The naked civil servant

If you follow financial news and those madcaps on Wall Street, you know that the Chairman/CEO/Whatever of JP Morgan makes about $22 million a year. Even though, as it turns out, JP didn’t have such a good year. Yet shareholders gave him a vote of confidence and said anybody could lose $2 billion. It happens, right?

Still, $22 million is a lot of money for one guy. It is more than the combined payroll of some federal agencies. More — come to think of it — than what the entire staff of a certain scrappy news organization makes. In twenty years!

We know that some baseball players sign multiyear, multimillion dollar contracts. And that Hollywood stars and moguls can, and recently did, drop $40,000 for a political fundraiser dinner. That included dessert.

If you make a lot of money — I guess — you don’t worry much how many people know it. You might need increased security, but making the big bucks is generally a good thing. The American dream.


But if you don’t make a lot of money, it is easy to become defensive about your salary. Especially if it seems that some groups — politicians, portions of the press and disgruntled members of the public — don’t think you are worth whatever you get. Even if they don’t know how much you make. The you, of course, would be you. John Q. Federal Worker.

Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request, it is now possible, if you know their name, to find out how much almost every federal civil servant makes in salaries and bonuses, if any. That means you can find out how much your neighbor makes. And he/she can find out what you make if you work for Uncle Sam. Is that a good thing? Are you happy about it?

Here’s what one worried worker has to say about the “salary expose”

…I hope you write something very powerful and clear about how wrong it is to publish BY EMPLOYEE NAME the salaries and bonuses of federal employees. It’s one thing to research federal salaries and report them in the aggregate, but for anyone in the public to be able to identify individuals and their salary/bonus data so easily with a couple of strokes on the keyboard is unfair and I think yet another strategy for federal-employee skapegoating (re. tightening federal budget) that’s been the pattern over the past few years. — Donna

I ran this by a colleague. I said I thought it was an invasion of privacy. I said I thought the bonus information was fair game, but publishing salaries of individuals is just creepy.

He often (make that nearly always) disagrees with me. Including on this one. He said he thought it was fine because public employees are, well, public employees. When you sign on with Uncle Sam your life is an open book. ( I guess people at the IRS know what we all make, or say we make. I sure hope they don’t go public with it.)

I’m not sure you knew that when you took the oath of office that anybody can look up your payroll information. But you know it now.

So, how do you feel about that?


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