November 11, 2010 -- Some just-elected Republicans are going after federal employees, or at least their wages.
Among them is GOP Sen.-Elect Rand Paul, who wants to reduce federal wages by 10 percent. And his views happen to be in line with those of the Federal Debt Commission, which said Wednesday that the federal workforce should be cut by 10 percent and federal government salaries frozen across the board.
Paul made his case on ABC's "This Week," arguing that such drastic measures would be justified because, by his calculations, the average government employee earns a six-figure salary.
"The average federal employee makes $120,000 a year," Paul of Kentucky said. "The average private employee makes $60,000 a year. Let's get them more in line, and let's find savings. Let's hire no new federal workers."
But the average government employee earns nowhere near $120,000 per year.
"The median salary is $65,000," said Jennifer Dorsey of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
Meanwhile, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, full-time federal employees earned, on average, $73,765 in 2009; federal civil servants earned $81,258.
"If you look at federal employment, civilian employment, a large faction of those are postal workers, who clearly aren't making $120,000 a year," said Al Lee, director of analysis at PayScale.com, a compensation data company. "If you take those out, over half the remaining work in the Department of Defense as civilian employees, and even with those ... you can't get the $120,000."
Federal employees earn a median salary of $61,574, according to PayScale.com.
Indeed, several workers in Washington, D.C., said they believe federal employees are underpaid.
"I do know people in the federal government, and they've indicated over the years in their office [there have been] layoffs, so they end up doing more work than one person's work, but paid the same amount," resident George Katz said. "I really think it's unfair to pick on federal workers."
Federal Government Employees Earn Less Than Private Sector Peers
"It probably looks like they don't do a lot, but I think some of them do have a lot of responsibility," Peggy Hall said, visiting the capital from Blackstone, Va.
Local resident Peter Kurdock said, "They're probably underpaid, also because of the amount of abuse they get from a lot of public officials. People seem to want to pick on federal employees now because of the economic crisis that we're in right now."
But there appears to be growing sentiment among many Americans that federal government employees are overpaid and over compensated. One reason may be that some Americans, and possibly Paul with his $120,000 per year figure, fail to consider related factors such as education, experience or hours of work.
"You have to consider differences in experience and education," said Jeffrey H. Keefe, a professor with Rutgers University's School of Management and Labor Relations. "My suspicion is the federal government is really weighted heavily towards professional [jobs]."
Indeed, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the mix of jobs held by federal government civilian employees is different from the jobs held by the entire private sector. The private sector mix includes everything from minimum-wage jobs to highly paid CEOs.
Studies conducted by the Congressional Budget Office found that jobs in the federal government are concentrated in professional, administrative and technical occupations. Moreover, the federal government outsources most of its lower-skilled jobs, such as janitors and other positions that require less than a high school education.
Comparing all federal wages with all private wages is an apples-to-oranges comparison because the basket of federal wages mostly does not include many low-pay or minimum-wage jobs.
The debt commission's cost-cutting plans for government salaries would put federal employees at a disadvantage. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics released late month showed private sector wages increased by 2 percent in the past year.
At the moment, a slightly lower pay raise of 1.4 percent in 2011 is on the table for federal employees. But if incoming Republicans have their way, that number may be pushed to zero in the new session.
None of that has prevented Paul from floating an average salary -- $120,000 -- that is so clearly off base.
Hall, the Virginia visitor, had a theory.
"Maybe he didn't know what he was talking about."