Smart Business: America's Mandarins
The cause of this flickering good fortune gives less reason to smile. It’s because those barely acknowledged holidays seem to exist mainly so most public employees can take the day off. They’re about the only workers who get those days off. Yet, there are so many of them, they make a noticeable difference in traffic flow.
Federal, state and local government workforces now total some 21.9 million civilian employees. That’s about one out of six working people in the U.S.
They are better compensated than the private sector workforce – by a whopping amount. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2005, U.S. private sector workers averaged $24.34 hourly compensation in wages and benefits, compared with $36.16 for state and local government employees and $44.82 for Uncle Sam’s privileged elite. (The federal figures exclude postal workers and the military.)
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that the average federal civilian worker earns more than $106,000 a year in total compensation-double the $53,000-plus in wages and benefits averaged by private workers. Pay increases have been rising much faster for government employees than for private-sector workers.
GOVERNMENT PAYHistorically, government pay used to be lower than the private sector’s. Government jobs still were highly coveted because lower pay was seen as a trade-off in return for superior benefits and perks, especially job security. Now they have it all-extravagant pay, benefits and perks. Public employees enjoy terrific health coverage and defined benefit pensions-many of which are severely under-funded and adding up to a massive burden on our children and grandchildren. Government workers get more paid vacation days, sick days, personal days and holidays than the typical private employee.
And job security, oh my! A public employee has to “go postal” by murdering bosses and co-workers before there’s a clear-cut case for termination. Public supervisors all share a dirty little secret-it’s easier to tolerate unproductive or disruptive employees rather than undertake the Herculean procedures required to get rid of them.
Most government employees get to retire at a far earlier age than private workers and with larger nest eggs-often padded by huge lump sum payouts for unused time off accumulated over years. Unused, because they get so much of it.
Not coincidentally, government is the only industry in which unions are growing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 36.5 percent of government workers were unionized in 2005, compared with a measly 7.8 percent of the private sector workforce.
I know, government employees include police, firefighters, teachers and other public servants who are indispensable to a civilized society. People who put their lives on the line for us or educate our children deserve to be well compensated. As the proud dad of a schoolteacher, I don’t begrudge my daughter a single cent of her rather modest pay, nor her days off on pseudo-holidays. Not when I see her spending weekends decorating her classroom and so many evenings meeting with parents.
Even if you don’t have any in your family, it’s not the cops, firefighters and teachers whose compensation would strike most of us as excessive. Few of them work for the federal government, whose employees are feeding heartiest at the taxpayer trough.
Federal employment is padded with lawyers, administrators, assistant administrators and assistants to the assistant administrators whose jobs are to produce a lot of paperwork made necessary to communicate with layers upon layers of other lawyers, administrators, assistant administrators and assistants to the assistant administrators.
A LACK OF ...A major difference between government employment and the private sector is the almost total lack of cost accountability. When your expenses exceed your revenues, hard decisions need to be made regarding cutbacks. With government leaders, the first instinct is to raise more tax dollars. Only a few arms of government have so-called sunset provisions that require programs and agencies to justify themselves for renewal. Instead, ineffective and downright silly government programs and offices continue indefinitely to suck up tax dollars.
One example: The U.S. Department of Education was created a few decades ago, even though the main responsibility for educating our children rests with the states. Occasionally, a brave politician will suggest saving some money by disbanding this redundant Cabinet agency, and that politician always gets branded by opponents and the media as being against education. So, we’ll have to live with the Department of Education forever, although all of its functions could be done more economically and probably better by state and local governments, and in many cases by the private sector.
Many of its functions don’t have to be done at all. The job of my schoolteacher daughter would change very little if the Department of Education were to disappear-except to allow her more time to focus on classroom instruction instead of filling out paperwork and attending boring seminars required to comply with stupid regulations.
Are our kids better educated since the Department of Education was created? Are they becoming more solid citizens? Deterioration of the American public educational system in grades K-12 is a crisis of our time, and the U.S. Department of Education hasn’t a clue how to fix it.
Maybe it’s unfair to single out one government agency. I don’t have enough time or space to do a thorough job researching all the federal, state and local agencies that are ineffective or even counterproductive in their roles. Nonetheless, anyone who dares suggest shutting one down will be notarized as anti-this or that.
The title of this article refers to the Mandarin system of bureaucracy in imperial China. For more than 1,000 years the Mandarins comprised an elite class of citizenry charged with running government affairs. They adopted unique forms of wardrobe and appearance to set them apart from the common people.
The analogy with America’s bureaucracy falls apart, however, in that the Mandarins were selected by merit and underwent rigorous training in civil service. They were the best and brightest administrators in their land. Does anyone care to make the case that America’s government agencies are managed by the most capable people our country has to offer? And if not, does it rile you as much as it does me to see them consume so many of our tax dollars?
An article in the Aug. 15, 2006, Wall Street Journal described a sad counterpoint to this growing burden of government. Titled “Where Have All the Welders Gone …”, it told of a shortage of skilled welders despite growing pay and benefits. The American Welding Society predicted a deficit of some 200,000 welders by 2010.
Same story with the construction trades and other skilled blue-collar jobs. It seems a lot of people have figured out it doesn’t make sense to aspire to such noble but hard labor when they can make even more money pushing papers inside some cushy government office. W&C