NEWS, SPORTS, COMMENTARY, POLITICS for Gloucester City and the Surrounding Areas of South Jersey and Philadelphia

Margate Firefighter Charged with Stealing $75,000 from FMBA
CNB NEWS ARCHIVES: Cherry Blossom Viewing O-Hanami in Japan


By Justin Katz | Watchdog Arena

SHOW ME THE MONEY: You’ll be surprised which jobs are making the big bucks in the federal government.

Sifting through the federal payroll data [2] available on, a service of [3], Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin comes to mind for multiple reasons, the first of which is a modified version of his famous question about the Roman Catholic Church: How many divisions has the federal bureaucracy?

According to [4] the Washington Post, the answer in 2010 was 2.7 million executive branch civilians.  Breaking out the 600,000 U.S. Postal Service workersseparately [5], FedsDataCenter lists 1,091,400 federal employees for that year, so it’s a partial list, for whatever reason.  Even so, whatever transparency data one can get is always instructive.

According to relatively recent estimates [6], a household earning somewhere in the high $380,000’s makes the cut for the much-maligned top 1 percent, and a couple dozen federal “medical officers” in the Veterans Health Administration got there in a single salary in 2014.

Medical officers also account for most of the 6,086 federal employees with salaries over $250,000. At that point, lawyers, administrators, and finance professionals begin to fill in the ranks among the 16,989 employees earning $200,000 or more.

When the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, a free-market think tank in Rhode Island, posted similar data [7] for state employees, the story [8] of six-figure laundry workers caught the public’s imagination.  That story inspired a local DJ team to record a parody song [9] to the tune of Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry.”

Yes, the federal government has some of those, too. Laundry operations services worker Joseph Bryant topped the list for 2010 through 2013 (the data’s available from 2010 to 2014), pulling in $115,443 from the Veterans Health Administration in Los Angeles in 2013.  But Bryant isn’t alone as a federal employee laundering his way into the upper middle class.   Across a variety of agencies and locations, and multiple job titles, cleaning fabrics can produce above-average income across the country.

“Laboring” is another occupation with oddly high pay.  Tommie Lampley, of the Veterans Health Administration, beat the six-figure line for the latest three years of data.  Even among the rest, who don’t cross that milestone, laborers do well in navy installations, at the National Gallery of Art, in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and in other agencies.

It might make for a decent Tea Party party game to try to outdo each other in picking job titles that have unexpectedly high pay rates.  Who would have thought that one could make up to $85,000 per year “buffing and polishing” at the U.S. Mint?  “Tree trimming and removing” at the Presidio [10] site in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco has brought Jason Thurm over the $90,000 mark, and his arborist peers across the country aren’t far behind.

“Custodial working” can bring employees over $80,000 per year.  Out at sea, “insulating” (actual insulating, not protecting politicians from consequences) breaks $100,000.

Carpentry — an occupation that helped this writer pay the bills for the better part of the last decade — is conspicuously remunerative on the federal payroll.  Only Thomas Stephens broke six figures, with $114,785 in 2010, working for the Veterans Health Administration.  However, an array of agencies, from the Government Printing Office to the Department of Energy, pay carpenters well enough to make many a graduate student wonder why they’re taking on so much debt.

It’s entirely possible that any or all of these employees earn every dime of pay and then some, but that gets to the heart of free-marketers’ distrust of government.  In the private sector, somebody has to be willing to pay a salary in order for it to reach these heights.  In government, one-off political connections and institutional labor unions can game the political system to create jobs and inflate their pay.  The public can’t trust that the employees have done anything of comparable value to the market’s real demand.

That’s not just a comment on particular occupations.  Who’s to say that the National Endowment for the Humanities would even exist if donors had to fund it voluntarily, let alone paying 78 out of 182 employees more than $100,000 in 2014?  For the National Endowment for the Arts, it’s 65 of 163.  The Commission of Fine Arts pays six of its 10 employees six figures.  It’s 28 of 41 for the Commission on Civil Rights, but only three of 10 on the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission.

If you’re one of the disorganized masses of Americans struggling every day just to earn enough to make ends meet, how could you hope to reign in these legions of highly motivated, well-paid employees greasing the skids of the national political machine?

Every cut that would strike the average taxpayer as simple and obvious is somebody’s irreplaceable career, and if they’re aware of the challenge that would await them outside of their protective sinecures, they’ll fight reform like their lives depend on it.

This article was written by a contributor of Watchdog Arena, Franklin Center’s network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists.