Posting public employee salaries discourages favoritism

The Asbury Park Press posted on its Web site a great searchable database of federal employees and their 2008 salaries. The form allows you to search by name, agency, title or location. You can also click on the column headers (name, agency, title, salary, state, county, etc.,) to have the lists sorted in order. I didn’t know, for example, that there is a federal employee in my state (Arizona) that makes $327,000.

The paper notes the source of the data: U.S. Office of Personnel Management. It also notes a lot of caveats of how much information is kept secret: “Employees involved in security work, the FBI, CIA, Defense Department, nuclear materials, IRS, and jobs essential to national security are excluded. The list contains about 70 percent of executive branch employees, but not all departments report to the Office of Personnel Management. This list does not cover the White House, Congress, the Postal Service, and independent agencies and commissions.”

Since when is the IRS essential to national security, any more than the U.S. Parks Service or Department of Energy? I find it interesting that some agencies provide information and others don’t. The secrecy allows for cronyism and nepotism. There’s no way to identify shenanigans unless our paid government employees are public. Request the salaries of your local government employees and then find out if favoritism is occurring (family members being hired, business associates on the payroll, etc.).

I saw a similar shying away from posting government employee salaries with names by The Arizona Republic, which provides university salaries online but redacted names except for those over $95,000. I’m sorry, but everyone should be listed by name. Taxpayers pay our salaries so they ought to know what their money is going to. The public interest in preventing waste and corruption outweighs the discomfort of public employees. Without names the data are useless.

By the way, in full disclosure as a public employee, my salary is $72,200 and you can find this by requesting the records from the University of Arizona or looking it up in a binder in the UA Library. As I tell my students, they can now decide whether I am overpaid and should be docked pay or whether I don’t get paid enough – most politely remain quiet!

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