Whatever Happened to “Public Servants?”

February 21, 2013

Remember when government employees were called “public servants?”  When used at all, that expression today is used sarcastically to emphasize that the public is not being served by its government employees.

Those of us who work in the private sector have become the “public servants.”  Instead of government employees serving us for the good of our country, we’re serving the government.

That statement is unfair to those government employees who really do work hard, including members of our military who risk their lives to defend our country, police, firefighters and those teachers who actually make their best effort to educate our children.

Taken as a whole, though, we’re getting a poor return on our investment in government employees.

It used to be that government employees were paid less than private sector employees, but, in exchange, they had job security (those in non-political positions, anyway) and generous benefits.

More Pay, Less Work

Today, the average government employee is paid significantly more than the average private sector employee – and still has more generous benefits and job security.

At a time when most of us are uncertain whether we will be able to retire at 65, since our retirement plans still haven’t recovered from the hit they took in 2008, many government employees are able to retire at 55 with a full pension.

Some retire from one public career, start another and retire with two pensions.  Where do I sign up for a gig like that?

There have been plenty of studies comparing pay for public and private sector employees, and the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, and the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) all found that public employees are better paid than private employees.  Funny, but the government employees at the Congressional Budget Office studied the issue, too, and their study is less certain that public employees are paid more.

The American Enterprise Institute concluded that, “Compared to similar private sector workers, we estimate that federal workers receive a salary premium of 14 percent, a benefits premium of 63 percent, and extra job security worth 17 percent of pay. Together, these generate an overall federal compensation premium of approximately 61 percent. Reducing federal employee compensation to market levels could save taxpayers roughly $77 billion per year.”

The Cato Institute, meanwhile, found that “the average civilian federal government worker collected just under $84,000 a year in taxpayer money, about $32,000 more than the average private sector worker” is paid.  That also comes out to a 61% differential.

There are plenty of other perks to being a government employee.  If you’re President, for example, you can just charge the cost of your vacation to taxpayers.  His latest Hawaiian homecoming, for example, cost taxpayers $7 million, while the four vacations he’s had in Hawaii to date have cost more than $20 million.

He couldn’t just find relations to stay with?

And if you’re an aide to the President, you apparent don’t have to pay taxes, as a recent IRS report found that 36 of President Obama’s aides owed $833,000 in back taxes.

Of course, members of Congress get to see the world regularly by making “fact finding” missions.  When serving as Speaker of the House, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi spent more than $100,000 on “in-flight services” (i.e., mostly food and Liquor) over a two-year period.  And, for her frequent flights between California and Washington, D.C., she insisted on a larger, more luxurious airplane that her predecessor used.

These are just a few examples, but should be enough for readers to draw conclusions about who is serving whom.

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