Civil Servants' Dangerous Discontent

September 15, 1989

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Morale among the government's top career managers is extremely low. They feel their salaries are unfairly kept in check by politics, and they believe the pay issue is just one indication of how little they are appreciated. They want not only more money, but more responsibility, too. However, the trend is toward giving more of that responsibility to political appointees. Critics charge the bureaucracy is now over-politicized, with disastrous effects on the quality of high-level public servants and ultimately on the smooth operation of the government.

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Ralph Nader and vociferous radio talk-show hosts didn't like the idea, and neither did the American public. Indeed, according to a January Gallup Poll, more than 80 percent of the public opposed it. And in the end, they all got their way. On Feb. 7, just hours before members of Congress were scheduled to get an automatic 51 percent pay raise—from $89,500 to $135,000—Congress formally gave in and voted to kill it.

But the idea has not gone away—and with good reason. There is much more to it than congressional greed. Denying members of Congress a salary increase has meant denying similar increases to federal judges and high-level federal executives. Congress has had such a hard time giving itself a raise that it has Linked its pay with the salaries of high officials in the other two branches of government as a way of improving its own prospects. Judges, along with the vice president and high-level political appointees, and top career officials below them, have thus been made to share the congressmen's financial fate.

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