At a time when many American workers are struggling to make ends meet and government debt is threatening to undermine economic recovery, thousands of federal employees are raking in bigger salaries than the governors of the states where they live, a new report reveals.
In fact, federal public employees now make twice the salaries of their private sector counterparts -- annual earnings that top $123,000. The median US household income, by comparison, is $52,000 annually.
The report from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service shows that more than 77,000 federal workers -- in jobs ranging from medicine and air traffic control to public relations, computer programming, and even interior decorating -- earned more in 2009 than their state's chief executive.
“Across America, governors are being asked to do more with less, often at lower pay than federal employees in their states. The pay gap between governors and federal employees should prompt Congress to take a closer look at federal salaries,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who requested the CRS report. “With our debt and deficits spiraling out of control, now is the time to ask agencies — not just governors — to do more with less.”
Coburn said he asked for the comparison to governors’ salaries, because he felt state chief executive pay is indicative of top-tier salaries-- both public and private -- in each state. Coburn has been adamant that the government needs to pay federal workers less while the nation attempts to solve its growing deficit.
The research analyzed the salaries of more than 2.1 million federal employees. The CRS report did not list specific federal salaries nor did it connect states with specific public -sector job titles. The CRS report shows Colorado atop its list with 10,875 federal workers earning more than Gov. Bill Ritter's salary of $90,000. Maryland was second with 7,283 civil servants topping Gov. Martin O’Malley's $150,000 annual haul. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Vermont had just 100 federal employees beating out former Gov. Jim Douglas, who pocketed $142,548 that year.
Of the 77,057 highly paid federal workers singled out in the report, 18,351 were doctors. Air traffic controllers accounted for 5,170 of the total, the second-highest amount. Those two professions accounted for 31 percent of government workers outgrossing their governors.
But it’s not all doctors and air-safety personnel. According to a Washington Times analysis, nationwide there were 122 park rangers, 271 environmental protection specialists, 14 chaplains and one prison guard who earned more than their governors. There were also 21 archaeologists, three sociologists, 48 social workers, four food service workers and five civil rights analysts who earned more than their governors.
“Federal employees deserve to be paid adequately, and no one would argue against paying skilled engineers or top-notch doctors and nurses to care for wounded soldiers and veterans,” Coburn spokeswoman Becky Bernhardt told reporters. “It seems to defy explanation, however, why recreation planners, an interior designer, and many other public servants are receiving higher salaries than state governors when our nation is $14 trillion in debt and many taxpayers are struggling to pay their mortgage and make ends meet.”
The report comes at a time when the Obama administration is bucking federal budget concerns and overseeing a historic increase in the number of federal employees. The federal workforce added nearly 200,000 jobs since 2009 and topped 2 million last year for the first times since President Bill Clinton declared “the era of big government is over” and began paring back the government rolls in the 1990s.
The CRS report focuses on the difference between two taxpayer-funded public sector employees. But it comes at a time of growing disparity between public and private sector workers in this era of recession as well.
The gap between the lucrative pay scales of federal employees and the average private worker has widened over the last decade to the point that public workers now routinely make more than twice the salary earned in the private sector, according to the Cato Institute.
In 2009, federal employees earned an annual salary of $123,049 compared to just $61,051 in the private sector. In 2000, fed workers made $76,187 annually compared to $46,782 for the average private worker.
A recent Newsweek survey found that seven of the 10 richest counties in America, including the top three, are in the Washington area with its large number of federal government workers. According to the Washington Post, only three counties in the United States had a household income of more than $100,000 in 2010; all three are Washington suburbs.
Work-a-day Americans appear to have had enough. In a recent U.S. News and World Report poll, more than 31 percent of respondents demanded a cut to generous federal worker pay and benefits.
Republicans last month proposed requiring federal workers to contribute more toward their extremely generous retirement plan. The GOP proposal would save more than $120 billion over the next decade and effectively deliver a 5 percent pay cut to government employees. The Obama administration has since endorsed the idea, calling the federal system “out of line” with the private sector.
Other solutions are in the works as well. Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., in May introduced legislation that would prohibit agencies from hiring new employees until the federal deficit eases. Meanwhile Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo.,reintroduced the Federal Workforce Reduction Act, which would reduce the federal workforce by attrition.
Officials from the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 federal employees, were quick to criticize Coburn's conclusions from the new CRS report.
“The largest percentage of federal employees cited in this CRS report is made up of professionals such as doctors, attorneys and scientists. Their compensation pales by comparison to those in similar positions in the private sector,” union President Colleen M. Kelley told the Houston Chronicle. “Virtually all of them could earn substantially more by leaving government service. That they do not is to the enormous benefit of the public and the country.”
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