Politics & Policy

Time for a Hiring Freeze

Republicans try to bring the federal government in line with the private sector.

While millions of Americans struggle to find work, the federal civilian workforce has prospered. Federal employees’ salaries and benefits have spiked over the past decade. In fact, their compensation advantage over workers in the private sector has grown since 2000 from about $24,000 to almost $51,000.

Not even the recession has slowed this trend. Unemployment remains dangerously high, and the number of poor is at its highest level since 1959. But as the private sector has lost 7.7 million jobs since December 2007, the federal government has added 212,100 jobs.

Unlike the private sector, the federal government is largely unaffected by competition or market forces. One might think that therefore, the government would use the private sector as a benchmark when it decided how much to pay its employees. Yet in 2009, federal employees’ average pay and benefits totaled $111,725, while private-sector employees earned an average of $61,051. Even when one looks at workers in comparable occupations, the federal government pays an average of 20 percent more than the private sector.

And the federal workforce continues to pad its pockets with taxpayer dollars. President Obama asked for a 1.4 percent pay increase for the federal workforce (with the exception of political appointees) in 2011. If the federal government froze salaries at the 2010 level, it would save American taxpayers $2.2 billion next year alone.

Are the spiking salaries due to excellent performance? According to the federal government, yes. Shockingly, of the 2.1 million federal workers, only 177 received unsatisfactory ratings on their 2009 evaluations. Of those employees, 150 still received an automatic pay raise.

Most federal workers are dedicated and competent public servants, and they must be frustrated that their workplace policies bestow raises and other rewards on even their poorly performing coworkers. The private sector incentivizes worker productivity and job performance with regular employee reviews, pay raises, promotions, and added job security. Once employed by the federal government, however, a worker is on a one-way upward track regardless of job performance.

That’s why House Republicans have proposed a net-hiring freeze on non-security federal employees. The “Pledge to America,” released last month by Republican leader John Boehner, lays out numerous policy goals that promise to keep the federal workforce from growing and put America back on track for private-sector job creation.

The government exists to serve the American people, but Americans are now forced to pay for a bloated, inefficient federal workforce that is too often rewarded with pay raises and job security for unacceptable job performance. A system that rewards good work, punishes poor performance, and keeps employee pay and benefits in sync with the private sector is an important first step to returning the country to fiscal discipline and restoring the confidence of the American people in their government.

– Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) is the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.


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