In the last budget proposal of Barack Obama’s presidency, he bequeathed his workforce strong words of praise, even if he couldn’t leave them much money.
The “Strengthening the Federal Workforce” section of the budget released Tuesday contains a paean to federal employees, lauding them for making administration policies a success.
“In 2015 alone, Federal employees addressed a wide range of national priorities – including modernizing the military by opening all combat positions to women, negotiating complex trade and political treaties and determining a way to rate college’s return on investment,” the budget document says. “Thanks in part to the efforts of Federal employees, the Nation’s economy and fiscal outlook continued to improve in 2015, with unemployment falling to 5 percent and annual deficits continuing a historic decline.”
Obama provides staffers with plenty of support in case they confront a less friendly administration when he’s gone. “Investing in a strong Federal workforce is integral to the competitiveness and security of the United States,” says the spending plan.
He praised them for continuing to serve their country despite “years of delayed budgets, sequestration, pay freezes and award caps.”
If federal employees could take his good words to the bank, their accounts would overflow.
Federal employees’ pay would not be frozen under Obama’s 2017 spending plan, but it also would not put much cold cash in their pockets. The budget acknowledges its 1.6 percent proposed pay raise would be “a relative decrease in civilian pay compared to the private sector of about 9 percent since 2009” because of eight consecutive years of adjustments that have not kept pace with the Employment Cost Index.
Still, even as federal workers demand a much larger increase, the National Treasury Employees Union said the “budget would begin to repair the damage caused by past spending cuts, make much-needed investments to help federal workers better serve the public and stands in sharp contrast to recent congressional leadership plans to slash the federal workforce and reduce spending on the backs of federal employees.”
Obama’s budget praises them for responding to disasters, from the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa to forest fires in the western states. He cites their protection of natural resources and historic landmarks. He notes their work in advancing research, housing and education.
“Every day,” adds the budget document, “Federal employees actively collaborate with the private and nonprofit sectors, as well as state and local governments to advance our national priorities.”
As in previous budgets, the 2017 document explains why basic federal-private sector pay comparisons are misleading, while providing ammunition to combat those who say feds are overpaid.
“Federal jobs are concentrated in higher paying professions and are based in higher cost metropolitan areas,” says the budget, under “attributes of the federal workforce.” A table comparing federal and private sector workers indicates about 56 percent of all federal employees are in the highest paid occupations, including law, medicine, engineering and science. Those professions account for less than 36 percent of private sector occupations.
There is a lower percentage of medium paid occupations in the federal government than the private sector, 40 percent to 52 percent. That includes mechanics, truck drivers and administrative assistants. The federal sector also has a much lower concentration of lower paid occupations, such as janitors, by 4.2 percent to 12.3 percent.
Similarly, federal employees tend to be better educated: “Even in large firms, the percentage of highly educated workers is less than half that of the Federal sector and the rate of growth over the last decade is only about half as fast.”
Demographics also play a role in the higher pay for feds.
“They are more experienced, older, and live in higher cost metropolitan areas,” says the budget. The average age of a federal employee is 45.4, compared to 42.1 in the private sector.
At the top of the budget document, former president Ronald Reagan, often associated with small government advocates who take out their ire on federal employees, is quoted in an unexpected way. He talked about how “their commitment to excellence” and their skills “contribute significantly to the leadership of the United States in the world.”
Obama agrees with Reagan, who said feds are “a valuable national resource.”