Are federal government employees overpaid in comparison to their private industry counterparts? A recent Wall Street Journal says the answer to that question is “yes,” and that federal workers get a significant premium in pay and benefits — as well as the job security that comes from working for an entity that doesn’t lay people off due to foreign competition or falling sales. Federal officials have argued that the pay discrepancy is due to federal workers having more education and experience, but those differences don’t account for the full amount of the difference.
Anyone who has ever worked for the federal government knows precisely why working for the government can be an attractive option. I worked for the federal government on two occasions — as a congressional staffer in the early ’80s and as a judicial clerk in 1985-86 — and each time I received competitive pay, extraordinary benefits, and incredibly flexible working hours. In particular, the federal employees health plan was notably better than private plans. You didn’t pay anything, and it covered everything — even dental and glasses!
I’m not saying we should be cheapskates with our federal employees, but I don’t think we need to pay them over market, either. Our economy would be much better off if the “best and brightest” eschewed government service, took some risks, formed their own companies, or assisted existing American companies in becoming more competitive, developing new products and services, and creating new jobs.