On Monday, President Obama announced that he’d like to see Congress implement a two-year freeze in federal employee pay. “The hard truth is that getting this deficit under control is going to require broad sacrifice. And that sacrifice must be shared by the employees of the federal government,” Obama said.
Obama’s proposal was rightly panned by everyone except Republicans, who criticized the President for not going far enough. “Without a hiring freeze, a pay freeze won’t do much to rein in a federal bureaucracy that added hundreds of thousands of employees to its payroll over the last two years,” said incoming Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH). On Fox News this morning, Sen.-elect Rand Paul (R-KY), as well as his father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), relied on a series of false characterizations to call for not only freezing pay for federal employees, but cutting it:
Well, you know, if you look at the statistics recently and you look at total compensation of federal employees, they’re making almost twice what the private sector employees are making. It’s $120,000 average total compensation for federal employees, over twenty percent of federal employees make over $100,000 a year now, so I agree with my dad, we need to cut their pay, not just freeze their pay. We need to cut their pay and approach back to what the private marketplace is paying.
As my colleague Zaid Jilani laid out in today’s Progress Report, the freeze was already an awful combination of bad policy and bad politics that saves little money, harms the economy, and was done without extracting any concessions from Republicans. It buys into a false conservative narrative regarding overpaid federal employees that has little basis in reality. And Paul’s statements are even less factual.
At first blush, federal employees do make more than private sector employees, but that is only because federal employees, on average, are higher educated, and there are very few low-skill, low-pay federal jobs (while such jobs drag down the private sector average). According to data from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, federal workers actually earn 22 percent less than their counterparts in the private sector. Research by Harvard economist George Borjas shows that, at the top-end, private sector pay is so much better that the public sector has “found it increasingly more difficult to attract and retain high-skill workers.”
And while Paul is more than willing to slice pay for federal workers, he is far more reluctant to cut federal payments to doctors (a profession he conveniently shares). “Physicians should be allowed to make a comfortable living,” he says, when the prospect of such cuts is broached.
The federal government is in the process of implementing both health care reform and financial regulatory reform, which requires highly-skilled, motivated workers. The government also needs to attract highly-skilled individuals to, among other things, inspect oil rigs and staff VA hospitals. But Paul is more than willing to cut their pay, while leaving payments to those in his chosen profession, including himself, untouched.
Read more in today’s Progress Report, “Freezing Hope.”