- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2011

More than 77,000 federal government employees throughout the country — including computer operators, more than 5,000 air traffic controllers, 22 librarians and one interior designer — earned more than the governors of the states in which they work.

The findings, from a Congressional Research Service report requested by Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, were released at a time when public workers’ salaries and benefits are under scrutiny across the country as governments try to streamline.

CRS reviewed 2009 salary figures, the most recent available, and found 77,057 employees who earned more in annual pay than their respective governors. Of those workers, 18,351 were doctors — the highest percentage. The second-highest total was for 5,170 air traffic controllers — likely both front-line controllers and their supervisors.

In Maryland, 7,283 federal employees — about 7 percent of all full-time federal employees in the state — earned more than Gov. Martin O’Malley’s $150,000 salary. Maryland was topped by Colorado, which in 2009 had 10,875 employees who made more than the $90,000 salary of the governor, Bill Ritter.

“Across America, governors are being asked to do more with less, often at lower pay than federal employees in their states. The pay gap between governors and federal employees should prompt Congress to take a closer look at federal salaries,” Mr. Coburn said. “With our debt and deficits spiraling out of control, now is the time to ask agencies — not just governors — to do more with less.”

Government workers’ salaries and benefit packages have come under fire at the local, state and national levels as agencies seek places to cut.

The workers have disputed charges that they earn, on average, more than their private-sector counterparts, but critics point out total compensation, including health care and pensions.

On average, the age of the federal work force is older, and thus likely to be higher paid, than those in the private sector. A higher percentage of federal workers than private-sector employees hold management jobs.

President Obama late last year proposed a two-year salary freeze for federal workers, following on the heels of his announcement soon after he took office in 2009 that he was freezing salaries of top White House employees.

Both houses of Congress voted this year to cut their own budgets, too.

The federal Office of Personnel Management declined to comment on the CRS report’s findings.

But Beth Moten, legislative and political director for the American Federation of Government Employees, the union that represents 625,000 federal employees, said the bigger problem is the amount of money that contractors can collect. She said contractors can be reimbursed up to $693,000 toward salaries for their top five executives, and even more for other employees doing government work.

“So the government’s paying $700,000 and more for contractor salaries, and Sen. Coburn worries about the pay of physicians who care for wounded soldiers?” Ms. Moten said. “If those governors want to make more money, they should either become contractors or try applying to medical school.”

Mr. Coburn asked for the review to use governors’ salaries, figuring a state’s chief executive’s pay would be a good yardstick for top-end salaries in each state.

California’s governor made the highest salary at $212,179 in 2009, though Arnold Schwarzenegger did not accept pay. Just 703 federal workers in California earned more than that level of pay, and all but 34 of them were in medicine.

Maine’s governor, by contrast, made the lowest salary at $70,000. CRS said 3,423 federal employees in the state made more than that, including seven pipe fitters, and three people engaged in plastic fabrication work.

For individual occupations, the CRS report did not break down the states where they worked, so it was impossible to determine where the one interior designer who made more than the governor was employed.

CRS said nationwide there were 122 park rangers, 271 environmental protection specialists, 14 chaplains and one prison guard who earned more than their governors. There were also 21 archaeologists, three sociologists, 48 social workers, four food service workers and five civil rights analysts who made more than their governors.

CRS said some locales are likely to have a higher concentration of well-paid employees. For example, 942 of the medical and public health workers who made more than their governors were from Georgia, the location of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Air traffic controllers, who were the second-biggest group to get salaries higher than their governors, also generally have high salaries. That category likely includes both front-line controllers and their supervisors. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the median salary for an air traffic controller in May 2008 was $111,870, while the top 10 percent earned $161,010 or more a year.