Fat cat feds? Up to a point

Monday - 6/16/2014, 1:20pm EDT

To lots of hard-working taxpayers, federal workers exist at a different level. A breed apart: Lifers who are fireproof, overpaid and underworked. Often the only feds who work hard and deserve what they get happen to be people they, the disgruntled taxpayers, know personally.

Although it will be months before the full story is known, many people have decided that the VA "scandal" is pretty much government as usual. Not for the first (or last) time.

Several years ago, the image of the overpaid civil servant was revived by much of the media using data collected by conservative think tanks. Those studies and stories showed that by any measure — average pay or job- for-job matchup — feds were and are doing better than their private sector counterparts.

During the depths of the recession, many private-sector workers lost their jobs or were forced to take pay cuts of up to 25 percent to keep their employers afloat. The federal government didn't cut pay or layoff people, although the White House and Congress eventually did impose a three-year pay freeze. That dealt with pay raises but did not stop tens of thousands of people from getting within-grade (longevity) increases worth about 3 percent.

The image of the overpaid, tenured civil servant has been around as long as there has been a civil service. Many voters confused federal government workers with their state or hometown bureaucracies (can you say Detroit, Chicago and New York?) where vote-courting politicians couldn't say no to pay, overtime and pension benefits that future taxpayers would have to deal with.

In contrast to many states, cities and small town governments, Uncle Sam — with congressional oversight — has been a good, but not extravagant boss.

The average salary for federal workers is higher, much higher depending on whose numbers you use, than for folks in the private sector. But there's a reason for that. Uncle Sam (with some rare exceptions) doesn't do retail. Doesn't operate fast-food places, doesn't have greeters, doesn't work on commission.

Federal workers are generally better educated than the average American worker, and since the 1960s, the government has moved from an army of low-paid clerical employees to a professional, technical workforce. It's no accident that the first person on the moon was a federal employee.

Despite the fat-cat image, there are lots of federal workers who don't get the big bucks and who live paycheck-to-paycheck. That was underscored last year when tens of thousands of employees were furloughed, taking a 20 percent pay cut.

In 2013, times got so tough for so many people that the Federal Employees Education and Assistance fund, which provides emergency loans to struggling federal employees, literally ran out of money! That's bad.

FEEA is a feds-helping-feds charity that provides scholarships to workers, and their children. During the furloughs, it also made thousands of no- interest loans.

The good news is FEEA is back. It held a May fundraiser hoping to pick up $75,000. That didn't happen. But it did get individual donations worth just over $26,000. It also got a big boost from two long-time corporate friends: Blue Cross-Blue Shield and Long-Term Care Partners. Their matching donations brought the total to $56,000. Still short of the goal, but back in the black and enough, for now, to help struggling feds who wish they fit the overpaid image.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

The term "nickname" comes from an archaic Middle English word "ekename," which means "additional name" and was used as early as 1303.

(Source: OMG Facts)


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