there was also funding in that bill for the “Doctor Fix” and for pay to keep federal employees from being furloughed. This month, they were unable to pass a follow-up bill for $10 billion, thanks to Sen. Tom Coburn (R.-Okla.). The Democrats’ plan seems to be trying to try to push through $10 billion or so a month under the pretense of unemployment benefits, but the real purpose is to keep federal workers from being furloughed.

State and local governments are, for the most part, trying to balance their budgets. The federal government is not. They ought to be cutting back at employee levels with furloughs, pay cuts and benefit reductions. It ought to start with Congress. During the Great Depression, Congress cut their pay from $10,000 a year to $8,000 a year. Congress ought to cut their salaries and the salaries of their staffs. If the argument is, “you can’t compete unless you pay the salaries,” I would disagree. There are plenty of people who would take those government jobs, including congressional staff jobs, for 25% less than what they are paying today. How can they really understand the pain of the American worker out of a job unless they are feeling a little pain themselves?

Federal employees used to receive low pay and mediocre benefits in exchange for security. Now it’s become high pay, Cadillac benefits and job security. It’s not right and the taxpayer is footing the bill. This is not just the Obama Administration’s problem. In the last two years of the Bush Administration—including pay increases that were given in January 2009 before President Obama took office—federal workers were given pay increases well about the national average. In 2010, with the highest federal deficit in history, federal workers got a 2% pay raise. I don’t know of many private sector workers who got an increase in pay this year.

The current federal deficit exceeds the salaries of all federal employees combined. There is no money to pay any of their salaries. It’s all being borrowed on the backs of our children and their children. Few of these employees appreciate how poorly the private sector is doing. Most of the excesses in government have been paid for with IOU’s from the Social Security Administration. It will be a sad day when the SSA has to go to the federal government and ask for their IOU’s to be paid and there is no money there.

So what do we do? Every elected federal official should take an immediate 25% pay cut. Every member of their staff should do so also. Beyond that, every federal worker should take one furlough day a month. The only exemption should be active duty military. This would save us about $350 billion dollars a year. Not anywhere close to the deficit number but it’s a substantial start and much better than the $130 billion dollars over 10 years projected from Obamacare. In addition, these would be real cuts, because pay cuts come out of the bottom line immediately. With a little suffering in Washington, D.C., maybe those bureaucrats (and I include our elected officials in that group) will start to come up with some real solutions to our problems. Like getting out of the way and letting the private sector do what it does best, create wealth in this country, for everyone.

The feds should not be a protected class. Hooray for Sen. Coburn, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R.-Ga.) and Sen. Jon Kyl (R.-Ariz.) for standing up to the phony unemployment bill. Maybe now we can get to the table to discuss how to get this government back on track.

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