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Pay Cuts Aren’t Enough: Time to Lay Off Federal Workers

Massive redundancies, dedicated conference room schedulers, and job security that might as well be tenure plague federal agencies.

by
Evan Siegfried

Bio

November 23, 2010 - 12:05 am

Recently, USA Today highlighted how the salaries of federal employees have skyrocketed in the past five years. According to the article (“More federal workers’ pay tops $150,000”), federal workers earning $150,000 or more in 2005 comprised only 0.4 percent of all federal employees. Today, that number has grown to 3.9 percent. In response to this, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) is calling for not only a pay freeze, but a ten percent pay cut for federal employees.

Congressman Chaffetz’s proposal fails to truly tackle the issue of fixing the amount the government spends on the salaries of its employees. Realistically, Congress won’t vote for a ten percent cut to salaries, and there is slim chance that they will allow a pay freeze. Even if these were enacted, the annual COLA (cost of living adjustment) would still increase salaries and spending.

Were Chaffetz truly serious about reining in spending in this area, he would put forward a proposal that did not cut the wages of federal workers, but the positions themselves. Government agencies are overstaffed — every agency is riddled with redundant employees.

For example: via a source who prefers to not be named, one particular government office employs fifteen people whose sole job is to scan and upload documents to a central database. They are paid to work for eight hours, but generally need to put in only two hours of actual work. The other six hours are devoted to shopping online, gossip, and sleep.

Reduce that department from fifteen employees to five, and they would each have a full day’s work and the taxpayer would have his or her money back.

This is not unique to this one office — overstaffing is a systemic problem. Agencies create positions, often at high cost, that have the single purpose of performing the functions that existing employees could easily take on. A source tells me of a federal employee who does nothing but schedule who will use the conference room.

The taxpayer is also being asked to shoulder the burden for unqualified workers and/or employees no longer fit to continue in their capacity. As the Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk notes: “Federal employees enjoy far greater job security than private sector workers. Federal agencies rarely lay off employees for poor performance.” In other words, few agencies will fire someone for poor performance or budgetary reasons. (In some agencies, particularly the U.S. federal courts, the joke is that career employees know their job is secure even if they were to commit murder.)

As the nation’s companies and families have tightened their belts and laid off workers, government has not. There was no blanket hiring freeze; nor were cost-cutting measures taken.

How do we implement a practical solution to excess spending on the salaries of government employees? The best way to go about this would be to take advantage of the large wave of federal worker retirements that is about to hit. Ordinarily, agencies would replace these workers with new hires. However, they should replace as few employees as possible and allow the positions to simply be phased out. If a position can not be eliminated, the agency does not hire an entry-level position when one becomes available. At the same time, the government would eliminate redundancies and conference room schedulers.

Additionally, poor performance, behavior, and lack of qualifications would finally be permitted to be grounds for termination.

At the end of the day, not one person can honestly tell you there isn’t a problem with the manner in which federal workers are compensated. This is not a partisan issue. The government needs to get serious and provide bold leadership in thinning its ranks.

Evan Siegfried is as a communications consultant. He has previously served as a communications aide for the United Nations, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Rudy Giuliani's 2008 presidential campaign.
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