Federal Employees: Doing More with Less...Already

President Obama has proposed freezing salaries of most federal employees for the next two years as part of his effort to address the federal budget deficit. Projected to save some $5 billion over the next two years, the freeze would shave 0.22 percent off the $2.3 trillion in deficit spending over that time, making it a largely token measure.

But it's not just a token measure for the hundreds of thousands of federal employees who will be affected. Obama is signaling that conservatives are right in their criticisms of public employees: that the government is too big and those employed to carry out its myriad mandates are living high on the hog making the rest of us "real" workers pay higher taxes.

The truth, however, is that federal employees, the most common target of anti-government crusaders, have spent years trying to do more and more with less, as federal spending on government programs has increased without commensurate increases in the number of folks to do the work. Since 1992, the number of federal workers employed per billion dollars spent on discretionary programs has dropped from 4,063 to 1,489.

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State and local workers aren't immune from attacks either. Writing in the Washington Post, Karen Tumulty and Ed O'Keefe note that this anti-public employee attitude appears to extend to all areas of the public sector.

Even the most revered of government workers are feeling the sting. This month, the Senate blocked a House-passed bill that would have provided $7.4 billion in benefits for the first responders and emergency workers made ill by their work after the Sept. 11 attack. Too expensive, the filibustering Republicans complained.

Rather than recognizing the important work that these increasingly efficient federal employees do (like protecting the food supply), conservative Senators and indeed President Obama would prefer to look to these workers' paychecks to balance the budget so they can enact roughly $700 billion in tax cuts.

Update: Factual error corrected. The number of federal employees per billions of dollars spent on discretionary spending was originally stated as having fell from 212 to 69. It's actually 4,063 to 1,489.

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