Saturday, July 10, 2004

Close Enough for Government Work

I saw this post on a firearms website I frequent. (I'm on my way to becoming a gun owner.) It pretty royally pissed me off because frankly it's typical of the ignorant libertarian. He knows nothing but yet he still feels the need to speak.
The notion that government employees deserve more and/or better benefits than the general population just because they "work for the government" sticks in my craw. I don't know 1-in-1000 federal, state or local government employees that "serve" out of a sense of patriotism or duty. 999 out that 1,000 are in it because it pays well, has great benefits and retirement, affords some - more or less - power and influence and, as long as everybody keeps paying taxes, offers lifelong employment with retirement at the end.
Now I'm a government employee. I work as a civilian in the US Department of the Army. I'm a mechanical engineer and systems analyst. Guess how much money I make? I'm a 0830 GS-11. Type that into Google and look for the government pay tables for the boonies of Maryland where I work. Congratulations, you now know my salary.

It's not bad. In fact it's pretty good. I make above the average US household income all by myself. However, if I worked in industry I would be making significantly more. If I was contracting, I could be making six figures. If I worked in industry, I would be making less than that but still five figures more than I make now. Now give that some thought.

As for the power and influence, I work for what may be the worlds largest bureaucracy. It puts Dupont or other large companies to shame. And I'm at the bottom of the hill that the shit runs down. My job is regulated largely by people I see twice a year and quite often by people I have never heard of or who are long dead. There are people with influence in the federal government, just like there are in industry. Most of them are at the executive level, in law enforcement, or aides to elected officials. By and large my job involves navigating a mammoth spider web of red tape designed to prevent me from doing my job because that might get someone hurt.

The benefits are few but go like this...

I am serving my country's military in a time of war. I guess I'm that one patriot in a 1000. Funny there are a lot of 1 in 1000s where I work, but that might be a military thing. Or he could have been pulling that number out of his ass. I'm betting on the latter.

I have stable employment. This is the other biggie. My dad was an engineer in the aircraft industry. Aerospace is notoriously unstable, so he switched jobs a lot. He was working out of town a fair bit as I was growing up just to make ends meet. I'm damn proud of my father for what he did, but I don't want that for my kids. Government is the last place I can have relatively stable employment for my entire career. This is the really big motivation for the federal employee.

I get health benefits and retirement benefits nearly identical to someone working in industry. My 401k isn't called a 401k, but that's what it is. I use blue cross. I get no dental and no optical beyond what blue cross gives me. I believe that dental and optical may be changing.

The last benefit is vacation time. The government gives more of it than industry to make up for the fact that we earn less. Industry typically gives 80 hours off a year, where I get 104. I also get paid for organizational activities like the occasional holiday party during work hours. All this is in an attempt to bring my $ per work hour back up to industry levels.

Does this address the lines at the DMV or any of that crap? No. I'll touch on that later because it is actually worth some in-depth analysis. What I am saying is that government employment isn't bad, but its a balancing act that is at best equal to employment in the private sector.

UPDATE: It's now February 22, 2007. I'm now an NH-III so my salary is more obscure because of pay banding. Vision and dental benefits became available at the start of this year. Since I passed 3 years with the government, I now get 6 hours of vacation every two weeks. That's a total of 156 hours per year.

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