02.23.2012 0

The real D.C. lobbyists

By Rick Manning — There are 3,141 counties in the United States of America, and ten of wealthiest fifteen counties are in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, including in Virginia and Maryland.  Is there any doubt why Washington, D.C. seems so chronically out of touch with the average person?

The affluence of the Washington, D.C. suburbs should not come as any surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to reports about the vast income disparity between the average federal government civilian worker and the average private sector worker.

In 2010, the Cato Institute reports that the average federal civilian worker receives $83,679 in average wages, while the average private industry worker only makes $51,986.  Further, the same report shows that when benefits are considered, the federal worker gets $126,141 in wages and benefits compared to $62,757 for the private worker.

An estimated 15 percent of the civilian federal workforce, or 300,000, live in Washington, D.C. and its surrounding suburbs.  This does not include military or contractors, public relations and other government dependent private sector workers.

So, it is logical that in the federal government employee rich Washington, D.C. region average household incomes significantly exceed the rest of America.

Before I go on with this piece, I feel that I need to offer the disclaimer that I live and pay taxes in Calvert County, Maryland which ranks 13th on the list.

While outside the physical beltway, I found out just how pervasive the impact of the federal government is throughout the D.C. area during one of the many government shut down debates in 2011.  While working at a volunteer landscaping day at the church, I heard two men talking about the potential shutdown.  Expecting a discussion of the various policy implications, I was shocked to hear them discussing how it would personally affect them.  In particular, their concerns that their scheduled travel on the taxpayer dime would be cancelled or disrupted en route.  Neither worked for the government as a direct employee, but each was a contractor to the government.

This echo chamber where every attempt to shrink government is disproportionately played out as disruptive or bad by the neighbors of the decision makers and their staff reveals the extraordinary challenge to cutting the size and scope of the federal government.

Our D.C. decision makers and most importantly their staffs and other political appointees and advisors live in the fishbowl of comfort created by a government that taxes the rest of the country to support it. Even the most fiscally conservative are surrounded by people who share many of our own values, but are dependent upon the government for their livelihoods and standards of living.

So, it should not be shocking that the best lobbyists for an extremely well paid federal workforce are the friends and neighbors of the actual decision makers.  When a House Committee staff member goes to play darts at the local bar in Calvert County, he is likely to be competing against and drinking beer with, a number of federal government employees.  So, when the subject comes up about whether the federal government worker should get another cost of living adjustment, it is natural for the political staff person to agree for the sake of their neighbor.

And that is why it is so difficult to keep federal government salaries and benefits in alignment with the private sector workers who pay them.   There is nothing nefarious, just the natural workings of a self-perpetuating government fueled by normal human relationships that distort reality.

All the while, the rest of America pays the price with increasing deficits and no apparent political will to solve our nation’s fiscal nightmare.  After all, some of us in D.C. might not get invited to our neighbors next Halloween Party if we actually act to slay the government cash cow.

Rick Manning is the Director of Communications for Americans for Limited Government.

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