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Op-ed knocks Scott Brown's comments on federal workers

By Ed O'Keefe

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) should consider federal workers a useful resource instead of a taxpayer expense, according to an op-ed published in today's Boston Globe.

"Civil servants are always an easy punching bag for politicians, but Brown is incorrect about civil service salaries and his call for a hiring and pay freeze is shortsighted," write Harvard University professor Linda Bilmes and Partnership for Public Service CEO Max Stier.

Bilmes teaches at the Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government and wrote, "The People Factor: Strengthening America by Investing in Public Service.’’ Stier's nonpartisan think tank has completed several significant studies on the federal workforce and government operations.

The op-ed responds to Brown's recent comments to Barbara Walters that: "We need to put a freeze on federal hires and federal raises because, as you know, federal employees are making twice as much as their private counterparts."

More from Bilmes and Stier:

The fundamental mistake underlying Brown’s “fix’’ is to think of the federal workforce as a cost rather than as a resource that delivers specific benefits to the nation. Failure to invest in this resource will have dire consequences.
Last month, the bipartisan Commission for the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism warned of the high likelihood of a bioterrorist attack. It criticized the administration and Congress for their “abject failure’’ to “commit to spending what is required to recruit, hire, train, and retain a qualified, motivated national security workforce.’’ A new book, “Broker, Trader, Lawyer, Spy,’’ by Eamon Javers, describes how the CIA allows intelligence officers to moonlight for corporations to prevent them from moving full-time to the private sector -- where they could earn double or triple their government salaries.
Brown is right to take an interest in the federal workforce, but he should devote his energies to ensuring that the federal government recruits, trains and retains excellence in the civil service. This includes helping college graduates in Massachusetts locate public service jobs in government.

Read the full op-ed here.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Ed O'Keefe  | February 10, 2010; 10:20 AM ET
Categories:  Congress, Workplace Issues  
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I wish I were making twice as much as my private counterparts! With my graduate degree, I could easily be making a third more, maybe even 150% of my federal salary. Of course, I keep the federal job because I enjoy the work and let's be honest, there are some good perks - most notably job security. But I get so sick of the general impression that federal employees are lazy and greedy. Sure, there are lazy, greedy feds, but there are lazy, greedy employees in the private sector as well. And both public and private industry also have a lot of hard working people who just want to do the best job possible.

Posted by: runnergirl03 | February 10, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

The real problems with the Federal workforce are at the top end, those sitting around for decades getting automatic raises (for no good reason) while each year falling farther behind in productivity. However, age discrimination laws make it very, very tricky to deal with this. Some Agencies are smart about retirement buyouts and the like. This is more rational than punishing everybody.

The entry-level, mid-career level people are making HUGE sacrifices to stay in the government. Almost all of them are MUCH BETTER EDUCATED than their older counterparts. About the only allure is the job security, because many of them have young families.

I have been away from government for just 2 years, and my salary has increased already by 50 percent without much effort. Private sector companies compete for my skills. The government tells me to take it or leave it.

Don't tell me all Feds are overpaid.

Posted by: Wallenstein | February 10, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

The 95% of federal employees who are lazy make the rest look bad.

The federal government has been closed for three days. There will be no backlog of "work" within a week.

Posted by: member8 | February 10, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Member8: The federal government has not been closed for three days. 85% of the federal workforce works outside the DC area, and we're not getting any snow days.

Posted by: bhmccut | February 10, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Yes, no doubt the killing of brown people continues despite the snow.

Posted by: member8 | February 10, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

The reason so many federal workers are considered lazy is because of the hiring constraints we have to labor under. Instead of being able to hire the best and the brightest, we're incumbered with those who are able to get government jobs and stay there because of preferences and unions.

Posted by: CurrentFED | February 10, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

I also wish this were true! I accepted my current government job because I believe in public service, I like the work, and I appreciate the job security. The only downside to going public was the wage cut -- my private sector salary was 2.75 times what I'm currently drawing! Don't get me wrong: I willingly made the trade-off and haven't looked back. . . but it's still makes me wonder where the Naked Senator gets his intel.

Posted by: Aelcee | February 10, 2010 5:52 PM | Report abuse

No problem Senator Brown. I know that you work in a different branch of government, but there is nothing stopping you from showing a little leadership on this issue. Why don't you freeze your salary and the salaries of your staff. If it is inconvenient to do that withing the Senate payroll system, just make a donation to the IRS. To take a really positive step, cut the salaries of your staff in half, since that will put them on par with the private sector.

Posted by: Gallery90 | February 10, 2010 6:49 PM | Report abuse

The private sector includes McDonald's jobs and salaries. In the government we have contracted out all of those types of positions. The people picking up the trash, cleaning the bathrooms, cooking in the cafeteria, and even the secretarial support are all contractors. When those types of positions used to be filled with federal employees, it was more reasonable to compare the 'average' salary.

Posted by: 1Reader | February 10, 2010 8:37 PM | Report abuse

Let's see...hmmmm If I were in the private sector I would be making six figures doing the almost the exact same thing that I'm doing now and making less. I think there is a serious disconnect in Mr. Brown's analysis of the Federal workforce.

Posted by: kalonscott | February 10, 2010 9:07 PM | Report abuse

Aelcee "I also wish this were true! I accepted my current government job because I believe in public service, I like the work, and I appreciate the job security."

If i had a nickel for every private sector employee who took a "Substantial Pay Cut" to work for the Government I could retire today. Why is it that every office I have worked in as a federal employee the contractors spend at least 50% of the time in the office "making contacts" in order to become a fed? Why are at least 50% of the applicants I interview private sector employees. I became a fed and I remain a fed because of the stability, the work I do is challenging and fulfilling. Public service is great, but it was not part of my decision to remain a fed. Interesting how many people have negative comments only because they are unhappy that feds are forced to not work this week. Get over it.

Posted by: grpthink | February 11, 2010 6:38 AM | Report abuse

I wonder if Scott Brown will now ask his fellow Senators to forgo their automatic yearly pay raise, which they no longer even have to vote on. Aren't they public employees, too? Aren't their salaries paid for by the taxpayers, whether we voted for them or not? I don't know of many people who automatically get a raise year after year after year, regardless of how long they have been in a job, and regardless of how poorly they perform. Think I might run for a Senate seat. After all, I would only have to serve a single term ( and possibly not even have to complete the term) and I would get a pension, health benefits, etc., all at taxpayers expense. Pretty good deal if you ask me! Oh, of course, I forgot - Brown is talking about "other people" who shouldn't get much for doing their jobs. His comments don't apply to him.

Posted by: United1Kathy | February 11, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

This is a thoughtful op-ed with real data. I wish more people would pay attention to the fact that you can't compare federal and private sector salaries directly. Thanks Dr. Bilmes and Mr. Stier.

Posted by: bogemin | February 15, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

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