November 19, 2010

In Praise of (Some) Federal Employees

Hatched by Dafydd

A few days ago, Aaron Worthing, guest blogger at Patterico's Pontifications, published a column advocating we reduce government spending (hence the deficit) by drastically cutting both the workforce and the salaries of "civilian federal workers," otherwise unspecified:

I bet if we really, really tried, we could cut our federal workforce by 25% at least. In fact, if we really wanted to radically reduce the federal government, 50% is a very doable goal. I mean not all by itself, but in conjunction with radical reductions in the amount of work and regulation going on, it could be done. And I bet their pay could stand to be cut a tad more than just 5%. Likewise it assumes that we can only cut aid to states by 5%. I refuse to be so pessimistic.

Well believe it or not, I'm here to stick up for some civilian federal workers. Well, most civilian federal workers; heck, I'll even say the huge majority of civilian federal workers. But let me start by talking about one civilian federal worker, the one I know best: My wife, Sachi.

Background noise

Sachi is a civilian engineer employed by the Department of Defense, specifically the United States Navy. She tests certain systems, analyzes test results conducted by others, and trains ship's crew to carry out system tests themselves. The systems tested are vital not just to the mission but to the very survival of the crew; it's not an unimportant task or one that could be safely abandoned or significantly cut.

When Sachi is in the office, she works in a cube, or in the computer room, or in a conference room for one of too many team meetings. She is on several teams and is expected to keep up with and contribute to all of them, which requires more hours than are available in a day, even assuming she never had to eat, sleep, or go home.

Because of government cutbacks over the last several years, there is no longer free coffee available to employees... no sodas, no soda crackers, no doughnuts; in fact, they don't even supply free water. There are no Styrofoam cups, no plastic knives, forks, spoons, or even sporks. Anything the employees need, they must purchase themselves.

Work for the Navy and see the world

The Navy frequently sends Sachi on "TDYs," that is, business trips. (She says TDY stands for "temporary duty," but I think it really stands for "tedious.") On these TDYs, she gets to travel to exciting, exotic resorts -- Naval Base San Diego, California, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, or Wallop's Island, Virginia. Sometimes she gets to travel abroad, for example to US Naval Support Activity Souda Bay, on the Greek island of Crete; or the Japanese naval base in Sasebo.

Recently, she has only had to travel three or four months out of the year; but when she was more junior, she traveled six months, seven months, and in one year (we called it "the year of Hell"), she was away from home on TDYs about eight and a half months. She does get to keep her own frequent-flier miles, for the time being; but we rarely get a chance to use any, since we often don't know when she'll be able to take vacation time... a TDY can arise suddenly, scant days during which she must schedule her entire trip herself, making all air, hotel, and rent-a-car reservations -- while being restricted to only booking with companies that will accept the government per-diem rate (which many will not, because it's a lot cheaper than what they can get through ordinary bookings).

Romantic tropical cruises

Often the TDY includes several weeks under way; during those stretches, she is generally incommunicado: Yes, the cruisers and destroyers have internet connection; but the crew gets first priority on that, and Sachi is generally too busy to use it anyway. I get an occasional two- or three- line e-mail letting me know she's all right and alerting me to schedule changes that may require us to shift some planned event of our own (tickets to the local playhouse, some family obligation, a trip we had intended to make but now cannot).

Typically, during the under-way portion of a TDY, Sachi must work 18-hour days; but government regulations only allow her to claim four hours of overtime per day. That means that for a third of her work day, six hours, she is literally working for free.

Rolling in dough like Scrooge McDuck

For all this, she is paid about the same as an engineer with comparable experience at a private-sector employer like Raytheon or Northrop Grumman -- five figures, not six, and not even really close to six.

When she can claim overtime, she doesn't get double time or even time and a half; she is paid at exactly the same rate she makes during the normal workday. On TDY, she gets per diem; the government pays directly for her air travel, hotel, rental car, parking fees, taxi or airport shuttle, and pays a fixed-rate daily allowance for everything else, including food and incidental expenses she incurs over the weeks or months she's staying somewhere other than home. If she's frugal about what and how much she eats, she can come out a little bit ahead of the per diem. (Most of her co-workers "eat their per diem," literally.)

Credit where it's due

But hey, how about those "taxpayer funded" government credit cards? Sachi has a government card, but it doesn't work how most people seem to think.

I have listened both to Dennis Prager and Michael Medved attacking government credit cards, noting that thousands of civilian federal employees carry them. Both talk-show hosts told horror stories of employees putting bar bills, theater tickets, even visits to houses of easy virtue on their cards, thus (claimed the hosts) forcing taxpayers to pay for such utterly non-work-related products and activities. The scandal, the corruption!

There are a few people, just a handful, who have use of "official procurement credit cards," where the responsibility for paying them falls directly on the government agency that authorized them. Procurement officers use these government-owned cards, as the name implies, for procurement purchases; and what they are allowed to purchase on those cards is strictly limited. It's true that some people abuse their privileges, and this is a serious criminal problem; but that's a tiny fraction of those who have such cards.

And more to the point, procurement credit cards are only a small fraction of government sponsored credit cards, like Sachi's. In her case, as with those "thousands" of people, there are two important points most commentators, including Prager and Medved, misunderstand:

  • Government credit cards can only be used during an authorized TDY.
  • And the final responsibility for paying those cards falls on the employee himself, not on the government or taxpayers.

The feds are supposed to pay the specifically authorized charges (airplane tickets, hotel, etc) directly to the credit card account. But if they delay payment (or fail to pay at all), then the hapless employee must pay instead, else his own personal credit rating will take a hit, and he can be sued by the bank that issues the credit card. Despite the fact that the employee would never have incurred those charges were it not for being sent off on TDY somewhere, if the feds dawdle and dilly-dally on their payments, the worker can be socked with literally thousands of dollars in unpaid travel bills.

And don't think it never happens; many times, we have had to "spot" the Navy a few hundred or even a thousand dollars because of some idiocy about the expense report. Once, for example, they approved a particular hotel because it was within the government price limit; but before Sachi returned, the Navy reduced its limit, to less than the already-approved hotel charged... and then the Navy rejected the hotel expense because it was no longer within the limit! They refused, for a time, to pay the bill, which Sachi (relying on the earlier approval) had already charged to her government credit card.

Eventually the Navy relented and paid, but it took weeks and a special waiver from Sachi's boss; in the meantime, we had to pay the credit-card bill ourselves, borrowing the money from our personal savings account.

It's also nearly impossible to get those government credit cards actually to send a refund when one is due: They'll only send it if there is an actual surplus on the account.

Say you've paid $300 in advance when the Navy was laggardly; the Navy finally ponies up as well, which means the bank that issued the credit card owes you a $300 refund. You send in the paperwork... and the bank sits on it for four weeks.

But just before they cut you a $300 check, you go on another TDY. A TDY means airplane tickets and a hotel charge, which adds up to $1,500, let us say. But wait -- now the bank can't send your refund because (you knew this was coming) the account now shows $1,200 balance due ($1,500 charged minus the $300 surplus)... and they won't send a refund so long as there's a balance due.

Eventually the government pays the $1,500, which restores the $300 surplus; but the old paperwork for a refund has expired, and you have to send in the same forms again. And once again, before the bank gets around to cutting a $300 check, you're off on yet another TDY; and round and round the credit carousel goes.

I am Spartacus!

Why all this yammering about Sachi? Because I want to indelibly stamp a human face onto those anonymous "civilian federal workers," the ones about whose middle-income salary Aaron Worthing is so cavalier. And it's not just those employed by the DoD; tens of thousands of engineers and accounts, scientists and secretaries, personnel bureaucrats and middle managers work for the federal government yet don't receive those $300,000 salaries, those out-of-control pensions, or any of those infuriating perks.

Most federal employees are not even union members: According to the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2009, only 28% of federal workers were members of a union. By contrast, 43% of local government employees were union members -- think public school teachers, police, and firefighters. (Among private-sector workers, 7.2% were union members.)

Most government employees get up, go to work, do their jobs, get paid a normal and not excessive salary, and wend their way home each night. But there certainly are some federal workers who lead privileged lives with lavish salaries and massive pensions, few responsibilities, and all sorts of special perquisites. They are what the Soviets used to call the nomenklatura, the privileged class of patronage appointees -- literally, the "list of names."

When ordinary employees of private companies see the lifestyles of the privileged and pampered, their blood justly boils over; but so too does the blood of the vast majority of the 3.5 million federal employees, the ones who don't live like Medicis in Renaissance Florence.

For some reason, when it comes to the federal government, conservatives who ordinarily try to see people as a collection of individuals instead see those dastardly civilian federal workers as a vast sea of undifferentiated and culpable leeches, a wild topiary that must be ruthlessly clipped and pruned into a more palatable shape.

Worthing (look back at the beginning of this post if you've forgotten who he is) suggests we could "cut our federal workforce by 25%" (875,000 people suddenly out of work), though "50% is a very doable goal" (1,750,000 hitting the bricks). Over the short period of time generally proposed for such pruning, there is no possible way for private employers to pick up all that abrupt slack. Hundreds of thousands would be out of work for months and would not find a job paying even decent wages for years. (It would also likely devastate the private-sector engineering workforce as supply suddenly skyrockets at the same time that demand drops.)

But it's not just the number of newly unemployed people; in many areas of the federal government, especially in the military, civilian employees are already understaffed and stretching their resources. Where Sachi works, they are woefully underfunded and understaffed; were the Navy to cut even 25% of jobs, vital areas of training and maintenance would be completely shut down, because there simply wouldn't be enough trained engineers to handle the demand. I'm sure the same can be said for NASA, for military hospitals, for the FBI, or even (I'm holding my nose and typing one-handed) for the IRS.

The federal government has grown like metastacized cancer -- but grown for many decades; and it will take many more decades to shrink it again. You can't just slash jobs, slash salaries, and expect critical tasks now performed by the feds to be picked up overnight by the private-sector workforce.

This is why I am a libertarian, but more specificaly, a gradualist libertarian: I want to see the federal bureaucracy shrunk to about a quarter of where it now stands -- but over a long period of time (say 25-35 years), and with a corresponding reduction in federal responsibilities, spending, and taxes. Gradually, no abrupt and radical surgery, giving our economy time to adjust... and unleashing businesses, small and large, from crushing taxation and draconian regulation, so that it's able to take over functions the private sector hasn't performed (or done only as a government contractor) for many years.

And that is why I'm damned tired of conservatives talking about axing federal (nameless, faceless, inhuman) employees and slashing their salaries with the same ignorant callousness liberals use when talking about "balancing the budget" via staggering tax increases -- that always manage to exempt the nomenklatura who propose the tax hike in the first place. It's not only unbecoming and offensive, it's adolescent thinking (teen logic)... and it gets in the way of finding a realistic and workable way to reduce federal intrusion into our lives.

Please, people; the next time you hear someone say "let's just throw 25% of the federal workforce into the private sector and let them fend for themselves," think of real human beings, like Sachi, who work just as hard as you, who perform very important tasks that no single private company could undertake at this point in time, and for which they are paid no more than you. A few really are cartoon villains like Snidely Whiplash, but the bulk are just working stiffs.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, November 19, 2010, at the time of 6:41 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Robertnkim

how about we start with the majority of the TSA. Those that are worthwhile, hard working people can find jobs with the private security company that takes over.
And many (most?) of us know it is not as simple as an across the board slash of x%, but it is as simple as reducing the areas the federal govenment intervenes in and with reduced role you yield reduced workforce needed. Tremendous money could be saved by shrinking governemnt. It grew very quickly in the last 10+ years, it can shrink just as quickly if the agencies were made to.

The above hissed in response by: Robertnkim [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 19, 2010 10:17 PM

The following hissed in response by: Baggi

Thanks for speaking up for me, Dafydd! As you know, i've posted here for quite a few years. I have been a Federal Employee for almost 15 years now.

I started with the Department of Justice working for a wonderful organization we all know so well called the INS. That was abolished in 2003 and I suddenly found myself an employee, no longer of DOJ but of DHS and no longer INS but now CBP (I love alphabet soup!).

But, I still pretty much do the same job, we all do, just new names and new policies, etc.

I hate to say this, but honestly, I get paid way, way, way too much money for how hard we work. I said we instead of I because it's only fair to take the average. I'd like to think i'm a good worker and deserve my pay, but when I look around at my fellow's, I find it difficult to justify.

And this is where a fundamental flaw is in the Federal System.

Let me see if I can explain (I'm not even half the writer/communicator you are, Dafydd).

It's taken me 15 years to get to an annual salary (Not counting benefits and such) of $76,000.00 a year. With overtime I usually make around $90,000.00 a year. My brother in law started four years ago in January. Come this January he will be making (not counting benefits and such) around $72,000.00 a year.

In government speak, i'm a GS 12 step 3 and he will be a GS 12 step 1.

This is what happened. When I started, we got paid GS 5 pay, then after a year GS 7 pay, then after another year, GS 9 pay. That was it. You were at the top at GS 9 pay, which was around 42k a year, at that time.

If you wanted to get more pay, you had to compete for GS 11 pay (Which was a non supervisory senior position). I competed for that GS 11 position and was very proud when I received it. Shortly after that happened, everyone automatically got GS 11, because the government felt like we all deserved it. No more competing for it, all officers who get my job, no matter how good or bad, automatically get to that level after 3 years. Just for showing up to work and not doing anything stupid.

I then decided to go into another job position which takes more training, is more exciting, is much more difficult and gives me more job satisfaction and a better schedule, but the same pay. For years other people in my same job throughout the nation fought the government and basically said, "Hey, we work harder, know more, do more, we deserve more pay."

Finally, this year, the government said, "You're right! But, everyone deserves more pay. Congratulations!"

So now, everyone gets GS 12 pay. All you have to do is show up to work and not make any major mistakes or get involved in criminal activity for four years and you're making GS 12 pay (Which, for a very long time, was supervisor pay).

Not only do you get this pay, you also get step increases every year (Which is about 2k a year) and you also get a percentage increase, you know, to keep up with inflation, that's around 2%.

I really think it's all quite silly. And the Union is constantly putting our Email messages to us telling us how we're all being screwed over by Republicans and if Republicans are in power, we're all going to lose our jobs, etc. But the Union, they're fighting for us! Why, we'd never have the pay and benefits that we have if it weren't for the Union (Yeah right).

It really disgusts me and I often times feel guilty about doing the job I do. I love my job and i'd still do it for less pay. I tell my wife we need to plan for the day that happens, because our government cannot continue to be so wasteful. I'd rather have a job at lower pay than no job at all.

So, I hope in all this rambling ive been clear. Not everyone has earned equal pay for simply showing up to work and not making any major mistakes. Unfortunately, Democrats and Unions elevate "Fairness" above all else and the last thing you get is fair.

Oh, and when I first started, back in 1996, I had to go in to get my fingerprints taken. The guy who took my fingerprints told me, "I"m not even getting paid right now." I asked him, "Why?" he said it was because of the government shut down and he was non essential.

Guess what that means? If the government shuts down again, Border Patrol, Customs, Immigration, and all those officers like me working on the border will be non essential personnel. I always thought that was a clever trick Democrats use.

What? Budget problems? We're going to have to get rid of Police and Fire if you make us control our spending! Don't worry about that naked mole rat study though, it's already fully funded.

The above hissed in response by: Baggi [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 20, 2010 12:40 AM

The following hissed in response by: Sachi

The problem with the government employment is that they do not discriminate against bad workers. For every Baggi, there are two other government workers who do nothing but still get paid the same.

If they let go all the bad workers like the private sector does, they could easily get rid of two thirds of the workers. But as things are, if the government were to let anyone go, you can just imagine who would be let go first.

The above hissed in response by: Sachi [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 20, 2010 10:01 AM

The following hissed in response by: snochasr

I think rather than using the word "gradual" I would use the word "deliberate," as in "as rapidly as reasonably possible." We have overlapping, duplicative, conflicting and just plain unnecessary agencies, all of whose employees are (maybe) doing a good job, but they're not producing anything of value! Salaries and benefits are a small part of the total cost of many of these agencies, but getting rid of the agency IS going to mean getting rid of the people. Get rid of those agencies as quickly as possible, as their redundancy, inefficiency and obsolescence can be identified, with a decent severance package for the employees, and get on with life.

Look, with these monstrous deficits, we've got just a couple of years to get spending under control or NOBODY will have a job worth having, except maybe these government folks. I'm sorry for most of those employees, but I think most of them ought to realize how non-essential they are; we can't afford them any more.

The above hissed in response by: snochasr [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 20, 2010 11:37 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


A couple of points. First, "politics is the art of the possible;" suppose we were to follow your prescription to:

Get rid of those agencies as quickly as possible, as their redundancy, inefficiency and obsolescence can be identified, with a decent severance package for the employees, and get on with life.

That would result (as you admit) in a huge number of government workers being discharged over a very short period of time... which would result in a very significant jump in unemployment, directly attributable to GOP policies.

...Which would result in a Democratic landslide in the next election -- with angry Tea Partiers leading the charge against those "job-killing Republicans."

It's irrelevant whether wiping out those agencies is the right thing to do in a cosmic sense, or even in a generational economic sense; in the right here-and-now of politics, it would spark a revolt as massive as the one we just enjoyed, but in the opposite direction. (Democrats would of course campaign on a "full employment" platform, regardless of what socialist policies they actually intended to pursue.)

That's one reason for gradualism: To give the economy time to absorb those who are displaced, especially the productive ones (but somewhere for even the bureaucrats to land and perhaps learn to be better workers), so it doesn't cause a horrific economic rupture, causing fickle voters to flock back to Obamunism.

Second, there is sound reason to proceed gradually -- not "as rapidly as reasonably possible" -- on the merits, as well as because of the politics: Economies are like world-girding skyscrapers that create their own weather: If you merrily start yanking out girders willy-nilly, there's no predicting exactly how they'll react... up to an including complete collapse.

If we want to fundamentally change the nature of government (as we must), we nevertheless must do so very slowly, constantly checking to see whether we're getting the fallout we want -- or the fallout we dread.

We already know some things that work, such as cutting taxes and business regulations, simplifying the tax code, holding year over year government spending increases down to somewhere between zero and the actual rate of inflation (there are various ways to calculate that rate, depending on what you include), and offering early retirement without replacement to government workers.

But we do not know what the effects would be from, say, eliminating the entire Department of Education (whose job is to ensure that no American child gets educated) or the Department of Energy (whose main function is to put more and more domestic energy off limits). Eventually we want them gone -- but you can't just stuff a building with dynamite, blow it up, and hope like heck it doesn't fall like a chopped tree: Even in demolition, you must proceed cautiously, calculatedly, and above all, slowly.

I would suggest, for example, starting by taking away some of the responsibilities and authorities of the useless agencies and departments and transfering them to GSEs (government-sponsored enterprises, a.k.a. a halfway house) that only make a profit if certain goals are achieved... for example, a petroleum GSE whose commodity is selling leases for oil and natural gas exploration, or a nuclear-energy insurance company that makes a reasonable profit selling policies to plants that use modern technology -- Generation IV reactors and better, such as Pebble Bed (graphite-moderated, inert-gas cooled) or Integral Fast (unmoderated, sodium cooled); or an education GSE that invests in and helps set up new private schools as a venture capitalist.

Then begin transferring the most productive employees from the department to the GSE... with the proviso that GSE employees would not be considered government workers, thus would not have civil-service status or protection (and maybe even no union). That alone should scare away the riff-raff.

After a while, as you pluck more and more authority from the department, it becomes a ghost town of dead-end jobs. This encourages employees to up their games and switch to the more successful (and higher paying) GSEs. And at some point, you can begin privatizing the GSEs that are actually showing a profit.

Over 20-30 years, you would end up with a much smaller and less intrusive government, higher employment, and more private economic dynamicism. And you would even have strong indicators along the way of economic success -- and the ability to adjust to the odd failure or two before it damages the entire economy -- so the politics is good as well.

Something like that.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 20, 2010 12:28 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dick E


I agree that a gradual approach is needed, but I would hope we could do it without the GSE’s. I think there’s at least one department where this is possible: Education. The infrastructure already exists at lower levels of government to do everything the Feds do, except top-down regulation (e.g. No Child Left Behind). Ergo, just reduce DOE funding in a planned, predictable way, giving state and local governments plenty of time to pick up the slack (if any).

I would suggest something like a ten year phase out, with the first cut, say 5%, coming two years after the abolishment is enacted. Then larger percentage cuts in future years, with the last year eliminating the remainder -- probably the last 20% or so.

But then there’s this unhappy thought: What do we do about the tangled web of laws that mention the Dept. of Education? No Child Left Behind is one example, but there have to be a ton of others that discuss what DOE does, how it is funded, and how it disburses its funds. I doubt that it’s possible to just write an omnibus law that says, in essence, wherever the Dept. of Education is mentioned in any statute, just ignore those provisions. It would seem to me that this would be a lot harder job than, for example, creating massive new bureaucracies under Obamacare.

The above hissed in response by: Dick E [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 20, 2010 11:25 PM

The following hissed in response by: Bart Johnson

I was in a different category than has so far been discussed. I served at an "at will" agency where the Director could fire me without paperwork if he didn't like the tie I wore.
Further, the job was of such complexity that it had an approximately 20 year apprenticeship. I worked hard for 20 years to learn how to do the job well, then spent another 10 years doing something really critical to the Nation, then retired when I made about 50K. How many people like me would you cut?
I feel really good about what I accomplished even as an apprentice. My work helped make the Country safe. I don't apologize for any paycheck I got. I earned it.

The above hissed in response by: Bart Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 21, 2010 1:47 AM

The following hissed in response by: paul

How about devolving the duties and people of some of the Federal Departments back to the States rather than simply dismantling them? You like what the Department of Education does for you, hire the people and bring them and their programs to your State at your own expense.

The above hissed in response by: paul [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 21, 2010 3:44 PM

The following hissed in response by: Robertnkim

It seems to me that most of the comments, as well as the original post, simplify nicely to:
We need to cut the size of the government without using some one-size fits all strategy like "all departments cut X%".
So we need to do this with some logic and idea of how the world works? No kidding.
However, we also need to start on this NOW! Everything coming out of DC is growing the government. Look at how many middle managers are required to run Obamacare. Every one of those positions are new postitions (any current employeee moved to that role will be backfilled in their current department).
Programs need to be eliminated. The government is so huge now that if we managed to abolish one department the vacancies in other areas would suck up most of those displaced. What it would do is fill those vacancies without brining in new people. Of course there are diminishing returns, but as we scale back what the government is in charge of, we will see savings down the line.
This all has to be done at the same time as the obvious like reducing waste, stop duplication of effort, cut out the fraud, and all those other things that are part and parcel with government.

I understand the "we have to deal with the possible" but we also have to deal with the "if we dont do this the system collapses" stuff. The current system cannot sustain itself. Doing nothing, or near enough as to not tell the difference, will not save us.

The above hissed in response by: Robertnkim [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 21, 2010 7:26 PM

The following hissed in response by: snochasr

Is there any reason to believe that "gradual" and "as soon as practicable" and "as politically possible" and "as absolutely required" aren't all reasonably close to the same time frame?

Concern that the economy might possibly collapse if we terminate a few redundant and useless federal programs and their employees needs to be weighed against the probability it might collapse if we don't rapidly get control of federal spending and deficits.

The above hissed in response by: snochasr [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 21, 2010 9:04 PM

The following hissed in response by: mdgiles

Ah. So basically we should fire all those "useless" government employees and close down all those "inefficient" departments - except of course, those where I or someone near and dear to me, works. Okay, got it /sarc.

The above hissed in response by: mdgiles [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 22, 2010 5:20 AM

The following hissed in response by: Geoman

Well, as a private contractor that has worked for federal agencies for many years, I can make a few observations:

1) For ever good federal worker, there is a fair percentage of dead wood. Figure 10%. Not high, but high enough to matter in a multi trillion dollar budget. And some agencies are much worse than others. The best I've ever seen is the Coast Guard - they have tight budgets and a sense of mission. The worst? BLM is pretty bad, but the Corps is also right up there along with HHS. Understand that there are huge differences in competence across the board...and little incentive to correct the worst problems.

2) Sorry, but all the provisions, the suckiness that Sachi goes through, are all common in the corporate world as well. I have a corporate card that I am required to use, and I pay all charges for. My company reimburses me for the money when and if they decide to approve the charges (maybe a month or two after the debt occurs). Why do I use it? Because my company gets a nice kickback from the card company when I do. And yep, I'm expected to work 10 to 12 hours a day and get paid for 8. Happens all the time, unfortunately.

3) The inefficiency of the federal system is baked in the cake. Here is how it works - someone, somewhere badly exploits/abuses the system. A federal drone, not wanting to lose his job, then makes a rule so that it can't happen again. Inevitably that rule requires greater levels of scrutiny and approval and paperwork. Eventually the entire system grinds to a crawl. The government is very good as spending a buck to save a penny.

4) Federal workers are grossly overpaid if you factor in the entirety of their costs. Your pay stub is just one part of it - there is overhead and G&A costs which, for the federal government, are truly astounding. That is where the money is really wasted, not on the salary of the employees (those guys usually are getting screwed). I could get payed twice the salary, and still make less in total compensation than a federal employee hired to do the same job, because my overhead is lower. That is why outside contractor can almost always do the job cheaper.

Here is an example: Private pay =$30/hr., plus 2.3X for overhead and G&A, plus 10% profit = $75.9 total compensation. Government pay = $20 plus 6.0X for overhead and benefits = $120/hr. I make 10% profit, and I'm still nearly half the cost.

Of course, no one knows what the government overhead rate really is, other than it is very, very large.

5) Federal workers quit their jobs at about 25% of the rate of private workers. Seems to me that they must have a reasonably sweet deal not to quit more often. They certainly have much greater job security than in the private sector - I can get fired anytime, without reason, or even if the work is just slow.

With the government, it is never an apples to apples comparison with private industry. I think this is intentional, as we would all be appalled if we understood where the money goes.

The above hissed in response by: Geoman [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 22, 2010 1:18 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


Sorry, but all the provisions, the suckiness that Sachi goes through, are all common in the corporate world as well.

That was one of my points, Geoman. Many conservatives have gotten the idea (from believing the very media they routinely debunk on other issues) that government workers lead cushy lives of unearned luxury. In reality, all the provisions, the suckiness that private workers go through are all common in the government world as well.

Federal workers are grossly overpaid if you factor in the entirety of their costs. Your pay stub is just one part of it - there is overhead and G&A costs which, for the federal government, are truly astounding. That is where the money is really wasted, not on the salary of the employees (those guys usually are getting screwed).

...And that was my other major point: That if you really want to reduce spending, the place to attack isn't the salary of government peons, but rather the overhead -- which is the neglected lion's share of the "waste, fraud, and abuse" lawmakers always decry. In other words, they go about cutting that waste stupidly, missing the biggest source: The multiple layers of administration and oversight towering over every federal worker, and which must be consulted and give approval to every decision of every worker.

We could cut government payrolls by at least 50% without having to fire or slash the paycheck of a single government employee by targeting the real money hog of overhead. Just as we could reduce the budget by at least 30% without even touching discretionary or defense spending (though we should cut both, so long as we did so intelligently, not blindly) by targeting the real spending hog of "entitlement" programs.

And that was my overarching point: Instead of trying to cut spending by using a blunted meat cleaver, we should use a scalpel... bearing in mind that a scalpel properly wielded can cut as deep as necessary.

Intelligently, not blindly; ruthlessly, but not vindictively.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 23, 2010 11:13 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dick E


We could cut government payrolls by at least 50% without having to fire or slash the paycheck of a single government employee by targeting the real money hog of overhead.

I’m a bit confused. “Payrolls” are the amount of salaries and wages paid to employees. So how exactly do we cut payrolls without firing anyone or reducing anyone’s pay?

In other words, they go about cutting that waste stupidly, missing the biggest source: The multiple layers of administration and oversight towering over every federal worker, and which must be consulted and give approval to every decision of every worker.

Again, those “multiple layers of administration and oversight” represent payrolls -- someone’s salary.

So if I’m understanding this correctly, (1) the main target should be overstaffing and/or excessive pay for supervisors, managers, directors, etc., plus the stupid or redundant procedures they promulgate, and (2) the worker bees don’t matter nearly as much when it comes to deficits.

OK, where do we start? Where do we first apply the scalpel? That, I think, is the hard part.

The above hissed in response by: Dick E [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 24, 2010 12:14 AM

The following hissed in response by: Robohobo

And you think it is any different for the private sector? Besides that they do pay their bills in a more timely manner. Just more grist to the mill of the argument that the private sector does it better.

The above hissed in response by: Robohobo [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 24, 2010 6:02 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Dick E:

I used the term "payroll" loosely and perhaps inaccurately to mean the total compensation package the government pays for each of its millions of employees. And I definitely miswrote "government employee," when I should have said non-administrative government employee.

We certainly can (and should!) fire a huge chunk of the administrators and reduce the salary of others; and we also should rework government pensions and health-care plans to defined-contribution plans (some but not all already are), start auctioning off unnecessary government facilities and other real property, canceling projects and divisions that are just holdovers from previous decades, and so forth.

But I really think we should go after many of the worker-bees as well; I didn't mean to suggest that was off the table, just that there are a lot of other areas of savings, too. But everybody who has ever dealt with a government agency (and who hasn't?) knows that there is plenty of deadwood at USCIS and State, the IRS, the US Postal Service, the Department of Agriculture and every other federal agency, department, or division... yes, including the miltary branches.

The various layers of government long ago became the dumping ground for all those people who cannot get a legitimate job in the private sector because of their lousy work habits, ignorance and incuriosity, and incompetence.

But each such person must be individually identified and dealt with in a rational manner; you can't just say "let's cut everyone's salary by 25%!" and expect anything other than mass chaos.

And that is the sticking point: There is no constituency within either party to undertake anything like that... not even among those freshmen elected with Tea Party support this month. Everyone in Congress seems to be all hat and no cattle. And I have no idea how to make them do it, either.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 24, 2010 2:09 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dick E


You are, unfortunately, correct.


(Chris Christie for President?)

The above hissed in response by: Dick E [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 24, 2010 3:56 PM

The following hissed in response by: DK

How about just putting all the "drones" into "rubber rooms" without telephones, fax machines, computers, so they can't bother, regulate, or irratate anyone. They'll still get their pay, but will cease being negative influences upon the society at large.

The above hissed in response by: DK [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 26, 2010 4:29 PM

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