By: Dennis Cauchon
November 10, 2010
The number of federal workers earning $150,000 or more a year has soared tenfold in the past five years and doubled since President Obama took office, a USA TODAY analysis finds.
The fast-growing pay of federal employees has captured the attention of fiscally conservative Republicans who won control of the U.S. House of Representatives in last week's elections. Already, some lawmakers are planning to use the lame-duck session that starts Monday to challenge the president's plan to give a 1.4% across-the-board pay raise to 2.1 million federal workers.
FEDERAL WORKERS: Earning double their private counterparts
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who will head the panel overseeing federal pay, says he wants a pay freeze and prefers a 10% pay cut. "It's stunning when you see what's happened to federal compensation," he says. "Every metric shows we're heading in the wrong direction."
National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley counters that the proposed raise "is a modest amount and should be implemented" to help make salaries more comparable with those in the private sector.
Federal salaries have grown robustly in recent years, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Office of Personnel Management data. Key findings:
•Government-wide raises. Top-paid staff have increased in every department and agency. The Defense Department had nine civilians earning $170,000 or more in 2005, 214 when Obama took office and 994 in June.
•Long-time workers thrive. The biggest pay hikes have gone to employees who have been with the government for 15 to 24 years. Since 2005, average salaries for this group climbed 25% compared with a 9% inflation rate.
•Physicians rewarded. Medical doctors at veterans hospitals, prisons and elsewhere earn an average of $179,500, up from $111,000 in 2005.
Federal workers earning $150,000 or more make up 3.9% of the workforce, up from 0.4% in 2005.
Since 2000, federal pay and benefits have increased 3% annually above inflation compared with 0.8% for private workers, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Members of Congress earn $174,000, up from $141,300 in 2000, an increase below the rate of inflation.
Jessica Klement, government affairs director at the Federal Managers Association, says the government's official pay analysis shows that federal workers earn less than private workers for comparable jobs. Still, she says, managers are willing to give up next year's raise: "If it will help the country bounce back, they're willing to make the sacrifice."