You Get What You Pay For

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This topic contains 11 replies, has 9 voices, and was last updated by  Andrew Krzmarzick 8 years, 2 months ago.

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  • #114953

    Stephen Peteritas

    First thing on the new House’s agenda looks like pay and job cuts.

    Reading Gov Exec (here’s the full post: it looks like the first big push from the influx of Republicans is going to be cutting spending and the way they are proposing to do it is to slice pay and jobs.
    Before I get any further I’m not saying what’s right or wrong.
    I was a little taken-aback when I saw that Gov’t jobs over 150K had increased ten fold in the last five years. That’s some pretty aggressive expansion and while I do think govies should “get theirs” that might be moving up the pay scale a little too fast. On the other hand I am a big believe in your get what you pay for, meaning if you want smart, motivated people you have to pay them better salaries. Obviously a passion for public service should quell some of that but still if someone is smart they know their own worth and will aspire to being compensated for it.
    What are everyone’s thought on this?
  • #114975

    I think you’ve uncovered 2-3 issues swirling around right now, Stephen. I’ll focus on two of them

    1 – Job and pay cuts: I’m not being political here when I say this, but it seems counterintuitive to hurt people – and especially people that perform such vital public service – in their pocketbooks when the economy is so rough! Who does that really help? It might move toward balancing the budget, but it’s on the backs of Executive branch employees.

    >> Challenge #1 – For Congress >> Cut your own pay first if you’re going to cut pay or jobs in the Executive branch…and see if you can get by with fewer staffers. Try leaning up the military budget, too, seeing if you can create efficiency there as it represents such a huge portion of our overall expenditures. It’s only fair that all of government absorb these cuts.

    2 – Gov’t salary increases: Why is this increase in 150K employees happening? Well, we have a lot of people who have been in government a long time and have accumulated a lot of grade/step and COLA increases over the period of 20-30 years…sometimes regardless of performance. It just happened.

    >> Challenge #2 – For Agencies >> Take a hard, close look at people’s job functions. What’s the appropriate salary for that job? If someone’s salary has ballooned out over a couple decades, but they haven’t advanced and continue to perform a job that ought to have a much lower compensation, I’d say there are some hard choices to present to these folks, including: move up or move out. Granted, there will be exceptions if their performance in these positions is exceptional or they are nearing retirement and committed to assisting with knowledge capture/transfer and on-boarding of new hires. But I’d say there are a lot of situations where agencies need to make room for new talent to get what may be key entry-level positions and/or right-size pay-per-position in the process.

  • #114973

    Terri Jones

    As someone who used to fight battles with legislatures, this fact makes me both happy and scared. Government staff deserve salaries and if we pay anyone, we should pay government since their impact on our lives is the most significant of any job. That said, this type of salary will result in a frenzy at the legislative level since the urge to be angry with government seems to point at staff. I would rather have slightly lower salaries at the top and more funding for the basic salaries at the day-to-day worker level. Those folks are the meat of what happens and how efficient government is and that’s where we need to attract and keep bright people. And that will make a different in how government is perceived and how it functions.

  • #114971

    Tracy Kerchkof

    I read the Gov Exec article and this WaPo article: and to me, all of this fed bashing seems to be political posturing more than anything else, and it seems to be working on the general public. As a public servant, I’m willing to make sacrifices where I think they will lead to real results, but I really don’t appreciate taking a hit so a politico can get more votes.

    I do know that I have friends who received 40% pay increases by moving to the private sector from the public sector (they are engineers), and receive similar benefits with that increased salary. I stay here because I believe in the mission, but as this anti-fed sentiment grows, I feel foolish, because at the end of the day, it seems our political leaders, who set my priorities and my budget, really couldn’t care less about the mission. I hope I am one day proven wrong.

  • #114969


    I would recommend that someone do more than make vague references to salaries above 150K. Look at which agencies have the 150K employees. Even having been in government a long time does not really mean that employees make that much unless promotions occur – most employees usually have an upper limit at which they are fixed (e.g. GS 9 for admin support or GS13 for action officers). Upper limits for those ranks even with additional benefits are generally well below 150K (100K in many cases) . However, there are some agencies/departments like DoD who are sending civilians into combat zones with corresponding overtime that creates an increase in salaries. It’s not a permanent condition for the employee but any agency sending civilians to Iraq and Afghanistan must set aside additional civilian pay for overtime and war zone hazard pay. So the costs are there at the moment.

  • #114967

    Lewis Gutman

    The original source of this factoid is an article in today’s USA Today by Dennis Cauchon. A comment to the article responds and explains the cause of this “stunning” fact: “For those living in the Washington DC areas (and 12 other major metro regions), the 2008 pay rate for a GS-15 employee at the top of their pay grade was exactly $149,000. This is as much as GS career civil servants could make, without moving into an SES appointment job. In 2009 that pay rose to $153,200, meaning every GS-15 civil servant in the top two pay steps suddenly made over $150k. As of 2010, the top three steps in GS-15 are over that level.” In other words, the 2008-2010 increase in top gov’t salaries was relatively small, but the $150K boundary was crossed in the course of regular GS-scale increases. This analysis is a clear cut case of the deceptive use of statistics. Frankly, it’s surprising to me that the article made the news section of a major newspaper in its current form. Any decent editor should have asked the question “How could such a dramatic increase happen?” and sent the reporter back to find and document the reason. Instead, the article simply states, “Federal workers earning $150,000 or more make up 3.9% of the workforce, up from 0.4% in 2005,” implying that something underhanded occurred like a special bonus for top federal workers during a recession or an illegal or ill-conceived awarding of promotions. That a commenter had to supply the underlying reason for the increase is testimony to USA Today’s lazy journalistic standards. It’s easy to generate startling analyses like this. The effects they create are misleading and add nothing to the national dialog. For a more accurate portrayal of federal salaries, you should go to

  • #114965

    Michele Costanza

    Dennis Cauchon, the USA Today reporter who wrote the story in question, was on C-SPAN discussing the news story and answering call-in questions. Cauchon does elaborate more in the interview on the $150K positions and the statistics.

  • #114963

    Michael A. Miller

    I think a lot of this depends on where the cuts come from. Andrew’s hit on a good point–eliminating large purchases of weapons systems and other expenditures that may not affect the core mission of agencies could go a long way toward reducing the budget deficit without eliminating as many public-sector jobs. I won’t elaborate on the $200 mil./day the federal government spends in Afghanistan beyond the simple notion that, in balancing the budget, everything must be on the table. And let’s be honest–Congress won’t be reducing its staffing nor its pay/benefits for members. Even if they were, however, it would only be a drop in the bucket.

    Yes, it’s tough for public sector employees to lose a job in this economy. But that scenario is similar to what private sector workers have endured over the previous 8 years. To date, the public sector has not seen the sort of job losses the private sector has seen. I’m not advocating for public sector downsizing, but I am trying to put it in perspective.

  • #114961

    Ania Karzek

    Sounds like a case of “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”!

  • #114959

    Ania Karzek

    With regard to the notion of ‘you get what you pay for’, I think to a large extent that is true. However, it’s well known that governments rarely (anywhere???) have the ability to come close to matching salaries in the private sector, especially for high-demand skill sets. So what are governments to do? Luckily, there is also another general norm that works for governments – the fact that many drawn to public service careers are not as driven by remuneration as they are by a cause or mission. This is where other, non-monetary benefits can be offered up as attractions. Flexible working arrangements, sabaticals and exchange programs can increase the value proposition for public sector jobs without seriously affecting the salary bill. Of course all of these types of programs come with costs but these can be offset by increased retention, morale and productivity.

  • #114957

    Lewis Gutman

    I watched the interview. I admit I was a bit surprised that Cauchon seemed rather unbiased and innocuous. But I also heard the “republican” caller who among other things proposed a 50-60% pay cut for federal employees and did not speak very highly of federal workers. Besides the fact that the story uses statistics to contribute to a misleading representation of federal worker compensation, my primary objection to stories such as these is that they provide fertilizer for our demonization and subsequently these statistics are co-opted by propagandists. In Cauchon’s USA Today article yesterday, there were over 2400 comments. Among them, I saw the term “parasites” used to refer to federal employees.

  • #114955

    Andy Lieber

    I see two issues. First is balancing the invididual needs vs public perception. When people are out-of-work it doesn’t look good to have highly paid Government workers with strong benefits getting raises. However, the Government workers I know are skilled and dedicated and deserve to be fairly compensated. Second, is that there seems to be little differentiation between who gets raises. In general, top performers do not earn more compensation than bottom performers. So we have deserving and undeserving Feds getting raises.

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