Beverly Garside

Phantom Vampires: The Truth About Federal Employees

      I and You takes place in a country where all government functions have been taken over by the private sector. It is a world that has been freed from the tyranny of government and its minions, the dreaded federal employees. Just who are these minions?
      It's a cliche etched indelibly into our collective consciousness - those self-satisfied, blood-sucking, overpaid, lazy, incompetent and completely unnecessary federal workers. In our minds we see clerks sitting at desks, with forms displayed on their computers, mechanically checking boxes and pushing "send," buttons, while collecting insanely generous checks and flipping off any member of the public who asks them for help. They reside in the super-lair of the bureaucratic undead, Washington DC, and specialize in spectacular abuses of taxpayer money: junkets to "conferences" in Hawaii, "conventions" in expensive hotels and degenerate parties with hookers in foreign countries. Meanwhile Joe and Jane taxpayer struggle to make the payroll for their small business and are taxed into bankruptcy.
     Hollywood couldn't have written a better script. And like most effective propaganda campaigns, at least some of it is true. We can all point to news stories about federal agencies in arrogant money-wasting scandals. And we can all point to, well, what else?
     One of the favorite canards of the anti-government propaganda machine is the "comparison" between federal employee salaries and "the average American worker." The "average" federal employee is said to make a salary of XXX, while the" hardworking American taxpayer" makes only X. Like most propaganda, it serves well to get its intended audience frothing at the mouth, and completely falls apart when placed under scrutiny. Because the "taxpayer" in question is invariably a high-school educated counter clerk or other low-skilled employee, while the federal worker, whose salary is three times that much, has a masters degree or PHD and is figuring out how to detect and prosecute financial crimes at the Securities and Exchange Commission, or how to write computer programs to detect cyber attacks at the Defense Department.
     This type of employee does not fit the stereotype put forth by the anti-government political insurgency, which is that of the clerk processing paperwork. According to the Handbook on Human Resources Management in Government, only 30 percent of the federal workforce are clerical. The other 70 percent are knowledge workers, using advanced education and training to solve complex problems. In other words, the Republican propaganda machine is comparing the salaries of computer programmers and biochemists in the government to those of gas station attendants and wait staff in the private sector.
     And when it comes to that 70 percent, their services are also in demand in the private sector, which most often pays more than the government. They are underpaid. As for the 30 percent in the clerical specialties, they are at the bottom of the federal pay scale, which varies according to cost-of-living in each area. They live paycheck to paycheck and struggle for the basics just like their private sector counterparts.
     So who is "the federal worker?" The term itself is misleading. There is no more such a creature as there is "the American worker." Many federal workers are highly educated, some are not. Some may be overpaid, most are underpaid. Some are surly, disengaged and hostile to the public. Others are dedicated, enthusiastic and take pride in their public service. Some work in glamorous jobs - catching crooks, foiling terrorists and rescuing disaster victims. Others do the boring or unpleasant work of processing paperwork or searching passengers at airports.Some live and work near Washington DC, while most are scattered throughout all 50 states and territories.  Basically they are a cross-section of  the public, with their own share of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
     There are two things, however, than can be confidently said to describe every single federal employee in the United States. Every single one is an American. And every single one is a taxpayer.
Enough said.      

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