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Federal Employee Bonuses and the Effect on the Deficit (With a Word or Two About Law Enforcement Salaries)

Updated on March 18, 2013

If There's One Thing That Makes Me Sick...

This is exactly why I stay an "Independent" and do not allow myself to be affiliated with any particular political party. Ever since the CNN news story ran about the members of the United States House of Representatives paying out $6.1 million in bonuses to their office staff, people at my work keep saying they bet that really irks me. They know that though I have some conservative views and some liberal views, when it comes to politicians spending my tax money, I tend to fall firmly on the conservative side unless it is programs that truly benefit the needy. So surely, this waste of my money would get under my skin. Right? Wrong!

You see, I do not feel this is a waste of my money or even something I should be concerned with. In this case, the politicians who are spending my tax money are acting as employers for a staff of workers. As long as they stay within the budgets allowed by law, my opinion is those employers should be allowed to compensate those workers however they see fit. I do not believe that we need to tell those employers how to spend their payroll. And I believe there are much better places to start pulling money from than the pockets of people basically just try to earn a living.

Do the Math...

Let's just stop and think about how much money we are really talking about. But let's not just look at that big sounding number -- $6.1 million. After all, as Dr. Evil learned in the Austin Powers movies, a million bucks isn't what it used to be. We will look at this amount from two different perspectives. First, just how much extra money is this putting in the pockets of all those congressional staffers.

The Way the Staffer Might See It...

The House of Representatives has 435 voting member plus six non-voting members. The CNN story did not say if the non-voting members were included in the calculations of these bonuses, so for the sake of argument let's say they were not. $2.1 million of the $6.1 million was paid out by committees to their staffs so let's just look at the $4 million paid out by the members of the House. Each House member is allowed 18 staff members and, from what I know about Washington, I would bet most offices are fully staffed, but let's be conservative and say only 12 staff members per office.

That would mean the total staff receiving bonuses would be 5220 (435 offices x 12 staffers each). This would average out to $766.28 per staff member. Certainly some got more, some got less, and probably some got nothing, but hopefully that was based at least to some extent on performance and merit. But then that is rarely the case where most of us work so it probably was not the case in Washington. Still, that is more of an issue workers should address with their managers and not something we really need to micromanage even if we are paying the bill.

As you can see, from the standpoint of the people receiving the bonuses, the $4 million did not go very far and most likely received rather modest bonuses. Did they deserve those bonuses? Again, some probably did and some likely did not. But when we elect someone, we should at least have enough confidence in them to let them make basic decisions such as this regarding running their office. If we are going to mistrust this even to compensate their staff properly, why did we elect them in the first place?

Poll #1 -- The Main Issue

Are you concerned House staffers received these bonuses?

See results

The Effect on the Deficit...

"But what about the federal deficit?" you say! CNN stated that any money the Representatives did not spend "keeps the deficit at a lower level". This money would have applied against that deficit had these representatives not doled it out to their staffers. Granted, that is true. But exactly how much would this $4 million paid to the staffers, or for that matter the whole $6.1 million if we include the money paid by the committees, affect the deficit?

Ballparking it, I know the federal deficit is a little over $14 trillion -- "a little over" here meaning a couple hundred million give or take. But let's just go with the nice round figure of $14 trillion. If you do the math (and I warn you it may make your head hurt), you will find this $6.1 million would reduce that debt by less than .00005%. Seriously? We can't find a way to reduce our national debt by .00005% without taking money away from the working man?

Which Brings Me to My Tangent...

I think we sometime forget that people who work for our elected officials in Washington are to an extent public servants just like law enforcement officers, fire fighters, and social workers. While their efforts might be directly aimed at assisting a particular congressperson, indirectly they are helping that person serve his or her constituents -- i.e. the public or, more to the point, you and me. If they do a good job, regardless of the voting record of their boss, they deserve our thanks and a bonus equal to less than 2% of their salary doesn't seem that outrageous to me.

The average salary of an office staffer is under $60,000. I would bet management staff is paid more than administrative workers, but that is just the way the world works. And certainly they are probably paid better than some other public servants. But just because some other group is underpaid is no reason to take away from a group that is not a particularly highly paid group and, like I said earlier, is mostly made up of people just trying to make a living.

Rather than cut back on what these staffers earn, I say let's look for ways to cut expenses in other places and maybe direct some of that money to other areas of public service such as law enforcement. Let's stop spending so much money in other countries training and staffing their police forces and spend that money here. The average police officer's starting pay in the United States is less than $30,000. That is sad and ridiculous not to mention extremely embarrassing.

Poll #2 -- The Tangent

What do you think the minimum starting pay for a police officer in a major city should be?

See results

Police officers put their lives on the line to protect and serve. While I firmly believe in holding each officer responsible for his or her actions, I also believe they need to be fairly compensated for the risk they take each day at work. They also need accurate, professional psychological screening so they can be sure their co-workers are there for the right reasons. They need to be provided with proper training to be sure they are ready to confront even the most stressful situation with a level-headed approach. If we are going to ask them to put their life on the line and hold them responsible when they make an error, we owe them this as a society.

So the bottom line? Forget about these inconsequential staff bonuses and let's concentrate on finding real ways to save money and better ways to spend the money that we do spend. Oh yeah, and how about thanking a police officer the next time you see one. Even if he is giving you that ticket we both know you probably deserve! ;-)


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      Ben Chadwick 6 years ago

      I think the two polls included here are very interesting and would like to see more people voting. This article raises some intriguing points. Great job!