I hate to keep bringing this up, but again federal salaries — the discussion, not the actual salaries — have moved up to practically an “A” topic in Washington this week. Not quite enough to displace generalized angst about, say, Donald Trump, but still a big deal.
Item: Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who heads the Oversight and Government Reform committee, asks Office of Personnel Management acting head Beth Cobert for five years of data on federal pay, raises and bonuses. That feels like the district captain from the Gambinos asking to look at your cash register receipts.
Commentary: Let’s not be too tough on Chaffetz. He has been a tough critic of certain agencies, to be sure. But Veterans Affairs, Secret Service, OPM — they’ve had issues. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, maybe he’ll agree that in some jobs, feds do earn less than their private sector counterparts.
Item: Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) reintroduces a bill to give employees a 5.3 percent raise in 2017. It already has 33 co-sponsors.
Commentary: Thanks, Gerry, but this won’t have any more success than it did last year, when the bill was for a 3.5 percent raise. Wages are stagnant throughout the economy. Especially in an election year, your colleagues won’t go along with “catch-up” bills when so many voters are barely keeping up in their own spending power.
Item: Veterans Affairs, in a legislative proposal, wants to see the top potential Senior Executive Service salary rise from about $185,000 to $235,000 per year.
Commentary: VA has a point. In the private or so-called non-profit sector, people running hospitals the size of regional VA medical centers easily earn twice or three times what the top VA career people get. It’s an extraordinarily complex job where one crazed tech operator deep in the organization can cause lurid headlines.
Not that it matters any more, but before he dropped out of the presidential race, former Gov. Jeb Bush said federal workers are paid 40 percent more than people in the private sector.
Commentary: This in a week when the Cato Institute has not come out with a study purporting to show federal salaries are lavish compared to those in the private sector. The fact is, meaningful comparisons are impossible on a macro level. You can only go job by job.
Even in a given job, salaries vary wildly. That’s why averages tend to be meaningless. You know what they say about averages: If one foot is encased in dry ice, the other immersed in boiling oil, on average you’re feeling great.