NTEU survey finds broad public support for vital federal programs

Monday - 8/20/2012, 3:51pm EDT

Ruben Gomez, Reporter, Federal News Rado

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This story was updated at 7 p.m. to include comments from Andrew Biggs, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute

A new survey finds broad public support for vital federal services despite pressure to cut federal spending. But the survey itself may have missed the mark.

About 7 in 10 respondents believe the federal government should devote more resources and manpower to food safety and border security, according to the survey, commissioned by the National Treasury Employees Union.

"The results strongly support the belief that government should invest more in resources and manpower for the important work federal employees do every day," said NTEU President Colleen Kelley. "Regardless of party affiliation, respondents believe in the importance of adequate resources and manpower for vital public services and the need for the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share to retain those services."

The survey, conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs, polled 1,000 people from various demographics and two major political parties, Kelley said.

"Republicans are often portrayed as supporting across-the-board spending cuts; [But] the fact is that in every area, respondents who affiliated with the GOP supported preserving or increasing the amount of employees and resources providing vital public services," according to an NTEU fact sheet.

Respondents answered questions about food and drug safety, border security, nuclear safety and veterans' assistance. A majority — ranging from 58 percent to 86 percent — said Congress should provide more resources and manpower to those areas.

"Some political rhetoric would have you believe that Americans today have an 'austerity at any cost' view of the federal budget," Kelley said. "The fact is that most Americans, when asked about specific services, believe the government should invest."

The union released the survey results ahead of a media campaign to address what it believes are myths that negatively affect federal agencies and employees.

Analyst: Survey misses the point

But Andrew Biggs, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said the survey is incomplete.

"I just don't know what to make from the survey because it's asking the wrong questions," he said.

Researchers crafted survey questions to elicit certain types of answers to support NTEU's position on the federal workforce, Biggs said.

"Yes, people want more resources going towards food security. Yes, people want more resources going towards securing the border," he said. "The policy question, though, for the past couple of years, is how much are we paying people? Not how many federal employees do we have."

Biggs co-authored a 2011 study that concluded federal employees receive a 61 percent overall compensation premium when compared with their counterparts in the private sector.

"Federal employees receive a defined contribution 401(k) pension plan with very generous employer match," Biggs said. "On top of that, they also receive a defined benefit pension that most private sector workers don't get. Federal employees also receive retiree healthcare, which most private sector workers don't get."

In addition, Biggs said researchers should have asked whether all Americans, not just the wealthiest, should pay more taxes.

"A lot of times, Americans are not willing to do that," he said. "The reason is they're not sure the additional taxes they pay are going to go towards food safety or border security. They may go towards other projects that don't have anything like that kind of value. So I don't think the survey really gets at the core questions we're thinking about."

The survey results have a 3.1 percent margin of error.

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