Life aboard the federal gravy train

For the past two years, federal pay, benefits and workers themselves have been in the spotlight and on the chopping block. It started two years ago this month when a national newspaper began the first in a series of articles showing that federal workers — any way you slice it — are paid better than folks in the private sector.

Other newspapers and media outlets have jumped on the fat-cat feds theme. So whose right? Some believe it depends on who is doing the study, the methodology used and the conclusions the numbers crunchers want to reach. So what do feds feel about what’s happening?

Here are two takes, one from a Detroit-based fed, the other from a long-time civil servant who’s retired to Florida:


After 32 years, I am tired of the “you should be grateful….” I came to this job right from college while my classmates went to the Big Three and some big name accounting firms. They made big bucks and made enough to pay rent and buy homes while I stayed with my parents. They bought new cars that I could only dream of at the time. I had to be the laughingstock of the class for staying with the government with a small salary and, what was at that time, inadequate health coverage that I had to pay for.

So after 10 years, they ended up in the midst of reorgs and out of a job. They landed on their feet and I stayed with the government. Now they have either changed careers numerous times or were forced into early retirements. I am leaving with 32 years of service with the same agency, and I can look forward to a decent pension and health benefits. Yes, I am grateful to have made it this far and I will not hide the fact that I earned it. We live with the choices we make. I don’t like the fact that Congress and ill-informed citizens want to make out like federal service provides an upper income lifestyle. It doesn’t.

How can you change the rules in the middle of the game? Going from a high-three to a high-five could mean the loss of $2,000 a year that will never be recovered. Where is the integrity? Why should the “best and brightest” consider federal service when they hear they won’t get a raise for five years and “We might keep our word when you get ready to retire and we might not?” — Detroit Tiger

I worked for the private sector for 18 years, and for the government 23 years — same talents, same skills. I worked for small businesses where I did get health insurance or when I had no health insurance I paid for my own, because it wasn’t so outrageously expensive as it is now. I watched peers with less skills and education but in bigger companies make more money, have better benefits, including paid leaves, pension plans and dental insurance, tuition reimbursement. Woe is me (tongue-in-cheek), some of them got laid off.

I worked as a professional for a medium-sized medical devices company where I then had good benefits. But, I took a risk and decided to go with the government in a position that was not quite suited to my goals, but got me in the door. Don’t begrudge me. I know people my age who had their tuition paid for, who were making lots of money with overtime included and had other perks. I know plenty of people who have better benefits, such as companies that pay for adoption, companies that give their employees disability insurance, better pay, give severance pay (which is something I never had.) And, yes, I know there are plenty who don’t have what we have — I’ve been there, and I don’t want to go back.

I don’t think we should be racing to the bottom. I too am tired of hearing how great we have it. I work in a dump building with crappy equipment. I have to deal with bureaucracy. I face a long commute. Some don’t, but I do deserve my pay and benefits. Let’s see the rest of the 99 percent have the opportunity to do better, but don’t continue to take away my pay and benefits. — Retired In Florida


By Jack Moore

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