A new Internet site provides ready access to information about salaries for individual federal employees, allowing users to peer at some rather personal data that the law requires to be publicly available.
Treasury inspector general Russell George, who issued a scathing report this year on inappropriate behavior by the Internal Revenue Service, earns $170,000 per year. And U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder takes home about $200,000 annually from the government.
But what about the lower-level employees: The editors who help the Bureau of Labor Statistics produce clean reports, the guy who approved your patent, or your friend the medical-records technician who works for the Department of Veterans Affairs? That information is available too, but we see no need to list names and salary figures for the rank-and-file — at least not for the purposes of this blog item.
Publishing the salaries of federal workers may seem intrusive, but it gives taxpayers a sense of where and how their money is being spent. It can also be useful for anyone considering work with the federal government or comparing public-sector salaries with pay in the private sphere.
Privacy advocates have raised few concerns about government salary sites. Dave Maass, a spokesman for the privacy advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation, said they serve an important accountability function.
“I don’t think a journalist is going to be interested in what a secretary is making in Montana, but they are going to be interested in what the head of a department earns,” Maass said. “I can understand why some public employees might grumble about it, but there’s an issue of transparency that overrides privacy when you work for the government.”
Open-government advocates see mostly benefits to posting public information in easily searchable formats.
“Transparency is not only about making records available, but also about getting rid of the hurdles and hoops that the public must jump through to obtain records and data,” said Project On Government Oversight spokesman Joe Newman. “Obviously, we believe the privacy rights of federal employees are important, but those who go into public service are aware that these kinds of details are in the public domain.”
Other sites, including FedSmith.com, the Gannett Company’s DataUniverse and the government’s own FedScope.OPM.gov, have created similar databases, but GovernmentSalaryData.com comes with a few unique features, such the interactive Google map.
The new web tool was created by a for-profit organization that goes by the name of site itself. Jason Haxton, one of the company’s representatives, said the team’s goal is “providing ‘transparency and insight’ into the various agencies of the federal government.” He added that the group is looking to partner with the media and investigative organizations to advance its mission.
To connect with Josh Hicks, follow his Twitter feed, friend his Facebook page or e-mail email@example.com. For more federal news, visit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with news tips and other suggestions.