Federal unions, government officials, and the Washington Post’s “Federal Diary” column frequently suggest that federal civilian workers are underpaid. They suffer from a large “pay gap” compared to private sector workers, or so the story goes.
But in the Post’s “Jobs” section yesterday, human resources specialist Lily Garcia argues that “Uncle Sam Is a Boss You Can Rely On.” For job seekers, Garcia points to the many advantages of federal work:
- “Generous benefits, solid pay, and relative job security — a combination that is challenging to find in the private sector, even in the best of times.”
- The “widest selection of health-care plans of any U.S. employer.”
- “Liberal amounts of paid time off.”
- Very lucrative retirement benefits.
- Family-friendly policies such as “first priority and subsidies at a number of top-notch day-care facilities.”
- “Federal employees are paid relatively well … [and] practically guaranteed periodic within-grade pay raises.”
- Finally, “federal employees cannot be unceremoniously fired.” I’ve found that only about 1 in 5,000 federal civilian workers are fired each year due to poor performance.
Is the lack of firing a result of the superb quality of the federal workforce and superior management practices? Hardly. Garcia notes that the downside of working for Uncle Sam is that the government “has its fair share of bullies, sycophants and incompetents who pick on employees, display favoritism, mismanage operations and find creative ways to manipulate the rules to their advantage.” I’d guess more than its fair share. Since federal workers are rarely fired, the ranks of non-performing managers and workers grows over time, contributing to the bureaucratic ineptitude we are all familiar with in the federal government.
To improve workforce efficiency, I’ve suggested privatizing as many federal activities as possible, include postal services, air traffic control, and passenger rail. To cut costs, I’ve suggested a federal wage freeze and a cut in federal benefits as part of a plan to reduce federal budget deficits.