December 5, 2010
For Federal Employees, a Feeling of Being Targets in the Budget Wars
By ASHLEY PARKER – Washington Post
WASHINGTON - Iyauta Moore may be many things - a single mother raised by a single mother in the South Bronx, a 34-year-old woman with a master's degree in public administration from American University, a top-level government employee who makes a little over $100,000 a year - but she bristles at the notion that she is just another overpaid, underworked, cosseted bureaucrat.
'What I do here involves creating something that doesn't exist,' she said of her job at the Department of Education, where she is establishing a group to help oversee all of the department's grants. 'That's not pushing paper.'
Ms. Moore, who is a member of the American Federation of Government Employees, added: 'We're out and we're making a difference in the community. And I don't really think you can put a dollar figure on that.'
But as politicians intent on cutting the federal budget try to do just that, career government employees are feeling besieged.
During the midterm
elections, the federal work force became a target for Republicans in
particular. In a speech in Cleveland, Representative John
A. Boehner of
'I think federal employees are definitely getting a bad rap and definitely have become political punching bags,' said William R. Dougan, the president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, which represents 110,000 blue- and white-collar government workers. 'It's hard for people, until they actually experience not having some of the services that the government provides, to understand what the government does.'
Mathew Kolodzie, 31, is a Department of Defense firefighter at the
Watervliet Arsenal near
He is paid $48,113 a year, which he says is enough for him and his family to get by; he and his wife have one daughter and 'one on the way.' But, he said, 'This pay freeze isn't the greatest timing, especially around Christmas.'
Carl Houtman, 49, is a research chemical engineer for the Forest
Still, he likes the freedom his government job affords - the flexible schedule that allows him to attend his children's concerts and teach a tai chi class, the ability to 'tell the truth, not filtered by whether or not my company is going to die, or whether or not I'm going to get tenure.' He considers his job secure.
Mr. Houtman methodically logs in 40 hours per week on a time sheet, although, he says, he often works closer to 50.
Critics point out that the number of federal employees making over $150,000 has doubled under Mr. Obama, but that fact is somewhat misleading. In 2008, thousands of federal employees were held under a $149,000 pay cap, and in 2009 when Congress raised that by 2.9 percent, it bumped a significant number of salaries just over $150,000.
And the government has worried for years that a wave of retirements is about to hit, possibly costing dearly in talent, experience and institutional memory.
The overall executive branch civilian work force, excluding the Postal Service, stood at 2,094,000 in 2009, according to Office of Personnel Management data - roughly where it was in the 1970s at the end of the Nixon administration. It grew under President Ronald Reagan, declined throughout the administrations of the first President Bush and Bill Clinton, and now stands roughly between the numbers for the Reagan and Clinton years.
Government jobs can pay well, but comparisons with the private sector are complex.
'At the top, the government is not competitive at all; it pays much less,' said John M. Palguta, vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit group. 'At the start of one's career, it tends to pay below. In the middle, sometimes it's about right. And for blue-collar and clerical jobs, the government is paying at market or above.'
Some say there are fewer performance incentives in government employment.
'Once you're past your probationary year, there's basically no reward for performance,' said James Sherk, a senior policy analyst in labor economics at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research organization.
And indeed, some federal workers say they are happy with the status quo.
Lance Hamann, 40, works as a purchasing agent for the Department
of Agriculture at a vocational jobs center in
'To me, there's a rhyme and reason to all the red tape the government does have,' he said, 'so I try my best to be patient with the red tape, knowing that's just how the government runs.'
He says he is happy where he is professionally, with a decent paying job in the town where he grew up.
'I don't necessarily want to move up the ladder, per se, and accept the additional responsibilities,' he said, 'even though that may come with additional pay.'
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