Uncle Sam shelling out big bucks for government jobs, GOP says time to cut

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If you’re one of the millions of Americans still looking for a job, the federal government is hiring, and (especially for the unemployed) the pay is excellent. While private sector job growth creeps along at a snail’s pace, the roster of available federal jobs is booming.

The Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs needs someone to run the Facebook page for the Dept. of the Interior and they’ll pay up to $115,000 a year. Over at the Dept. of Defense, they’ll drop nearly 50k a year for a new mail room clerk, plus the glorious benefits that comes with government work.

In Washington, D.C., there are more than 1,000 openings this month alone. These include a “student internship” program at the Federal Housing Finance Agency that pays the equivalent of $48,304 a year; a $155,000-a-year gig at the Peace Corps to ensure the agency is complying with Equal Opportunity Employment standards; and a similar job at the Dept. of Transportation that promises nearly $180,000 a year.

Lots of good, high-paying jobs available right now. Sounds great, right?

Well, not everyone thinks so.

Republican policymakers looking for more ways to slash government spending think Uncle Sam is being mighty too loose when it comes to how he doles out the cash to his employees, and if the GOP has its way, the $115,000 taxpayer-funded Twitter gurus at the Dept. of the Interior could become a thing of the past.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which held a subcommittee hearing earlier this month to address federal pay rates, is gearing up for even more action, with plans to release a study comparing public worker salaries to similar jobs in the private sector. According to Committee Chair Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the goal is to show the rest of the country just how good federal workers really have it.

“It’s abundantly clear that many federal employees are being paid significantly more than their counterparts outside government service,” committee spokesman Ali Ahmad told The Daily Caller. “The committee is working to more fully expose the compensation divide by developing comparisons that don’t just look at salary but also the expensive benefits and job security federal employees have that is rarely found in the private sector.”

The study is part of a campaign, fueled by research from the conservative Heritage Foundation and the libertarian Cato Institute, to make the case that federal employees are overpaid, a claim that federal employee union leaders say is more complicated than it seems.

Federal employees raked in an average of $101,628 in total compensation in 2010, which includes health care and other benefits, according to the Office of Personnel Management. That’s far more than the average private-sector worker, although simple side-by-side comparisons don’t necessarily tell the whole story. Many federal jobs require highly-skilled workers, while the data on the private sector lumps in more low-waged jobs that aren’t present in the public sector and bring down the average.

“Many of the comparisons being made are misleading and mask important differences that may undermine the efforts of dedicated hardworking men and women who serve their country,” said OPM Director John Berry (who was recently in the market to pay $81,204 a year for a “deputy speechwriter”) at the Oversight Committee hearing earlier this month. “We must reject misleading uses of data that perpetuate the myth that Federal employees are as a whole overcompensated. As a whole, the wages that the Federal Government pays its employees are fair and the benefits it offers are competitive.”

He added that it’s important for agencies to stay competitive with the private market, a goal at least one recent study suggests has been reached. A business consulting firm recently polled young professionals and found that of the ten “most desirable” employers, half were part of the federal government.

Furthermore, some government jobs just demand more responsibility than the private sector, argued Colleen Kelley
, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union

“How many budget analysts in the private sector oversee multi-billion dollar agency budgets?” she asked at the recent committee hearing. “How many logistics managers in the private sector implement the deployment of tens of thousands of troops and their supplies?”

Issa’s committee wouldn’t be the first to compare federal pay with the private industry. An investigative report from USA Today last year found that “in more than eight out of 10 occupations” federal employees “earn higher average salaries than private-sector workers” and that doesn’t include the government’s generous package of benefits.

President Obama in November proposed a two-year pay freeze for nearly two million federal workers, but that would still allow them to collect bonuses and receive automatic pay raises when they move up the ladder on the General Schedule system.

Taking the effort even further, Issa has inserted language into the House continuing resolution bill that would stop any pay raises for the rest of the year. The parties are currently negotiating exactly what will be left in the final bill when it reaches the president’s desk, but in this era of budget cuts, it could become increasingly difficult for federal agencies to justify six-figure salaries for Facebook posts.

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