Not a lot of good news under the tree this Christmas for the 2.9 million taxpayers who work for the government they help support.
By most private industry standards government pay, fringe benefits and, of course tenure, are good to excellent. It is true that federal unemployment is microspic compared with rates in other industries, but this has been a rough year for the feds. And 1979 promises much the same, or worse. Examples:
JOB MARKET: In two words, it stinks. Federal agencies are under a tough job freeze. Except in rare cases, managers may only fill one job for every two vancanies that come up. How long the freeze will last is unknown.This is a tough time to be trying to enter government.
PAY: The President 'capped" white collar pay at 5.5 percent this october, even though an 8.4 percent "catchup with industry" raise was due. Congress did the same thing to blue collar federal workers. No reason to doubt 1979 will be any different. Viewed from a Washington, D.C. perspective, federal pay limits are bad. But from the real world, beyond the beltway, federal pay freezes are worth their weight in political gold.
PUBLIC OPINION: It would be incorrect, probably, to say the image of the government employe is at an alltime low, but it is hard to remember when things were worse. Neil Armstrong, a career bureaucrat, may have been the first man on the moon. But the typical civil servant today is not looked upon kindly by the public.
The carter administration played a large hand in developing this sad image. The President ran on an antibureaucrat, anti-Washington platform-as do most challengers. In selling his civil service reform plan to Congres and the public, administration officials laid it on a bit thick at times. They painted a picture of a bureaucracy both slothful and scheming, friendishly clever and at the same time stupidly indifferent. They made things seem a lot worse than they really are. Reform is now law, but the bad taste the sales pitch put in the public mouth will last a long, long time.
FUTURE PAY RAISES: The White House plans to trade on public suspicion and hostility toward the current federal pay system. It is the only salary-setting system in the nation that permits the potential beneficiaries to run the survey aimed at determining how much they should get. In just a few years-even with pay freezes-the "comparability-with-industry: principle has put the average federal worker well above the average industry salary.
Using public and congressiuonal hostility toward white collar federal workers and their $21,000 average salary, the White House will push for "reform" of the pay-fixing system. That would include linking more than 500,000 clerical, technical and administrative federal workers directly to the going rate for the same job in local private industry.
CONTRACTING OUT: Watch for the Carter administration to depart from the traditional Democratic party theory that government should have a strong in-house capability to perform key defense and service jobs.It will authorise more contracting out in 1979. That won't make much of a dent on the size of the federal civilian work force, at least at first. But it will help prime the economic pump, and also make it appear that government is performing more and spending less, since the federal civilian payroll will remain stable or actually drop. The big dollar and people surge will come on the contracting side.
PENSIONS: Congress and the White House appear committed to some sort of merger of the Civil Service Retirement System and Social Security. It is easier said than done, but on paper at least it looks good and certainly is politically popular (with people who don't work for the government.)
If the pension merger takes place-and it is one to two years off at any rate-sour grapes will be one of the prime motivators. Misery loves company and the fact is that most private industry wokers with pension plans (if any) and Social Security get farless than federal workers.
Instead of tearing down the pension house bureaucrats have built (and helped pay for) themselves, one way might be to help improve the pension system for nonfederal workers.
Instead of knocking the feds and their "benefit" all the time, maybe those of us in the private sector ought to demand-of employers, unions and the government-that we get pension comparability with government.
VACATION: I'll be off until after the new year holiday. Merry Christmas!