Readers speak out on pay, morale, contractors and health insurance

Joe Davidson
Columnist November 26, 2012

The Federal Diary gets lots of reader reaction via e-mail, snail mail and online posts generally signed with nicknames. Some of it is fit to print. Occasionally, we give readers a chance to speak out by publishing their remarks, edited for clarity and length.

Columns on federal pay always draw energetic replies. Here are three:

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. View Archive

Andy H.:

Look, let’s be real here. There is no pay gap for federal workers. The Federal Salary Council number of 35 percent is ridiculous. It’s basic economics: Under the laws of supply and demand, if most federal workers could increase their compensation by 35 percent by moving to the private sector, there’d be a mass exodus of civil servants. Yet that does not happen. I wonder why?

The fact of the matter is this: Most civil servants stay in the employ of the federal government in part because of its highly competitive wages and benefits relative to the expected workload. The salary gap is a myth. Take it from someone who has been on both sides of the fence.

JGalt2:

Okay. I’ve lost my sense of humor on this. Suddenly they’re talking Simpson-Bowles (deficit reduction plan) after years of pay freezes? Last time I checked, the median private-sector salary for my education and experience was about 20 percent more than I make. Bump that up to 30 percent by the end of a five-year freeze [which was approved by the House], and more than that if it’s extended.

I hadn’t heard of the health-care “voucher” system, particularly the part about not being indexed to health-care costs. Health care is the only reason I’ve been sticking it out this long. If they want mid-career feds to leave, this approach will be very effective.

bsallamack:

If there are going to be savings in government then it is time to get rid of the contractors and again hire government workers. Contracting out may work in private businesses, but it does not work in government. The work in government is permanent, while this is not the case with a private business.

Reality is that government was weakened from 2000 to 2009 with contracting out. This may have been good for the private businesses that did the contracting, but it was not good for government.

During the financial crisis of 2008, the fact that the Treasury Department needed to hire contractors to handle the bank bailout showed an important government agency that was so understaffed that it could not handle this task.

Government is too important and too complex to be run by fly-by-night contractors.

In a column last week, Walton Francis, an expert on the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, advised federal employees to spend a half-hour reviewing their health-care situations before deciding on a health insurance plan.

Ethicsjack posted this response:

It sounds good to sit down and determine the best health plan for your family, but no one, in a half-hour, can decipher all the plans and their ins and outs. You would need a couple of days, a large spreadsheet and a medical person available to help you understand terms. For example, a simple issue: In the Blue Cross plan this year, what is a preferred brand-name drug vs. a non-preferred brand-name drug, as opposed to a generic drug? That is why most of us stick with our same plan.

Another column last week looked at two reports, one on personnel problems at the Food and Drug Administration and morale problems at the Department of Homeland Security.

cdierd1944:

It is interesting that the FDA now has its human resources function back with the agency. Everyone pushed to consolidate administrative functions within agencies as a cost-saving idea without regard to frequent warnings about the impact of that decision on effectiveness.

As to morale at [the Transportation Security Administration], the job of security screeners must be one of the most boring jobs in the history of government employment. Add to that the fact that the public being served is hostile to the idea of being screened, and frequent media stories of the tragedy of making people be screened, and it is easy to see why morale would be low.

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.

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