Federal Workers Paid More Than Governors

Upwards of 77,000 federal employees make more than the governors of the states in which they live, the Congressional Research Service reports.

Upwards of 77,000 federal employees make more than the governors of the states in which they live, the Congressional Research Service reports.

Washington Times (“77,000 federal workers paid more than governors“):

More than 77,000 federal government employees throughout the country — including computer operators, more than 5,000 air traffic controllers, 22 librarians and one interior designer — earned more than the governors of the states in which they work.

The findings, from a Congressional Research Service report requested by Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, were released at a time when public workers’ salaries and benefits are under scrutiny across the country as governments try to streamline.

CRS reviewed 2009 salary figures, the most recent available, and found 77,057 employees who earned more in annual pay than their respective governors. Of those workers, 18,351 were doctors — the highest percentage. The second-highest total was for 5,170 air traffic controllers — likely both front-line controllers and their supervisors.

In Maryland, 7,283 federal employees — about 7 percent of all full-time federal employees in the state — earned more than Gov. Martin O’Malley’s $150,000 salary. Maryland was topped by Colorado, which in 2009 had 10,875 employees who made more than the $90,000 salary of the governor, Bill Ritter.

“Across America, governors are being asked to do more with less, often at lower pay than federal employees in their states. The pay gap between governors and federal employees should prompt Congress to take a closer look at federal salaries,” Mr. Coburn said. “With our debt and deficits spiraling out of control, now is the time to ask agencies — not just governors — to do more with less.”

The CRS report itself, alas, is not available online, making it hard to analyze. Obvious questions to ask: How much does each state pay its governor? What kinds of employees are making more than the governor? Are we comparing apples to apples or is salary a bigger component of one group’s total compensation package than the other?

Left only with a report from a newspaper with a known agenda, it’s hard to get too excited about this. On the one hand, it seems outrageous on its face that air traffic controllers and librarians–let alone an interior designer–would make more than a state governor. On the other hand, governor is not a career position; it’s typically held for a short time by someone who’s already a millionaire and will go back to raking in big money once their term ends.

Beyond that, in most if not all states, there are many state employees who make more than the governor.  Athletic coaches, physicians, attorneys, college presidents–and sometimes even college professors!–have been known to make more. Hell, Connecticut has 24 retired state employees making more–in some cases, much more–than the governor. And 1126 current state employees make more than the governor’s $150,000 salary. These stories are common and make for interesting discussion. I’m just not sure that the comparison is meaningful.

Rick Moran disagrees:

What the hell happened? It is mind boggling that we have now reached this point where it is so lucrative to work for the government. It used to be considered “public service.” Now it’s “Public Reaming” as unelected bureaucrats hold sway over huge swaths of our economy and our daily lives.

I don’t buy the argument that we have to pay exorbitant salaries to attract and retain good help. There is a higher calling that should be at work. No one should get rich at the taxpayer’s expense – not politicians, and certainly not bureaucrats.

This conflates a lot of issues.

First, the fact that bureaucrats have too much power really has nothing to do with this discussion. Take that up with the elected officials who’ve abrogated that power to them.

Second, I agree that there’s something to be said for low salaries for elected officials, who are indeed supposed to be in the business of public service. Especially since they’re the ones setting the salaries. But those arguments don’t apply to rank-and-file workers who are going to do the job for decades; it’s unreasonable to expect them to work for peanuts simply because the taxpayer is footing the bill.

Third, while Ritter’s $90,000 salary is hardly minimum wages, it’s not “getting rich” money, either. I’m actually shocked that Colorado has only 1100-odd state employees making more than that.

Indeed, I suspect–and, again, I don’t have the report available to me–that states which pay governors relatively low salaries account for the lion’s share of the 77,000  figure that’s being sensationalized.

FILED UNDER: Congress, US Politics,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. wr says:

    I agree with Moran. Air traffic controllers are a bunch of greedy pigs slopping down our taxes. Since all they’re doing is babysitting airplanes, let’s pay them like the babysitters they are — eight bucks an hour. If they don’t like it, we’ll get people who will do the job for what we want to pay them. And then we’ll get what we deserve!




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  2. CB says:

    wholeheartedly agreed. the difference between a termed politician serving for a finite number of years and a public worker making a living kind of negates any outrage i feel. besides, as mentioned, not many politicians are in it for the money. at least the salaried money anyway..




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  3. James Joyner says:

    @wr:

    According to BLS,

    Air traffic controllers earn relatively high pay and have good benefits. Median annual wages of air traffic controllers in May 2008 were $111,870. The middle 50 percent earned between $71,050 and $143,780. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $45,020, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $161,010. The average annual salary, excluding overtime earnings, for air traffic controllers in the Federal Government—which employs 90 percent of all controllers—was $109,218 in March 2009.

    That’s a hell of a range. $45,020 is a pretty decent starting wage given relatively low barriers to entry (a college degree or equivalent experience). The $161,010 figure seems extraordinarily high, even given the enormous pressures of the job, for someone doing something that someone else is getting a quarter that to do. Presumably, though, these people are senior management.

    But, yes, I agree with your overall point that we need to pay what it takes to hire and retain people who are up to this very demanding job vital to the public safety.

    (Although we do need to figure out the falling asleep on the job issue.)




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  4. DC Loser says:

    I bet a lot of the air traffic control pay is mandatory overtime because they’re so short staffed.




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  5. James Joyner says:

    @DC Loser You’re almost certainly right. I gather that this is often the case with police officers–junior cops make more money than their supervisors because they get beaucoup overtime while their bosses are exempt.




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  6. jwest says:

    Let the federal, state and local governments pay employees whatever they want.

    However, every year or two, have a third party find out what a private company would charge to perform the same function. If the government employees are cheaper, stay with them. If not, outsource.

    The free market is an amazing thing.




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  7. wr says:

    Pardon me, jwest, if I don’t take ideas on treatment of workers from a man who endorses slavery.




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  8. James Joyner says:

    @jwest:

    The federal government, and especially the Defense Department, has been outsourcing large chunks of its work to private contractors for twenty years or more–with mixed results.

    It probably makes sense for tasks that are either perishable or rote. It doesn’t make sense to hire permanent employees for jobs that are going to be around only a short time or in cases, like computer programming, where skills quickly become obsolete. Similarly, short order cooks, janitors, and the like can be hired cheaper on the outside and there’s no tangible benefit to the taxpayer on making them tenured employees.

    But for most government jobs, you really want institutional memory and workers who care about the job and treat it as a professional responsibility. You don’t get that with one-year contracts.




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  9. mattb says:

    But for most government jobs, you really want institutional memory and workers who care about the job and treat it as a professional responsibility. You don’t get that with one-year contracts.

    The other problem with outsourcing — as its been institutionalized in many local governments — is that the contract always goes to the lowest bidder. I can tell you lots of stories about the results of that — especially when it comes to construction in lower income school districts.

    Ironically, btw, Walmart has had much the same problems with the contract ebay it put up a while ago (I’m not sure if they are still using it). There is a lot of truth to the adage: you get what you pay for.




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  10. mattb says:

    @James,

    On the “sleeping on the job” thing — banning double shifts would go a long way to that (something that, as I understand, only became standard practice after the union was broken).

    I still would love someone to explain (other than as a BS rite of passage) why anyone would think that subjecting hospital workers and air-traffic controllers to double shifts would be a particularly smart idea. The last thing I want is to be guided in (or examined) by someone whose on hour 20 of a double block.




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  11. Steven Donegal says:

    Senators and Representatives make more than most governors. Let’s start the cutting there.




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  12. PJ says:

    I think Ken Niumatalolo is the federal worker with the highest salary, he’s making $1.1 million.
    Troy Calhoun is making $800K.
    Rich Ellerson $420K.
    …and the president is making $400K.




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  13. Tlaloc says:

    I like this comparison: the president of the US, commander in chief of the most powerful military in the world, given sole power to deploy our potentially world destroying arsenal of nuclear weapons is paid $400,000 a year for the job (plus some admittedly very decent benefits).

    The average CEO in the US makes ~10 million a year in compensation.

    Nuclear football vs average powerpoint warrior. 25x difference.

    If that doesn’t tell you something is wrong with executive compensation I really don’t know what would.




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  14. James Joyner says:

    @Tlaloc: I don’t think the average CEO makes anything like $10 mil a year. Still, a for profit business is just a different thing than president. Anyone who’s running for the latter would gladly do it for free, after all.

    For that matter, Lada Gaga makes more than the average CEO. So does Will Ferrell. Or Tom Brady. That’s just the market.




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  15. steve says:

    1) Governors make their real money after they leave office. I suspect we would still have plenty of candidates if the pay was zero.

    2) Markets are amazing things. Hence, you need to pay physicians, attorneys and other professionals close to what they would make outside of government. This results in many of those making more than a governor earns.

    3) This is a recurring stupid meme. Faux outrage.

    Steve




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  16. Liberty60 says:

    I think its funny how when Obama stated that $250K a year per person was “rich”, and eligible for a tax hike, the Right screamed that $250K was “middle class”;

    Now when a public employee makes $150K, suddenly they are greedy pigs, raking in obscene wealth.




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  17. I’m a contractor, so I’ll count myself as a “semi-government worker”, and I make nearly as much as Governor Ritter.

    But then again, I’m an engineer with almost 20 years of experience. It’d be hard to find someone with my qualifications who isn’t.




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  18. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Hell, that’s nothing.

    Here in California we’ve got prison guards making $150,000 per year plus full, lifetime benefits. CHP officers (glorified meter maids) draw similar salaries and benefits. The common denominator: starts with a “u,” ends with an “n,” and we’re not talking about the proverbial unicorn. Not too coincidentally the Golden State is insolvent and heading towards bankruptcy (literally).

    The Central Valley meanwhile is being turned into a live action reproduction of the Grapes of Wrath. So, ergo, while unionized and politically-active prison guards on the public dime are raking in more dead presidents than many doctors, lawyers, engineers and architects, there are counties in the middle of the state with 30+ percent unemployment rates and people actually going hungry and thirsty.

    It ain’t utopia, that’s for sure. And eventually public money stops growing on palm trees.




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  19. BTW…

    PLEASE kill that ad of the baby going DAH DAH DAH DAH DAH DAH DAH DAH DAH DAH over and over again.




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  20. ponce says:

    Similarly, short order cooks, janitors, and the like can be hired cheaper on the outside and there’s no tangible benefit to the taxpayer on making them tenured employees.

    Except that they can be ordered to pick up a weapon and defend their country in a pinch.




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  21. ponce says:

    Now when a public employee makes $150K, suddenly they are greedy pigs, raking in obscene wealth.

    Please don’t point out the shrill hypocrisy of the Republicans, Lib.




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  22. george says:

    However, every year or two, have a third party find out what a private company would charge to perform the same function. If the government employees are cheaper, stay with them. If not, outsource.

    Starting with the police, fire, and military, right? Because I suspect you could find private companies who’d love to take over those functions … controlling the military would be an especially big profit maker.




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  23. Nikki says:

    California is in the red because its Republican legislature won’t allow taxes to be raised without a super majority. Don’t blame the union for the mistakes made by the bozos the people keep electing.




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  24. Rock says:

    is that the contract always goes to the lowest bidder.

    That’s one of Murphy’s Laws of Combat: Never forget that your weapons and equipment was purchased from the lowest bidder.




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  25. SJ Reidhead says:

    It is quit fascinating to me that we never heard too much complaining about what people earned until the libertarians and tea party “patriots” took over and decided people were paid too much. It makes me rather suspicious. It reeks of class warfare.

    I don’t like to see tax dollars being wasted. I think we are talking about 77,000 people out of nearly 308 million people. That is less than half of one percent of the population.

    If you look at certain professions and educational backgrounds, people make an “average” of so much. Of the list of these 77,000 evil individuals who are sucking the life out of us, 18,000 or so are physicians.

    I find the war on air traffic controllers rather fascinating. Evidently someone wants to break up their union, and put them in their place rather like they are asking for it or something.

    These men and women literally save more lives each and every day than every physician in nurse and health care worker in this nation – combined. To me it is rather petty to be so insanely determined for them to earn less.

    You want them to be the same group of people as the TSA who are very poorly paid?

    SJR
    The Pink Flamingo




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  26. jd says:

    If I knew my salary was going to be limited to that of a politician, I wouldn’t bother learning any skills, either.




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  27. george says:

    If I knew my salary was going to be limited to that of a politician, I wouldn’t bother learning any skills, either.

    Interesting point. It’d be interesting to see the results if air traffic controllers were only expected to make the right call as often as governors do …




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  28. Herb says:

    “I’m actually shocked that Colorado has only 1100-odd state employees making more than that.”

    Well……..it’s more like 11 thousand and they’re actually federal employees, not state employees. We have a lot of federal infrastructure out here, the Federal Center, the prisons, the Air Force Academy, etc.

    But for most government jobs, you really want institutional memory and workers who care about the job and treat it as a professional responsibility.

    Absolutely right. The people making these salaries aren’t the ones they’ve locked in a room with no phone.




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  29. stuhlmann says:

    Perhaps we should follow the model of some other countries that pay their public employees very little, but then allow them to exercise some entrepreneurial spirit and extract bribes as a normal part of performing their jobs. This model works very well in the Middle East and Africa.




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  30. DC Loser says:

    @Stuhlmann – I think that model is already being used in Congress.




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