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OPM's Berry blasts Washington Times editorial on federal pay

By Ed O'Keefe

Office of Personnel Director John Berry blasted a Friday Washington Times editorial critical of the federal pay system and bonus system.

John Berry
OPM Director John Berry (Post)

The newspaper criticized the 2.4 percent annual pay raise workers earned earlier this year and $285 million in incentive payments to keep employees from retiring or transferring to other agencies.

"The left shrieks about the unfairness of the large bonuses handed out to Wall Street executives even though shareholders alone have the right to decide what compensation is appropriate and necessary," the editorial stated. "As effective shareholders in the federal enterprise, we think the federal incentive structure must come to an end."

Berry picked apart the editorial during an emotional interview with Federal News Radio on Friday.

For example, the editorial stated, "The only thing that seems to be growing during the current economic downturn is the government, and that's cause for alarm."

In response, Berry said: "There will be 2.1 million full time federal employees in this year. That is less than there were in the federal government when Lyndon Johnson was president in 1967. If you compare the growth in the size of our country, there are over 100 million more Americans today that those workers are serving."

The Times also noted that federal workers earned a 2.4 percent raise "for successfully sitting at his desk for a year."

"When I heard that and I read that -- it just steams me," Berry said. "Do they think that the researchers at NIH who are developing cures for cancer today are bureaucrats sitting at their desks? Do they think the TSA employees who are screening people who are sitting next to you on the airplane today -- are they just sitting at their desks? Are the Customs and Border Patrol that are screening tractor trailers coming over our boarders that might carry a nuclear device -- are they just sitting at their desks? This is the kind of stuff that is just a denigration of public service and there should be no place for it in our country."

More than half of federal employees work for the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs, Berry said.

"I would ask The Washington Times which of those they would like to cut," Berry said. "Do they want to compromise our national security, our care for our veterans or the protection of our people against terrorism? I don't."

Berry's comments came at the end of a week of critical editorials and analyses of the federal pay system. Office of Management and Budget Director Peter R. Orszag made a similar defense of the pay on Wednesday following a USA Today report. The Bureau of Labor Statistics later refuted that analysis. Federal unions have also raised concerns that recent anti-government rhetoric is putting federal workers at risk.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Ed O'Keefe  | March 12, 2010; 3:25 PM ET
Categories:  Administration, Workplace Issues  
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Next: Legoland gets in on 2010 Census action


Good to know that Berry waived his fairy wand and got rid of all the bureacrats, leaving only 2 million cancer researchers and security folks. And yet they get a 2.4% cost of living increase when the cost of living decreased. Even Social Security managed to avoid that.

Posted by: member5 | March 12, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Has he *been* through a TSA line? Those nitpicking yahoos rifle through my stuff and/or stare at a screen all day get an automatic raise regardless of their performance is supposed to make me feel good? Are you kidding me?

Posted by: blanksslate | March 12, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

It always makes me laugh when people try to make all federal employees out as idiots.

Nevermind that MANY positions in the Federal Government are the TOP OF THE CLASS individuals....across many fields....but we have drop-outs writing about how stupid those 4.0, multiple-degree individuals are

Posted by: Bious | March 14, 2010 12:13 AM | Report abuse

"Main Stream America" (translate), are a bunch of hypocrites. After watching the segment on 60 Minutes last night about Wall Street and how they are making millions of dollars just "because". How dare you idiots question the pay of federal employees. Those complaining are the same individuals that makes millions of dollars off of wall corruption and want our sympathy and tax dollars when the fail. THEY MAKE ME SICK! Worry about how well you are doing your job and whether you deserve the compensation you receive!

Posted by: pythomas48 | March 15, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Only retirees get a Cost Of Living Allowance (COLA) increase. Remember when the COLA was running at 19 percent during the Carter admistration and we got somewhere around 10 percent? It is an annual raise not tied to the actual COLA and the more federal workers refer to it as a COLA the worse it makes it sound to the general public. Remind them when inflation was runnung high at the beginning of Reagan's administration and he stiffed the federal work force for 15 months or so. Remember folks it was Wall St. and the lack and watering down of regulation that got us into this mess not the federal worker.

Posted by: EdinPhilly | March 15, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

This is the guy who sent a hundred thousand feds to work on a day where half the roads were covered in snow and Metro wasn't functioning.

His reputation is more important to him than his job. Too bad though, he sucks at both.

Posted by: jiji1 | March 15, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

As a Federal worker, I take serious offense to those who "think" they know what a Federal employee's position entails. Since President Carter, the Federal workforce has been "minimized" each year. The motto "Do more with less" is not about the amount of money spent by the Federal Government but is about "more work with less employees". Like any other Government employee, be it Federal, State, County or City, I pay a portion of my own salary through the taxes I pay each each year. As a lower graded employee, I do not make as much as the average person doing the same type of job in a major corporation. Even the Engineers in our Districts do not earn what the Engineers of major corporations earn every year and they get perks along with their salary. I know that the agency that I work for is one of the lowest paid agencies in Government, but I believe that when an article is written concerning the amount of someone's pay, that it should be accurately researched and reported. Our health insurance that we pay for increases every year and needless to say, the small percentage that the President approves does not normally even cover the cost of this. We do not get cost of living increases so this small amount helps to subsidize the ever increasing costs of our economy.

Posted by: laurajsantiago | March 15, 2010 5:17 PM | Report abuse

First off - we can do without your homophobic comments, member5. Not needed and they diminish your already weak argument.

I'm a 25 year Federal employee. While I sit at a desk, I'm doing the job that I was hired to do and trained myself for. For that rag of a "newspaper," the Washington Times, to denigrate the civil service is a shame. Where was their anger when Bush 2 was wasting a budget surplus and spending us into deficits?

Our "board of directors," as you will, voted for the pay raise. It's not automatic. I challenge anyone who claims that we're overpaid and underworked to come and do my job for a week.

Posted by: MPersow | March 16, 2010 8:03 AM | Report abuse

Both Berry and the Washington Times or Post "cherry-picked" evidence for a useless & dumb argument. Berry looks even worse with his cherry-picking examples for the past.

First, I think its ludicrous for Berry to shun reports that Federal employees make more than their counterparts in private industry. THIS IS A GOOD THING.

Second, a TOP OF THE CLASS individual does not mean anything if they do not work well. I'm an American, I have multiple degrees, and I'll be the first to call Berry out. We all know the truth. Most, not all, but most federal employees work inefficiently, are very slow, and some do sit around all day. (You don't need to go far to see this. Go visit your local post office. Its a shame to see how SLOW people move).

I worked at the Census Bureau for 2 years. No one did anything there that was worth having an entire building devoted to it. I saw more federal employees there take smoke breaks than do actual work. I quit because it was an embarrassment.

Here is a solution, Berry:Trim the fat from the federal employees, make performance measurements, change admin rules so you can FIRE people, and then use our tax dollars to efficiently to increase the pay-grade of federal employees. People will be happy to work as federal employees even though they know they could get fired.

Follow the examples of the NYC police department and, if possible, the Singapore Federal government. They both pay their employees EXTREMELY well. As a result you have the BEST candidates clamoring to get positions, not just your TOP OF THE CLASS shmoes or senior employees who are experts at smoke breaks.

Posted by: temudgen | March 18, 2010 10:41 PM | Report abuse

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