Tens of thousands of federal employees make more than governor in state where they work
Federal employees are back on the job after the government shutdown — and many are doing pretty well for themselves, according to a new report that shows nearly 92,000 of them make salaries that match or exceed the governors of the states where they work.
Some are in traditional high-pay occupations such as doctors. But the total also includes 18 painters, 22 welders and 25 pipefitters.
More than 1,000 clerical workers in Alabama make at least $120,000, or about the same salary as Gov. Kay Ivey. In Ohio, 333 Ohio “transportation” workers, most of them air traffic controllers, make in the ballpark of Gov. Mike DeWine’s nearly $149,000 salary.
And in Maryland, 3,561 federal workers made as much or more than Gov. Larry Hogan’s $170,000 salary. Most of them were doctors, dentists or public health workers, which is perhaps not surprising given that the National Institutes of Health is in Bethesda.
But that doesn’t account for the 359 clerical employees, 66 accountants, 57 information-technology workers and 100 vocational trainers or school instructors who also cleared $170,000 or more a year, according to the Congressional Research Service, which compiled the data for lawmakers.
The more than 91,000 workers nationwide who make as much or more than their governors is up 18 percent from the last time the CRS did a similar report, a decade ago.
“When public affairs staffers in Alabama are out-earning their governor, it’s time for Congress to hold hearings regarding the proper pay levels for federal employees,” said Adam Andrzejewski, CEO and founder of OpenTheBooks.com, a watchdog group. “How can nearly 11,000 general administrators, clerks and office service staffers make as much as a governor?”
The Congressional Research Service used federal salary data from 2018 and governors’ salaries from late 2017 to make the comparisons.
The CRS used rough categories of salaries to make its calculations. In California, whose governor had the highest salary at $195,803, white-collar federal employees making $190,000 or more were counted. The service found 502 employees: 177 medical workers, 114 people in law and 211 accountants, auditors or finance workers.
Maine’s governor had the lowest salary at $70,000. The state had 3,774 white-collar employees making that much or more. About 17 percent were in medicine and 32 percent were engineers. But 192 were IT workers, 30 were in supplies, and 84 were quality assurance or agricultural product grade workers.
Colorado, where the governor makes $90,000, had more white-collar employees exceed the governor than any other state, with 14,879. Of those, about 1,800 were in medicine, but a staggering 2,708 were administrative or clerical workers and 1,247 were procurement, grant or contract managers or otherwise involved in what the government calls “business and industry.”
Another 134 Colorado employees were in “information and arts” — which, according to federal payroll classifications, most likely means they work in public affairs, acting as spokespeople of some sort.
Blue-collar workers, while less common, also made the high-pay lists. Dozens of riggers, pipefitters, painters, welders and electricians topped their governors’ salaries. The report did not break those down by state.
In 2011, the last time the research service looked at the data, it also found chaplains, a prison guard and even one interior designer who earned more than their governors.
The latest report does not give that level of detail on the spending categories.
“It’s time for Congress and the administration to seriously consider downsizing the federal workforce,” said former Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, who had requested the original report.
He said extra spending to keep people in jobs means more pain in the long run.
“Setting priorities and making smart cuts to lower-priority positions, particularly during a shutdown or crisis, is far more compassionate and responsible than collectively punishing not only all federal employees, but the country and generations that follow,” he said.
The Office of Personnel Management, the federal government’s human resources division, didn’t respond to a request seeking comment on the numbers.
Neither did the American Federation of Government Employees, a major labor union for federal workers.
CRS’s report only dealt with salaries and didn’t include bonuses.
OpenTheBooks has done its own research on federal salaries and found more than 400,000 federal workers made at least $100,000 a year when all cash compensation was included.
While the watchdogs said the report should spur cuts, Congress appears to be moving in the other direction.
The House voted last week to approve a 2.6 percent across-the-board civilian pay raise, with backers saying federal employees have suffered by working for the government.
“Our federal civil servants are like any other workforce,” said Rep. Gerald Connolly, a Virginia Democrat who helped lead the push for the raise. “More than 900,000 of those federal employees earn less than $60,000 a year. They are not rich. They are not living high on the hog. They deserve and need this adjustment, especially after the longest, most reckless shutdown of the government in American history.”
Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, countered that federal employees with a college degree make 21 percent more than comparable private-sector employees. Those without a college degree make 53 percent more in government than in the private sector.
“Think about what this bill says,” Mr. Jordan told colleagues. “All of those hard-working taxpayers in the private sector, hey, you are already making less, but now you are going to have more of your tax dollars go to pay people — who are already making more money than you — to get a raise. How is that fair?”
Mr. Connolly won the argument, with the House voting 259-161 to approve the raises. Twenty-nine Republicans joined all Democrats present in backing the move.
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