Sunday, December 13, 2009

Paging Czar Feinberg

Call me crazy, but reading that federal workers are experiencing a boom time in salaries in conjunction with almost across the board increases in agency budgets next week makes me sick. Those that have followed this blog, or know me personally, know that I used to work for The Beast. I was a federal employee, working 9 hours a day, and getting off every other Friday as a part of an Adjustable Work Schedule (AWS). I had off on Columbus Day. If I worked overtime, I could take days off in "Comp Time." I had 14 days of vacation, which in conjunction with the federal holidays and AWS days, translated to about four weeks of vacation. As with most other federal workers, I was prepared to take a pay cut to appreciate these "benefits," but now that gap is slimming. I was at a holiday party for my law firm this past Friday where I heard a husband of one of the attorneys say that his LAW FIRM salary was matched by the Department of Transportation. When I entered the private sphere, I had a similar experience where the government told me that they were trying to be "more competitive" in their hiring. My salary wasn't matched, but as noted above, I didn't expect it to be.

I left The Beast because I could not stand working for a broken machine that was more often than not run by high school graduate office administrators. I work longer hours, for more pay. I sometimes work on days that I am supposed to have off. I no longer am able to properly observe Columbus Day. But I am proud of my work and have again aligned myself with the work ethic that helped my father build his own business and the American economy to thrive. A work ethic that is not necessarily required, or encouraged, from the public sphere.

Please don't interpret my post to say that federal workers don't work hard. There are plenty of federal workers that have 12 hour days and work weekends. Unfortunately, this is not a product of the system, but rather of the individual. When was the last time the federal government had mass layoffs? Do you know a federal worker that was fired for a "poor work ethic"? The answers are never and probably not.

My old law professor Ken Feinberg, the so-called "Pay Czar," should probably read that USA Today article about federal salaries. Maybe when he is done with the private system, he can turn to the public one. I don't believe in "too big to fail" and believe the best way to regulate Wall Street salaries would be to let them evaporate and reform. The economy is an organic being, and we've created artificial life. However, where the big firms may be vicious wild beasts that can either dominate or be dominated, the federal agencies are domesticated beasts that live off the success of their masters. And don't forget to think that the nation's largest employer with 1.8 million employees is also the largest voting block. Do you think these people are more likely to vote for a candidate promoting cuts or expansion in goverment services?


  1. Sounds like sour grapes to me.

    Isn't the salary increase the result of the recently abandoned defense department attempt at pay for performance via pay banding.

    To reference the government as The Beast seems fairly harsh and certainly nonproductive. I spent many years in the private industry before joining the government I agee the government is ineffcient in many ways, but much of that is rooted in the fact it takes its marching order from a democratic based system.

  2. "Sour grapes" is not a fair comment. I don't think I gave any indication that I thought I should have been paid more. I offered my personal experience to all of my readers as an example.

    The increase is across the board, not just DoD. NSPS is code for "pay the guy who has the least amount of sh_t attached to him" and/or pay the guy you like best. While I was there, one of my co-workers ran for office (Mayor of Arlington) and took approximately 3 weeks off work without ever reporting his time off.

    So the reason the phrase "good enough for government work" came to be was because people were waiting for the democratic process to take place? Sounds romantic.

    Listen, if you want to be mad about what I wrote, there is plenty of room, but give me a logical argument. An ad hominem "sour grapes" attack is less than what I expect from my Anonymi. I am glad I've left the government. I don't miss the free salary. If you've worked for the government, and insist on masking yourself behind the anonymity of the internet, at least give me an example of what agency you worked for. How, in any way, is referencing the largest employer in the United States as "The Beast" "non-productive"? What exactly do you think I am trying to produce?

    I honestly appreciate your comment, but you attacked my writing, which implicitly suggested you were willing to have your writing criticized as well. Let's have fun.

  3. Really good post, Tom. A whole lot of complicated issues, highlighted by the after discussion. It becomes one of those circular arguments in a lot of ways, 'the Government has to pay competitively to retain talent' but 'cost cutting and fat trimming is everywhere, why should they be different'. You also have to ask if working for the government should be considered 'public service' which warrants intrinsic value and contribution *fuzzies* over top dollar compensation, much like school teachers and other admirable career choices...really liked the article.