Fat for the fire

Democrat blogger Mickey Kaus takes issue with President Obama's statement on Monday that discretionary spending has been cut as far as is possible.

"Not much further we can cut" seems like a hanging curve ball, an open invitation for ongoing ridicule -- the sort of naive assertion that might come easily to someone who had never worked in the federal government, who only realized after promoting his half-trillion-dollar public works-based stimulus plan that there was "no such thing as shovel-ready projects." Or someone who doesn't want to know. Or who wants to act as if he doesn't know.

Here is the official list of federal job openings. They are still hiring. Sure, big enterprises keep hiring essential employees even in tough times. But these aren't essential jobs. Many of them seem like the sort of job a private firm, in a financial crisis like the feds are in, would consolidate with another job or leave unfilled. (The first one that jumps out is the "Associate Administrator for Administration" at the Department of Transportation, which pays $119,554 to $179,700. It seems that this person will do administrative work to maintain the layer of bureaucracy that "coordinates" the DOTs research programs. The new hire will also give "advice and assistance in directing, coordinating, controlling" etc. this little fiefdom. You don't have to be Peter Drucker to realize that this position does not have to exist.)

Kaus notes that since it seems to be almost impossible to fire a federal employee for incompetence, some of the current federal openings are undoubtedly for people to do the jobs of incompetents who remain on the payroll.   Kaus doesn't link to any sources for that position, but a few weeks back a USA Today story  reported that federal employee job security is such that in many agencies more employees die of natural causes than get terminated

Death -- rather than poor performance, misconduct or layoffs -- is the primary threat to job security at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Small Business Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Office of Management and Budget and a dozen other federal operations.

The federal government fired 0.55% of its workers in the budget year that ended Sept. 30 - 11,668 employees in its 2.1 million workforce. Research shows that the private sector fires about 3% of workers annually for poor performance.

The federal officials interviewed naturally attributed this to the great job they do hiring the right people for jobs like Associate Administrator for Administration in the first place.   The US Today story went on to note:

White-collar federal workers have almost total job security after a few years on the job. Last year, the government fired none of its 3,000 meteorologists, 2,500 health insurance administrators, 1,000 optometrists, 800 historians or 500 industrial property managers.

The nearly half-million federal employees earning $100,000 or more enjoyed a 99.82% job security rate in 2010. Only 27 of 35,000 federal attorneys were fired last year. None was laid off. Death claimed 33.

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