Federal workforce grows fatter and richer

While our economy has been sputtering these past two years, with many businesses struggling just to stay afloat, Washington has been gorging itself by dramatically increasing the number of government jobs – 141,000 since President Barack Obama took office – and offering salaries that continue to outpace those in the private sector. 

A report by USA Today found that the number of government workers earning more than $150,000 has increased significantly in recent years. In 2005, 12,399 government workers earned more than $150,000 annually; a number that has since ballooned nearly fourteen-fold to 171,689. Workers who have been with the government between 15 and 24 years have seen their salaries rise by 25% over this same time period, far outpacing the economy’s 9% inflation rate. 

Including benefits, the average federal government employee now earns $123,000 annually; double that of their counterparts in the private sector. It should come as no surprise that seven of the 10 richest counties in the nation surround Washington, DC. 

Salaries of government jobs are outpacing those in the private sector in nearly all professions. For example, the average salary for a chemist employed by the federal government is $98,060; compared to $72,120 for their private-sector counterpart.  The average government-employed janitor will bring home almost $6,000 more than a janitor employed by a private business. Even a clergyman in the employ of Uncle Sam will make almost double that of his private-sector counterpart. While the importance of religion is not in dispute, there is little justification for paying a government pastor $70,460 per year.

Other governments facing fiscal problems are taking the axe to their workforces in an effort to trim their budgets. 

The United Kingdom announced last month it would reduce the number of bureaucrats in its government by 500,000 over the next five years. Russia, home to some of the world’s best bureaucrats, seems to comprehend the need to cut the government payroll in tough economic times. President Dmitry Medvedev plans to trim 100,000 jobs over the next three years; a 20 percent cut in public employment. 

Even Cuban President Raul Castro appears to understand the benefits of a reduced government workforce; announcing in August that he would reduce the official work force by half a million over the course of six months, and by one million over the next five years. 

The Bowles-Simpson commission, which recently released a draft proposal to alleviate the nation’s fiscal problems, suggested that Congress freeze salaries of federal workers over the next three years, while also cutting the number of government jobs by 10%. Additionally, the commission proposed that federal workers contribute half of the cost to their benefit packages; a substantial increase over current contribution levels. Public employee unions predictably are up in arms over that suggestion. 

To their credit, Republicans are planning to make a stand on this, as promised in their “Pledge to America.”  They propose to kill an across-the-board pay increase and the addition of another 125,000 federal workers in the next fiscal year; they also are at least starting to explore ways to trim back the number of existing government jobs. 

No matter how you look at it, the divide between salaries and benefits for federal workers and their private sector counterparts is wide and getting wider. In addition to scaling back the federal workforce, Congress could address this by implementing a market-based approach in determining federal pay. 

Unfortunately, unless Democrats and Republicans can agree in the current lame-duck session to extend Bush tax cuts, businesses are not going to be in any position to offer employees pay raises or invest in expanding into new ventures. Of course, failure to do this would suit the federal work force just fine; as its members continue to rest easy in the knowledge they will have cushy jobs for a long time to come.

-by Bob Barr, The Barr Code

93 comments Add your comment

Aging Federal Worker w/2 Years to Go

November 29th, 2010
1:06 pm

Twice I was selected for a “second” round toward the final job, but didn’t make the cut. Who in the world are the people getting hired then? Federal jobs are incredibly hard to get, and I never could find information on the “Obama jobs” that were supposedly created. So this hiring issue conflicts with the salary information reported here.

The answer, Eric, is that many are called and few are chosen. When I was hired, I had a PhD in my subject field and 22 years of successfully practicing in it. And my starting salary here wasn’t even 40% of $150,000. I was told that I was one of 176 who applied for the position.

This entire $150,000 figure is bogus, selected arbitrarily. I can walk through the building next door to mine and count 172 work stations occupied by people holding the MD and medical licensure in their fields. Do people really think that an MD is going to start work at $40,000? And this supposed “increase” in the number of federal jobs? Another smoke-and-mirrors illusion. You see, when the Bush administration put hundreds of thousands of Civil Service jobs out for private bidding, the contract workers who got them technically worked for Boeing, Lockheed, Perot Systems, etc. But the money to pay for the workers and their benefits—along with the profit that was to go to the contracting companies—came from the federal budget. In most cases, the contract workers were costing the taxpayer more than the Civil Service employees they replaced.

But here’s the kicker: the hundreds of thousands of contract jobs did not count as part of the federal work force. Now those contract workers are being replaced by Civil Service workers. The number of workers is remaining the same, except for new positions in the procurement areas in DC. But somehow, the replacement counts as “a huge increase in the federal work force.”

So freeze the pay raises. I’m retiring in two years, and it won’t affect me that much. And I don’t currently make even 60% of $150,000. Whatever makes people feel better. This cut won’t amount to a flea-bite on an elephant when you consider the deficit.


November 29th, 2010
1:07 pm

Nelson – I’m a fed and would like to know how I can get my dogs/cats on my health plan. Would save a lot on vet bills.


November 29th, 2010
1:17 pm

VietVet, who cares if a few public employees make 150k plus. The problem is that there are simply too many people working for or contracting with the government at all levels. Ultimately, all of the pay for all government employees and contractors comes from that part of the private sector that is not directly associated with publicly funded projects. I’ll bet the rhetoric regarding earmarks shakes your world since it seems that most museums are at least partly funded by public money.


November 29th, 2010
1:34 pm

I always love it when someone wants to “cut the workforce by 10%”. They already whine and bit*h when they have to wait three minutes on hold to talk to someone. When you drop that office from 50 employees to 45 just think how long the wait will be.

Cut everyone’s salaries and jobs…but their own.


November 29th, 2010
1:37 pm

No…Boeing is NOT a person. That’s why I’m so appalled by lobbyists and so called “conservatives” who champion corporations as “private citizens” and seek to endow them with the same rights as individuals.

Ravi-The H-1b

November 29th, 2010
1:55 pm

Please cut the federal staff. We H1b’s will take up the slack. We work cheap and do cheap work.


November 29th, 2010
2:01 pm

Self_Made: I suspect most fiscal conservatives favor eliminating corporate welfare (subsidies, not investment tax credits) and significantly reducing or eliminating corporate income taxes. Not at all sure where you get the impression CONSERVATIVES want to treat corporations as “private citizens”; I’d think that’s more the liberal line.


November 29th, 2010
2:04 pm

Self: Noting that most small business ARE taxed as private citizens, in addition to paying some corporate taxes.


November 29th, 2010
2:16 pm

The second most important thing Republicans should do but won’t is go through every agency, every program, every grant, and every contract and eliminate the one’s that are not Constitutional, are not effective, and are full of waste and fraud. Billions of wasted tax dollars could be saved by getting rid of this pork and the federal employees that exist because of it.


November 29th, 2010
2:24 pm

Amos, Next time try reading the article before you comment on it. It was Bob Barr who made big stink out of fed employees making $150K, not me. And right off hand about the only Georgia museums I know who live on government money are the Hall of Fames, funded by your Republican legislature. And I’ve never set foot inside one of them. And even those don’t do as well as Sonny Perdue’s $20 million “Go Fish” giveaway.

More generally, freezing fed pay or even downsizing by 10% hardly makes a dent in the deficit. Bush tax cuts and the 12 years of Republican congressional mismanagement have fubarred this country beyond belief. Want to see how bad it is, goggle the NY Time’s Fix the Budget and try to balance it yourself just on spending cuts. And when was the last time a Republican president balanced a budget, anyway? Try Eisenhower. Last Democrat? Clinton, and before him, LBJ.


November 29th, 2010
2:37 pm

Shame on you Bob Barr for all your misleading and boorish commentary. Federal Employees growing richer?! Weren’t YOU a Federal employee? Weren’t YOU getting paid by “We The People?” I noticed that you drove a nice car, lived in a nice neighborhood and ate well (probably due to some “special interest” groups that had you on their dole), yet here you are decrying someone else, other than a fat cat CEO, making some money? How ridiculous.


November 29th, 2010
2:38 pm

Clinton only balanced the budget when a Republican congress forced him too.


November 29th, 2010
2:39 pm

Barr: To their credit, Republicans are planning to make a stand on this, as promised in their “Pledge to America.” They propose to kill an across-the-board pay increase and the addition of another 125,000 federal workers in the next fiscal year; they also are at least starting to explore ways to trim back the number of existing government jobs.

When are these same republicans going to make a stand on THEIR pay increases? I noticed they vote themselves to have one yearly. Pot. Meet. Kettle.


November 29th, 2010
2:41 pm

Noticed you didn’t keep my comment about how you used to be a “goverment employee”. Wonder what happened to it……????


November 29th, 2010
2:52 pm

Sorry, Cekker, the facts say otherwise. Clinton forced restraint on the Republican congress. When Bush took over the Republicans went on an unrestrained spending spree, funding two wars, a huge new federal bureaucracy, Homeland Defense and the TSA, and a gigantic Medicare increase, all entirely borrowed.


November 29th, 2010
2:59 pm

Why…VietVet…obviously you have it wrong! Where have you been? History has been rewritten! All that came about when the Dems took control in the last two years of Bush’s administration. Read you rewriten history (there should be a new chapter any day now…)


November 29th, 2010
3:01 pm

and speaking of rewrites…how do you like the “treat corporations as “private citizens”; I’d think that’s more the liberal line.” The “Liberal line?????”


November 29th, 2010
3:03 pm

Everyone still for downsizing government work force and control over the states? Hell yes! Go Tea Party.


November 29th, 2010
3:10 pm

Make Up @ 12:32: I am glad corporations are earning record profits. That will help my 401(k). I will need a good retirement plan, since Social Security is such a disaster and I can’t count on the federal government to pay me back what I put into it.

Sluggish demand and uncertainty regarding 2011 tax rates are two factors that are currently preventing businesses from adding more workers. Business owners have no obligation to hire more workers just because today’s profits are solid. If they are confident they can improve future profitability by expanding and adding more workers, they will do so.

Ravi-The H-1b

November 29th, 2010
4:06 pm

SmittyATL@3:10 pm

If they are confident they can improve future profitability by expanding and adding more workers, they will do so.

They are confidant and they did add jobs (just in India). My country loves America


November 29th, 2010
4:15 pm

clay- So, you think the average 12 year old can do my job of making sure thousands of airplanes in and out of ATL arrive and depart safely and efficiently?

Yes, I think I could. I believe my term would be highly overpaid if you are one of the 4,000 making over $150k. I’m sure we could find millions of unemployed computer programs who could take your job in a week for $30k.

You’re at the big airport, and it’stressful. I get it. On the other hand, we have people getting shot at on a regular basis making 1/5 as much, living in deplorable conditions, far away from home, and not complaining about anything.

So take your frapachino mocha latte back to your cushy chair, in your air conditioned office and cry me a river. Where’s Reagan when you need him. He knew how to handle air traffic controlers.

PS: I am from Oshkosh. Your not impressing me….


November 29th, 2010
4:45 pm

JKL2…I would think if you’re from Oshkosh, having steps to your mobile home would impress you.

Ravi-The H-1b

November 29th, 2010
5:26 pm

JKL2@4:15 pm

I’m sure we could find millions of unemployed computer programs who could take your job in a week for $30k.

No need to hire computer programs. Outsource to TATA we will bring H1b visa holders in to do job. Much cheaper. what’s a few crashes when it will be so much cheaper

Atlanta Native

November 29th, 2010
6:02 pm

There is nothing misleading about this. It’s a problem that even the president’s fiscal commission realized.

Great article, Bob.


November 29th, 2010
6:10 pm

Ravi: I agree that outsourcing jobs to India (and the Philippines, and other nations) is a real issue. This is a global economy, with overseas suppliers and customers. We all like it when our products cost less, and most of us don’t want to pay a fee for technical support; so businesses that do not use offshore labor where practical will be left in the dust.


November 29th, 2010
6:20 pm

Unpainted @ 12:59: You say “the upper 10% controls 90% of the money and their cases take up 90% of our federal and municipal courts work.” What is your source for these statistics? I think we all know that you’re just making this stuff up.

As I pointed out, according to CBO statistics, the upper 10% earns 46% of income, and pays 68% of taxes. If you can show evidence that they are use a substantially higher portion of federal services than the rest of us, perhaps you could make a logical argument that their 68% is not enough. What have you got?

[...] evaluate their needs for offshore outsourcing and determine if they really need one or the local workforce can satisfy their company requirements. Scott Miller – About the [...]

John Johnson

November 29th, 2010
10:58 pm

Proof in Law
– You are a Pauper –
You Lost your Rights/Immunities

Read the Articles of Confederation
article 4 section 1

Article IV.
The better to secure and perpetuate mutual friendship and intercourse
among the people of the different States in this union,
the free inhabitants of each of these States,
paupers, vagabonds, and fugitives from justice excepted,
shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of free citizens in the several States;…..


paupers, vagabonds, and fugitives from justice excepted,
Notice how law views how Paupers.

What is a Pauper?

One so poor that he must be supported at the public expense.

Vide 16 Vin. Ab. 259;
Botts on the Poor Laws;
Woodf. Landl. & Ten. 901.
A Law Dictionary,
Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States.
By John Bouvier. Published 1856.

The definition of Pauper is:

One so poor that he must be supported at the public expense.

another way to read this:
One supported at the public expense.

Having defined the necessary circumstances of evidence
and the mode of proceeding thereon,
the act concludes by giving to all free inhabitants of other States,
except paupers and fugitives from justice,
the same rights, privileges, and immunities,
as belong to the free citizens of the Commonwealth,
and the liberty of free ingress and egress to and from the same;


Are You a Pauper?

Federal Law

US Code 5 USC 552(a) 12

§ 552a.
(12) the term “Federal benefit program”
means any program administered or funded by the Federal Government,
or by any agent or State
on behalf of the Federal Government,
providing cash or in-kind assistance
in the form of payments, grants, loans, or loan guarantees to individuals;

Payments, grants, loans, or loan guarantees to individuals;

(13) the term Federal Personnel
individuals entitled to receive immediate or Deferred retirement Benefits
under Any retirement program
of the Government of the United States (including survivor benefits).

Retirement Benefits
SSA Publication No. 05-10035, January 2010
ICN 457500,

Your retirement benefits
This booklet provides basic information
on Social Security retirement benefits

( http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10035.html )

payments, Grants, loans, or loan guarantees to individuals;

The Federal Pell Grant Program
Pell Grants
If you received a Pell Grant in College
You were Bought Cheap

( the average Pell Grant award will be $2,770,

payments, grants, Loans, or loan guarantees to individuals;


Student Loans

Feds Takeover Student Loan program from banks
March 30, 2010
President Obama will sign a bill today
that ends a 45-year-old program
under which banks and other private-sector lenders such as Sallie Mae receive a federal subsidy
for making government-guaranteed college loans.

Instead, the U.S. Department of Education
- which already makes roughly a third of these loans
through its direct-lending program
– will make 100 percent of them starting July 1.

payments, grants, loans, or Loan Guarantees to individuals

Loan guarantees to individuals

The FHA and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac,
have been financing more than 90 percent of U.S. home lending.


Proof in Law
- You are a Pauper –

You Lost your Rights/Immunities.


November 30th, 2010
2:17 am

Ok forget about the salary crap, because it is smoke and mirrors. It is a simple game of three card monty. They are talking about this, because they do not want you to settle down enough to think about the real problem.

All these 2 million Federal employees are paying federal income tax right? Well, do the math. if the average salary is around $81k and the presumptive tax bracket is 25%, then guess what that is about $40.5 billion a year in tax dollars. And where do the dollars come from that pay that 40.5 Billion? Yes, you guessed it, tax dollars.

So now ask yourself why the Feds would hire in a recession? Could it be to artificially inflate federal revenues and keep the dollars line up for them to spend? Nothing would surprise me from the Obananation Assministration.


November 30th, 2010
5:59 am

*One timeline/life of a federal worker, perhaps this could put it in focus a bit, I’m not saying my story is typical but I’d bet there are quite a few along my lines…I retired in 2002 after 21 years of service in the military and 9 deployments to the middle east, including both Gulf Wars. I am also now a 40% service connected disabled vet, no waste to be pointed out here please-my health/life are at most times a living hell. The last 6 years of my career, besides doing my 3 military duties onboard a ship of standing 8 of the 24 hours on watch as primary weapons controller in defense of the ship, being in charge of the main missile battery and a leader of one of three Visit Board Search and Seizure Teams, was spent in college and correspondence classes to obtain my degree in IT. After I got off ship for my last year and a half or so on “shore duty” is where I really hit the books hard-finished it all up and tied my education/degree up, while still working as base security 5X12 hour days. After getting out I took a temporary 2 year Federal appointment I found through the grace of god, luck, timing and so many other things (the process started 6 months before then actually, and I beat out 14 other *certified/qualified applicants). Then during that time I went to night school 3 times a week for a year from 5-10 PM to gain my IT certifications, by all accounts, I was “stellar” performer before all this, but I wanted to be permanent and you must keep competing, besides that, I was just “temporary”. I applied for a few positions during my schooling/2 years, being turned down for them I kept trying, finally I found one at the VA, 30 minutes from my house and was selected/hired for $68K in the LA Area, a scam of a salary don’t you agree (yes over the last 6 years my salary has grown to $74K)?! But it doesn’t stop here folks, I must now continue to compete, because they are reorganizing the entire VA IT structure, and even though I have proved myself time and time again (coming up on 10 years now) things are looking bleak for a new position for me and I very well may be “phased out” or RIF’d-”reduction in force”. In the meantime, my health has continuously spiraled downwards, I have and immune system disorder-sick all the time/Gulf War Syndrome, PTSD, five or more other things, but I think you get the idea. I still perform, as well and as often as I can, still great in most everybody’s opinion, but the point is…well, I will let you garner your own, okay?

The Turkey Diaries

November 30th, 2010
8:26 am

The federal workforce grows “fatter and richer”? Is Bob Bar suggesting that the constitution is a Cookbook?

Run for your lives! DOn’t register to vote! The million man march was just some reality tv version of a cattle drive like depicted on “Rawhide”.

Stay away from freezers!! Don’t use suntan oil! Starve yourselves. Stay with the bony butts!!

If not, we’re all a la carte kaput! (another great chance to use an unlaut missed).


November 30th, 2010
8:50 am

ncgreybr- I would think if you’re from Oshkosh, having steps to your mobile home would impress you

I don’t know of more than a hand full of mobile homes in the entire town. It does have the busiest airport in the world one week a year(EAA air venture). If Carl is so good at his job, he might be nominated to go work there some time.

The AJC Stinks

November 30th, 2010
9:09 am

The King’s lackeys are well paid, treat them with contempt, I do.


November 30th, 2010
9:46 am

I don’t seem to remember Mr. Barr fighting to make things equitable for Gov’t workers when the economy was booming. This private sector salary is misleading. Private sector job equivalents include bonuses based on company performance. Many include stock options and other incentives. In a bad economy, the bonuses go away. Several years ago when my private sector friends were bringing home Ipods and laptops given away as incentives, or going to Hawaii on a company retreat; or cashing in stock to purchase their homes, I don’t remember anyone feeling bad about federal workers at the time.

Gov’t workers know they will never get rich or be able to cash in a bunch of stock but they work for less risk. Private Sector workers have unlimited potential but greater risk.

Stop whining.


November 30th, 2010
10:45 am

Hmm. Your infomration is outdated. There are no janitors in government service anymore- they are all contracted out. Same with the Army cooks in Iraq- the contract was given to a French company, Sodexho. Several generals tried to get them to take hot food to the troops up front, and they said “No!” and sent MREs instead. They are hired as cooks, not to expose themselves to gunfire. Why don’t you try comparing government salaries to the contractors’ salaries- Oh! I forgot! We can’t do that, because it might pop a bubble someone has.

Government pastors (called chaplains) often end up in uniform and in interesting places like Iraq and Afghanistan, where evil people shoot at them for being Christian or Jewish. That’s why the military no longer places a cross on printed Bibles or New Testaments given to the troops. I think they earn their extra pay.

Commercial chemists check the production quality of toothpaste and deodorant. Government chemists look for anthrax killers and look through bomb debris for evidence they can produce in court, and stand up to cross examination.


November 30th, 2010
11:35 am

Do not forget that in the 1980’s (30 years ago) Ronald Reagan with David A. Stockman knocked Federal Employees with a year without a raise. Then he moved the effective date of the Salary raise from the 1st full pay period of October to January of the the follwoing year, then he added the “7″ to our dividing our annual rate by hours. They figured we worked 2087 rathar than 2080 in a year and the cream on the cake was charging Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) employee with the “Responsability Act”, which meant we would pay Medicare Taxes :) . Please do not forget :)


November 30th, 2010
12:16 pm

Gulfvet, how could you have participated in BOTH gulf wars when the 2nd one started in 2003? A year after you retired?

Oh say, ma, been lame, ma?

November 30th, 2010
3:36 pm

I participated in all three Gulf Wars. I keeled Osama Bin Laden. You see, I took a troop of cub scouts on an annual pilgrimmage to the petrified forest in Oman. There we busied ourselves disquising our uniforms and ties to appear like the garb that the Imams wear when they make public appearances. nobody suspected a thing. The problem was, that the CIA………….


November 30th, 2010
7:53 pm

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Dr. Pangloss

November 30th, 2010
10:45 pm

The 141,000 worker increase is rated as half-true at http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2010/nov/24/reince-priebus/wisconsin-republican-party-chairman-reince-priebus/

It depends on counting replacement hires as if they were additional hires. That’s not an increase.


December 2nd, 2010
7:03 pm

The AJC Stinks: Why would you treat working people with contempt? Does that include the police, fire dept, social security/medicare program workers, military personnel, NIH/CDC/FDA workers, may of whom have PhD and do research and surveilence? How about the public health depts? What about all of the people who work in the various VAMC centers? Why would you be in contempt of secretaries, janitors, clerks, program directors, intake clerks, administrative officers, park rangers and all sorts of other people to serve the American public? You have a bad attitude and it needs to be checked at the door – you are the very definition of an ugly American.


December 3rd, 2010
2:52 am

I don’t know what government agency he is going off of but 123k is way high. I’d love to transfer to that department. I work for the DoD and there is very few 100k+ base salaries in tech jobs in my org, those would be management types(which were cut in my org 2 years ago) or maybe some very high vis cutting edge tech projects but even in the departments that work on those projects only the project lead might be at that level. If they did an average in my organization I’d say about 70-80k. Comparable to engineers in our industry. Nor do I know of any government janitors, we have a contracted service in our buildings, they even brought in contracted security, and contracted maintenance, contracted IT. They reduced the number of admin/secretarials over the 5 years I’ve been. Took away a lot of the training and advanced education incentive awards. The only unskilled government employee I know of in my org is a disabled vietnam vet, and I’m sure he got in on one of those step up programs years ago, do you want to fire him?. I know the government employs a lot of physically and mentally disabled people in their warehouses but I highly doubt they are far along in the GS scale or even on it, I expect any unskilled or labor government jobs are reserved for disabled vets, and I think their previous government service counts toward their salary in years in service, so a corporal who gets brain damage from a grenade would be eligible for a simple gov job starting at the rate he left the military, or at least close to it. Its not like someone can walk into a government office and apply for a janitor job which is the way the article makes it sound. I mean why does the government have to match industry? Like any business you want to attract talent, and any Private company would pay more for it if the economy was good. Plus, many private sector companies treat their employees like garbage, sounds more like a call to spread the misery, not lessen it for everyone else.Why couldn’t companies provide raises and hire more people in the last three years with the tax cuts in place? Sounds like these tax cuts did jack squat for the employees and more for the employers. Expiring tax cuts won’t change that, the execs will protect their golden parachutes and bonuses before investing in employees.

We don’t have it as cushy as this story makes it out to be. We have our deadlines like everyone else and the responsibilty to counter all the PRIVATE SECTOR companies that try to work the loop holes to squeeze more money from the government. Everyone works the loop holes, especially come tax time. Only if you have never made a stretch to justify a deduction do you have the right criticize how government works. YOU are contributing to the problem.