Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Oh, to be a Federal Bureaucrat

In November, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) ran an interesting opinion piece by Mac Zimmerman, who is director of policy at Americans for Prosperity. It was titled "The Sweet Gig of Being a Bureaucrat."

This caught my eye because, like it or not, I have been a "bureaucrat" (I hope not in the pejorative sense) for a good many years. The WSJ story is focused on those employed by the federal government generally, with emphasis on Washington D.C. Mr. Zimmerman contends that the story is emblematic of problems in government (I hope he means federal government).

He builds from the recent revelations regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs, which he describes as "a well-known sinkhole of mismanagement." CNN in one article reports that the VA may be responsible for 1,000 veteran's deaths over the past decade. Its own inspector general issued a report that says hundreds of thousands of American veterans may have died awaiting care from that bureaucracy. So, take your pick deaths it has caused or deaths it has allowed.

These Veterans are the people who served to protect us all from threats foreign and domestic. Their injuries and conditions are something we all agreed to care for in a social contract.

Mr. Zimmerman notes that the VA, despite its publicized issues and failures, "handed out more than $142 million in bonuses last year." That is tax revenue paid to employees of the VA, an agency that has been credited with making delay a veritable art form. That is reward and incentive money. We hear about the bonuses paid on Wall Street in the wake of financial collapse, but not much coverage out there on the $142 million paid by the VA to reward its performance allowing hundreds of thousands to die waiting for treatment.

He brings our attention to a recent report of the Cato Institute, concluding that "the average federal employee earned $84,153 in 2014—roughly 50% more than the average worker in the private economy." This does not include "benefits like health care and pensions." If the full compensation package is considered, the "average federal worker’s compensation rises to $119,934—nearly 80% higher than everyone else." This apparently does not include any bonus money, like the millions doled out at the VA.

This has not occurred in state government, at least not in Florida. Pay for state employees has been markedly flat over the last decade in Florida. With budget and economic challenges, there has been significant competition for revenue, and the raises or bonuses have for the most part been few and far between for Florida state workers.

In fact, though the U.S. Government has led us to believe that inflation has been minimal in recent years, most employees of Florida state government are effectively making less today than they made in 2000.

An analysis of the last 25 years makes some sense, since the WSJ article makes such a comparison. In 1990 a Florida Judge of Compensation Claims earned about $79,359 annually. Today a JCC earns 123,564. A dollar in 1990, according to the government's own calculator, would be worth $1.82 in today's dollars. That $79,359 in 1990 would be equal to about $144,197 in today's dollars. This is illustrative of many Florida state employees. Yes, we earn less today than we did 25 years ago, while federal government jobs are making more and more.

The Cato report concludes that “The federal government has become an elite island of secure and high-paid employment.” Mr. Zimmerman concludes that "pay for federal employees has grown significantly faster than for private employees." In fact, "the percentage difference between the two has doubled in the past 25 years" (since 1990, the 25 year comparison in his analysis that can be compared to the 25 year decline in Florida employee earnings).

According to the report, "the median household income in September hovered a little above $56,000. That is only 1% higher than in 2009 when the recession officially ended, and 0.5% lower than before the recession began." Average American income has decreased, Florida state employee income has decreased, but federal employee income has increased.

Conversely, he notes that "consumer prices increased 10.6% over the past six years." In other words, living is increasingly expensive, federal employees are increasingly compensated and provided significant benefits, and the rest of us, well, not so much perhaps. And, despite the protestations that inflation is not an issue, the prices have increased 10.6%. Those increases are making living more expensive.

It is curious that one segment of society. would do so well, compared to other segments like private and state government employment. That their performance would be called into question with something like 307,000 Veterans dying while awaiting these bureaucrat's attention only makes the situation more curious.

Veterans deserve better. Why is this growth in federal payroll and benefits receiving so little attention? Why are the Veterans receiving so little attention? How does a government running trillion dollar deficits, with a national debt that has doubled in the last seven years, find money to pay $142 million to some of the best paid employees in the country?


There are many questions raised by this WSJ piece. 

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