Show and tell time

Friday - 5/18/2012, 2:00am EDT

There's a new game in town that may soon rival Monopoly in popularity.

The game, actually more an exercise, doesn't have an official name, yet. I like to think of it as, "You show me yours, but I won't show you mine!" Sounds fun, right. It is, for some people. For others, not so much.

The deal is this: Your salary, bonuses and other financial data (like stocks) are available to anybody with a computer. All federal workers are pawns in the game (meaning their data is up for grabs) unless they work for the CIA, the Defense Department, or other security-related agencies.

[Congressional Staff Salaries - Correction]

In an earlier column about making federal salaries public, I took an unfair shot at congressional staffers. I said that their salaries, unlike those of executive branch employees, were not public as part of the new freedom of information action. But that was wrong. Congressional staff salaries have been available, online, for several years now. Bottom line: Their pay has been in the public domain for a long time and nothing has changed.

As yesterday's column pointed out, the FOI (freedom of information) request by a New Jersey newspaper now makes public the salaries of millions of federal workers, unless the agencies are exempt for reasons of national security — or they are the personal employees of members of the House and Senate.

Some feds are stoic. They say they are public employees and can understand (even if they aren't wild about the idea) that their compensation is fair game. Others are furious. Some see it as a bigger issue. Or the foot in the door. As in, what next, how much do you weigh?

Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, said, "As aggravating as publishing salaries and awards may be, the STOCK Act requires that the financial disclosure forms which executives file be published on agency web sites — and those reports include a great deal more than salaries. This is causing a lot of people a great deal of anguish — because the reports also include spousal info, for one thing. Would you want to be the subject of phishing expeditions? And possible identity theft?"

As you can imagine, lots of comments and emails on this issue. We will have more to come. For now, TGIF day, here are some interesting thoughts from a fed who thinks the pool of people who must play salary-show-and-tell should be expanded dramatically. She writes:

Regarding your question about how we (federal employees) feel about our salaries being exposed — the problem I have is this right here, which is listed on the website where this database resides:

"Employees involved in security work, the FBI, CIA, Defense Department, nuclear materials, IRS, and jobs essential to national security are excluded. The list contains most executive branch employees but does not cover the White House, Congress, the Postal Service, and independent agencies and commissions.

I get the idea behind hiding CIA employees or jobs essential to national security, but the rest of these groups? I can't understand why IRS salaries are secret, nor why all DoD jobs are withheld. And why would the White House and Congress want to hide their employees' salaries from their constituents? And what's the rationale for citizens not knowing their postal carrier's salary? These groups do not make sense. If you are going to expose the salaries of government workers, expose them all — put them all out there, whether they are hired, or elected or contracted. Yes, even contractors' salaries should be public. The taxpayers' dollars are being spent on their salaries in the form of federal contracts, so citizens should have the right to know where their money is being spent.

"And while we're at it, I'd like to know the salaries of other folks where I spend my money. I'd like to know the salaries of each employee of every charity I send a check to, including the church I belong to. I'm spending money, shouldn't I know how much the clerk who opens my check makes? And, oh yeah, I spend money on investments through the TSP and other means. I should have the right to know what every one in those private firms that I invest in are making. Not just the CEOs, but everyone in that firm, seeing as I'm spending my money investing in their firm. Oh, and by the way, I also shop at stores, gas stations, malls and spend money there too. Shouldn't I have the right to see the salaries posted for every employee at every store I shop in? And what about my insurance companies? They're taking my money (oh how they're taking my money!), I need to see all of their salaries as well. I also subscribe to numerous magazines (those dang school fundraisers!) and newspapers, I think I'm owed all of the employees' salaries at those establishments.