Pawlenty: Freeze federal worker salaries

WASHINGTON — On the heels of a report showing the number of federal workers making more than $150,000 a year has doubled over the last two years, Gov. Tim Pawlenty today called for a freeze of federal salaries.

“Federal workers making $150k has doubled under Obama. New GOP Congress should freeze salaries,” Pawlenty wrote this morning on Twitter.

USA Today reported that more than 82,000 federal employees earn $150,000 or more a year now — double how many did two years ago and more than ten times the 7,400 who did in 2005.

House Republicans are expected to push for a federal salary freeze in 2011, though the details of that are uncertain. For example, Congress has been generally unwilling to freeze salaries in the Defense Department, especially during times when troops are deployed in combat operations overseas. Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz (who will chair the relevant committee that would consider such a move) told USA Today he supports going even further with a 10 percent pay cut across the board.

That won’t be an easy sell, for the following reasons:

  • A good chunk of the federal workforce is unionized and under contract. I’m not staring at those contracts right now, but I’d be a bit surprised if union negotiators hadn’t anticipated this scenario and contracted a way to keep from getting cut, at the very least.
  • As mentioned above, cutting DOD is a very tough sell.
  • If DOD is exempted, what else? Veterans Affairs, perhaps? But VA physician salaries contribute a good chunk of that $150K-plus statistic.
  • If one cuts federal workers, the obvious second question is what about federal contractors, to whom much work (especially in Defense and security/intelligence) has been outsourced?
  • And what about the secondary arguments: Cutting anyone’s pay in an economic downturn might lead to all sorts of nasty things like loan defaults, an uptick in home foreclosures and the like.

That’s not to say Pawlenty’s plan can’t be done — it can. It’s just not as simple as it sounds in 140 characters.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 11/10/2010 - 11:56 am.

    Typical. When Republicans aren’t worrying about what other people are doing with their own genitalia, they worry about how much someone else makes.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/10/2010 - 12:06 pm.


    Unless they’re wealthy, in which case they cannot possibly make too much. For instance better to privatize something and replace a $110,000 a year government worker with a multi-million a year CEO.

  3. Submitted by Jim Camery on 11/10/2010 - 01:04 pm.

    I thought the Repubs wanted people to have more money?

  4. Submitted by Arito Moerair on 11/10/2010 - 01:06 pm.

    This is exactly the type of “feel-good” cuts that Republicans just love. Demonize a government worker and it seems to play well with troglodytic voters. Nevermind the fact that a freeze (or even a cut) will do nothing at all to put a dent in the deficit. But hey, it gets them some votes!

    Furthermore, I assume Mr Chaffetz will support a 10% cut in his own salary.

  5. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/10/2010 - 01:28 pm.

    I wonder if either of the two previous commentators realize the irony of their give and take.


  6. Submitted by Mike Ring on 11/10/2010 - 01:45 pm.

    Some questions that weren’t asked but would be useful:
    – What happened? Why did it increase so quickly? Most federal jobs have set (and not very fast) raises. These jobs must be increasing much more quickly. Going from 9 to 994 in Defense in 5 years is astonishing. Why?
    – How much of these increases are from required overtime, hazard pay, or other similar things? As there are fewer people to do the same amount of work, those people may earn significant overtime or hazard pay.
    – A congressman proposes a 10% pay cut. How much would that save?

  7. Submitted by Brian Simon on 11/10/2010 - 02:14 pm.

    Mike Ring writes
    “What happened? Why did it increase so quickly? Most federal jobs have set (and not very fast) raises.”

    In other words, without context, Pawlenty’s gripe is meaningless. For instance, two years ago, were there a bunch of people making $149.9K that saw a modest bump in their salary – pushing them over $150K this year?

    The critics would like us to assume that a bunch of office drones suddenly saw their salaries doubled to a grossly excessive rate, when the data hasn’t been provided to prove that implication.

    Perhaps most amusing is Pawlenty’s record of promising hiring freezes, while ignoring them in his own administration; not to mention growing the size of the gubernatorial staff by partially funding some staff members from other departments’ budgets.

    Pawlenty loves the rhetoric but rarely lives by the rules he wants applied to the other side.

  8. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 11/10/2010 - 04:30 pm.

    Brian is making a really good point: this is a completely arbitrary metric. What you want is to ask, did the average government worker’s salary increase more than the average private worker in the same field.

    Also, a “feel good” cut is exactly what this is. To solve this kind of problem you go for the easy stuff first – the biggest parts of the budget. That’s military spending. Why isn’t it on the table?

  9. Submitted by Patrick Guernsey on 11/10/2010 - 07:02 pm.

    Trouble is, Mr. Pawlenty does not practice what he preaches. MNSCU Administrators are walking away with almost a half million dollars in bonuses this year while all other salaries are frozen.

  10. Submitted by James Hamilton on 11/10/2010 - 07:38 pm.

    Why was TP silent when those salaries were increasing between 2005 and 2008?

  11. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/10/2010 - 09:03 pm.

    Pawlenty memo to self: Gotta stay relevant….

  12. Submitted by Richard Molby on 11/11/2010 - 08:57 am.

    For He Whose Star is Fast Fading, it’s all about grabbing the headlines.
    Why is it that in defense of exorbitant CEO compensation the argument is always that you need to pay that much to attract the best but that same argument is never used in these situations? Because we want all government employees to be sub-standard?
    If the Republican’ts really wanted to fix government, they’d encourage those whom they consider to be the best and the brightest to work on that change from the inside and, we already know, those folks come with a high price tag.

Leave a Reply