Pay is double for federal workers


For the first time ever, federal employees are bringing home paychecks double that of their private-sector counterparts, according to a recent study.

The average federal worker — excluding postal workers and military personnel — brought home about $106,579 a year in salary and benefits last year, compared with private-company employees who banked an average of $53,289, according to a study by the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based libertarian policy-research center.

“About a decade or so ago, federal employees had about a 50 percent advantage, but now it’s double,” said Chris Edwards, an institute economist. “They’ve had very generous salary increases every year . . . and they have very generous benefit packages.”

State and local government workers, according to the federal tables cited by Edwards, average $54,849 in total compensation.

There are 1.8 million federal employees in the United States — more than 108,000 in Texas and at least 24,000 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

Edwards’ report — which showed that without benefits, the difference in average federal and private employee salaries is $71,114 to $43,917 — drew criticism from taxpayer watchdog groups and agreement from federal-employee groups.

The disparity between the salaries has steadily grown through the years. Ten years ago, federal employees took home an average of $62,359 in salary and benefits, compared with $36,330 for private-sector employees, according to the May report based on data from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.

National Federation of Federal Employees officials say the data are skewed.

“This information is absolutely wrong. If anything, we are below the scale of private-sector counterparts and have been for years,” said Bill Fenaughty, assistant directing business representative with the Washington, D.C.-based group. “I suggest that Congress make some efforts to get federal employees up to the same level as private-sector employees.”

He said he and others have been working for a pay accountability act that will raise federal employee salaries to what he said will match salaries of private-sector employees.

“There’s overspending on countless issues, but this isn’t one of them,” said Fenaughty, whose organization represents about 150,000 federal government employees.

Officials with Citizens Against Government Waste disagree. They say the report confirms what they’ve known for a long time.

“Government work is good if you can get it,” said David Williams, vice president for policy with the nonpartisan federal watchdog group in Washington, D.C. “The federal government always complains that they can’t attract the best and brightest because of the lack of pay.

“This report dispels that myth,” he said. “It’s a system that is completely out of whack with increased benefits and cost adjustments.”

To level the playing field, Edwards suggests a salary freeze for federal employees and possibly privatizing some jobs.

He said there are many reasons why federal employees’ salaries are higher: steady raises, generous benefit packages, few low-level positions and a highly skilled work force.

But not all federal employees earn more than those in the private sector. Financial analysts, for instance, might earn less working for the government than by working on Wall Street and lawyers might earn less working for the government than in a private practice, Edwards said.

Even so, high federal salaries “cost taxpayers a lot more money,” Edwards said. “And we don’t necessarily want all the best people in federal government.

“We want smart people to build businesses in Fort Worth and software companies in Seattle,” he said. “If we want to keep good people in the private sector, there’s a balance we need to strike.”