September 30, 2010

My Big Fat Government Paycheck

Freedom and initiative are being replaced by ever higher taxation, regulation and centralization of power in Washington. Our economy is now stagnant and our standard of living is declining. Each year government takes a bigger share of our earnings, employs more and more of our people, enacts more rules that strangle our economy, and controls more and more of our lives. In the enjoyment of plenty, have Americans lost the memory of freedom? When citizens are willing to sacrifice their liberty for security, they will have neither liberty nor security and will soon find themselves living under tyranny. [Ellen Sauerbrey, The Spark That Has Triggered Rebellion, American Thinker, September 13, 2009]

Currently, federal workers enjoy both a defined benefit pension and a Thrift Savings Plan (equivalent to a 401(k)) with up to a 5% match, paid for by the taxpayers. The average private sector employee gets a 401(k) with a 3% employer match and no pension. Federal workers also continue to enjoy federal health care benefits (FEHBP) after they retire, a benefit that is becoming increasingly rare in the private sector.  In 2012, the Federal government contributed about $22.2 billion to the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS); however, the FERS system is currently underfunded by $20.1 billion for fiscal year 2012. By 2065, those required contributions will rise to $239.5 billion, with the government paying out $415.3 billion in benefits. U.S. Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Tom Coburn (R-OK), and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) reintroduced the Public-Private Employee Retirement Parity Act to address long-term liabilities facing the federal government. The legislation would end the defined benefit pension portion of the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) for new federal government hires starting six months after enactment, leaving fully in place the Thrift Savings Plan with the current match (up to 5%) for both current and future federal workers. The bill would also apply to Members of Congress. “Right now, federal government workers receive far more generous retirement benefits than private sector employees. The cost to taxpayers of these benefits is unsustainable and we simply cannot afford it,” said Sen. Burr. “We cannot ask taxpayers to continue to foot the bill for public employee benefits that are far more generous than their own. Generous pension plans for members of Congress have helped turn congressional service into a career rather than a calling,” said Dr. Coburn. “At the same time, federal workers enjoy a better benefits package and higher overall pay than most taxpayers – even at a time when many Americans are still simply looking for a job. This status quo is unsustainable and needs to be reformed.” [Postal Reporter, GOP Senators Reintroduce Public-Private Employee Retirement Parity Act S.1678, November 13, 2013

Federal salaries have grown robustly in recent years, according to a USA Today analysis of Office of Personnel Management data. Government-wide raises for top-paid staff have increased in every department and agency. The Defense Department had nine civilians earning $170,000 or more in 2005, 214 when Obama took office and 994 in June. The biggest pay hikes have gone to employees who have been with the government for 15 to 24 years; since 2005, average salaries for this group climbed 25 percent compared with a 9 percent inflation rate. Medical doctors at veterans hospitals, prisons and elsewhere earn an average of $179,500, up from $111,000 in 2005. Federal workers earning $150,000 or more make up 3.9 percent of the workforce, up from 0.4 percent in 2005. [Federal pay continues to rise; GOP eyes freeze,, November 10, 2010

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis for 2008 (an organization within the Department of Commerce), the average federal employee made $79,197, excluding benefits; when benefits were added in, the average federal employee's total compensation was $119,982. The average private sector employee made $49,935; when benefits were added in, the average private employee's total compensation was $59,909. Stated differently, the benefit cost for the average federal employee back in 2008 was $40,785; the average benefit cost for private sector employees for the same year was $9,974. [Ralph Smith, Federal Pay Gap With Private Sector Growing, FedSmith, August 25, 2009]

Figures by the US Census Bureau reveal sharply worsening conditions for tens of millions of Americans under the impact of the economic crisis and the accumulation of vast wealth by a relative handful. Overall, the 2009 American Community Survey reveals that median household income fell in the US nearly 3 percent between 2008 and 2009, from $51,726 to $50,221. This was the second consecutive year in which household incomes dropped. Median income declined in 34 states, and increased only in sparsely populated North Dakota. [2009 Income Gap in the U.S. Highest on Record, Socialist Equality Party, September 29, 2010]

The federal civilian workforce has become an elite island of secure and high-paid workers, separated from the ocean of private-sector American workers who must compete in today’s dynamic economy [the public servants have become the public's masters]. The pay gap between federal workers and the rest of the economy is getting wider. Since 1990, average compensation has increased 115% in the government and 69% in the private sector, while average wages have increased 104% in the government and 65% in the private sector. The solution to the problem? Freeze federal pay rates for several years and urge Congress to examine fringe benefits packages for possible savings. The coming retirement boom provides an opportunity to turn functions over to the private sector to let market wage rates determine salaries with more efficient compensation policies. [Chris Edwards, Federal Pay Outpaces Private-Sector Pay, The Cato Institute, May 2006]

In 1953, about 75 percent of Federal employees had a GS level of 7 or below. By 2009, in contrast, more than 70 percent of the workforce was GS 8 or higher. (The 2010 pay scale for a GS 8 is $46,745 - $60,765; for a GS 15, it is $123,758 - $155,500) [From A Government Document in Which Government Employees Justify their High Salaries]

Coming on the heels of the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) similar authorities regarding pay, 2003 may represent a turning point in the way federal employees are compensated for their work. This year we should have been celebrating our second year of full comparability under the FEPCA, since the year 2002 should have represented the milestone for a complete realization of the local comparability system for federal General Schedule (GS) employees. Under the carefully crafted bipartisan Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act of 1990 (FECPA), the 10-year phase-in of locality pay adjustments should have been completed, with the end result of GS workers finally being paid salaries comparable to the private sector on a locality by locality basis. [From the General Schedule Pay System for Federal Employees and FEPCA]

In 2010 a USA Today analysis reported that federal civil servants earned in 2009, on average, twice as much in pay and benefits ($123,049), including unrealized pension benefits, as the average private worker ($61,051). Average benefits were worth $41,791, most of it due to pensions. The average federal salary grew 33% faster than inflation from 2000 to 2009. Average compensation grew 36.9% since 2000, after adjusting for inflation, compared with 8.8% for private workers. The federal compensation advantage had grown from $30,415 in 2000 to $62,000 in 2009. [From Wikipedia]

The largest-ever federal payroll will hit 2.15 million people in 2010 and 2.11 million in 2011, but the true size of the federal government is much larger: it is estimated to be 15 million or more. [Stephen Dinan, The U.S. Government's Hidden Workforce, The Washington Times, February 2, 2010]

Political tension is bound to grow when jobs disappear faster in the private than the public sector, just as compensation in the former is squeezed more. There was a time when government work offered lower salaries than comparable jobs in the private sector, a difference for which the public sector was compensated by receiving more security and better benefits. No longer. These days, government employees are better off in almost every area: pay, benefits, time off and security, on top of working fewer hours. Public workers have become a privileged class — an elite who live better than their private-sector counterparts who pay for their salaries, benefits and pensions. Public servants have become the public's masters. Mort Zuckerman recommends creating independent commissions to fix salary scales and benefits for public employees, in addition to creating "more reasonable retirement ages," especially for new employees. Such reforms would be difficult, though, because as Zuckerman points out, the willingness of lawmakers to kowtow to Big Labor's demands automatically tips the scale in favor of big government. [Steve Everley, Public Servants are the Public's Masters, American Solutions, September 10, 2010]

Federal Pay Gap With Private Sector Growing

By Ralph Smith, FedSmith
August 25, 2009

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (an organization within the Department of Commerce), the average federal employee now makes $79,197, not including benefits. And, when benefits are added in, the average federal employee compensation averaged $119,982 based on 2008 figures. Chris Edwards, the Director of Tax Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, has researched the Commerce Department figures and compared the average federal employee's salary and benefits with the average private sector employee's salary and benefits. No doubt, you will be reading about this in many local newspapers in the days and weeks to come.

The tables are daunting but, for those who want more information on the information compiled by the Commerce Department, you can view them.

The average private sector employee salary is $49,935. And, when including benefits, the average private sector employee averaged $59,909 in total compensation.

Stated differently, the benefit cost for the average federal employee back in 2008 was $40,785; the average benefit cost for private sector employees for the same year was $9,974.

Here is a chart showing the relative pay levels from 2000 - 2008. By the way, the figures in this chart are from the tables by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Any error in the figures should be attributed to me and not to Chris Edwards:

The pay gap with the private sector is not new. Federal employee salaries and total compensation has been higher than those in the private sector for a number of years. For example, Chris Edwards points out that back in 1990 the average federal employee salary was $32,602 and the average private sector salary was $25857. At that time, there was also a gap between the total compensation package. The average private sector employee had a benefits package with a value of $4,852. The average federal employee had a benefit package with a value of $13,894--a difference of $9,042 in favor of the average federal employee. Now, as noted above, the difference in value of the total salary and compensation package is $60,073 in favor of the average federal worker.
Mr. Edwards notes that the compensation gap between private and federal workers actually grew larger during the Bush administration. He sums up the differential this way:
"The result has been an increasingly overpaid elite of government workers, who are insulated from the economic reality of recessions and from the tough competitive climate of the private sector....At the same time, gold-plated federal benefit packages should be scaled back as unaffordable given today's massive budget deficits. There are many qualitative benefits of government work—such as extremely high job security—so taxpayers should not have to pay for such lavish government pay packages."
So what does this mean for the federal workforce?

A number of readers usually comment that the figures are misleading because federal employees don't cook hamburgers and serve french fries at a fast food restaurant so that federal salaries should be higher than the average private sector worker.

There is certainly validity to that argument. But, for those who follow politics in America, you know that perception and political reality are often closely aligned. The current debate on health care, for example, has focused attention on the health care program offered to federal employees. A number of people speaking out on the issue have argued that everyone in America should have the same health care program as federal employees. How this would be paid for is usually not addressed. But that is an important issue since most of the cost of the health care for federal employees is paid by the government.
In short, federal benefits are quite good compared to the average American. In a time when the political philosophy seems to be leaning toward more equality of income and benefits, federal employee benefits could become a target at some point.

If that happens, we will keep readers informed, as we did with this recent article on proposals to reduce federal benefits.

Should Federal Workers Be Asked to Take Pay Cut, Too?

A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship. - Justice Litle, Is America’s Economic Recovery on the Whole Based on a Rotten Sham?, Daily Markets, April 20, 2010

By Tony Pugh, McClatchy Newspapers
May 19, 2010

During Public Service Recognition Week earlier this month, hundreds of job seekers converged on the National Mall to learn about career opportunities in the federal government.

While economists don't expect the private-sector job market to reach its pre-recession hiring levels until 2015 or later, the federal government, America's largest employer, suffers no such recessionary hangover.

The full-time federal civilian work force — excluding postal service employees — is expected to top 2.1 million in fiscal year 2010, and more than 560,000 new workers will be hired in the next four years, said John Palguta, the vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service.

For a nation battered by layoffs, plant closings and double-digit unemployment, Uncle Sam's hiring largesse should be a source of hope and inspiration. However, 98 percent of working Americans aren't federal employees, and many are wondering aloud why federal civil servants haven't
faced the wage freezes, layoffs, furloughs, pay cuts and hiring freezes that many in the general work force have endured.

Surely, the bulging federal deficit, diminished income tax revenue and massive war budget should warrant some sacrifice at the federal level.

Shouldn't it?
"To the extent that the American people are tightening their belt, Washington should tighten its belt too," said Brian Reidl, a research fellow in federal budget policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "It's important that federal employees aren't exempted from the sacrifices that other people are making."
That same logic prompted President Barack Obama, on his first full day in office, to freeze the pay of about 100 senior White House staffers who earn more than $100,000 a year.

It was a nice symbolic gesture. However, Chris Edwards, the director of tax policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute and the author of "Downsizing the Government," said the freeze should be extended to all federal civilian employees for the next several years, or at least until the economy recovers and private-sector wages improve.

After all, average compensation for federal civilian workers increased nearly twice as much as it did for the private sector from 2000 to 2008, federal data show. In fact, the average annual compensation for federal civilian workers — $119,982, including earnings and benefits — ranks seventh among 72 occupations, behind only high finance, energy and company management professions.

Then there are the benefits.
"Federal workers get a 401k-style plan, but they also get an old-fashioned defined-benefit pension plan with inflation protection," Edwards said. "They also get health care benefits when they retire above and beyond Medicare. You just don't see that kind of stuff in the private sector anymore, and I think the federal work force ought to reflect the private work force. It shouldn't be an elite island separated from the rest of us."
Palguta said some government compensation and staffing levels should be "readjusted," both up and down.
"But the rational and logical thing to do is to go in with a scalpel, not with a sledgehammer," he said.
Paul C. Light, a professor of public service at New York University's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, agreed that a rigorous restructuring of the federal government is needed.
"But I think blunt instruments like pay cuts and hiring freezes have proven absolutely ineffective in the past," Light said.
That's because they can be circumvented through promotions and advances through the dense federal employee classification system.
"So unless you simultaneously freeze movement of employees through the pay grades, you've done nothing more than create more layers of bureaucracy," Light said.
Thomas E. Mann, senior fellow for governance studies at The Brookings Institution, a center-left Washington research group, said freezing federal wages wouldn't save much money anyway, since most of the federal deficit stems from transfer payments to states, social programs, defense spending and payment on the national debt.

As for federal salary and work force cuts, Mann said that's a "lousy idea."
"The public has a notion that in the face of an economic downturn, everybody needs to cut back and the government budget should be run like a family's budget. But what seems viscerally fair and the right thing to do can make just dreadful policy sense," Mann said. "Cutting efforts of any kind when the economy is still shaky is really a dumb thing to do."
Others say that cancelling promised raises for government workers would be like imposing a tax on one narrow segment of the work force — one that had nothing to do with causing the economic crisis.
"How do you get from the bailout of Wall Street to cutting the pay of the janitor or food service worker in a VA hospital? We bailed out millionaires and to pay for it, we should cut the pay of civil servants?" said Jacqueline Simon, the public policy director for the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than 600,000 federal workers. "Whatever problems the federal budget is experiencing has literally nothing to do with the size or compensation of federal employees."
To keep the wheels of government churning, Uncle Sam requires a diverse work force. The mammoth federal civilian payroll includes brain surgeons, janitors, attorneys, accountants, police officers, lawyers, economists, food service workers, scientists, housekeepers, physical therapists, weapons analysts, linguists, pharmacists and scores of other positions.

While the mission of government changes with the times, the size has been fairly stable for decades. The federal payroll, at roughly 2.1 million civilian employees, is up from about 1.8 million during the Clinton administration's "reinvention of government." However, the federal work force is roughly the same size as it was during Gerald Ford's administration and about 100,000 less than it was when President Ronald Reagan left office, Palguta said.

The executive branch is projected to add about 274,000 full-time civilian workers from 2007 to 2011. About 80 percent of these new employees will work in support of war and counterterrorism efforts at the departments of Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, Defense, Justice and State.

Despite these additions, the federal civilian work force has been shrinking relative to the general population. In 1953, there was one civil servant for every 78 residents. That ratio fell to one for every 110 residents in 1988 and one per 155 residents in 2008.

A big part of that decline stems from the loss of lower-paid and lower-skilled federal workers whose jobs have been farmed out on a contract basis — so they're not on the federal payroll, but they're still paid with U.S. tax dollars. These contract workers cost the government more than $500 million a year, more than twice the amount in 2001. Last year, the Office of Management and Budget directed federal agencies to cut their contracting budgets by 7 percent to save $40 billion a year.

As more lower-paying positions leave the federal payroll, they've been replaced by higher-paying positions that require better-educated and better-skilled workers. That's one reason why the average compensation for federal employees increased at nearly twice the rate of the private sector from 2000 to 2008, according to data from the Commerce Department.

Average earnings in the private sector, which includes minimum-wage workers, CEOs and everyone in between, increased 31 percent, from $45,772 in 2000 to $59,909 in 2008, federal data show. However, earnings for federal civilian workers rose about 54 percent in that period, from $51,518 to $79,197.

Federal workers also have seen more generous contributions and faster growth in the area of benefits. From 2000 to 2008, the average annual value of private sector benefits — mainly pension and health insurance contributions — have increased 43 percent from $6,910 to $9,881. However, benefits for federal civilian workers jumped 65 percent from an average of $24,669 in 2000 to $40,785 in 2008.

In March, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, an Arizona Democrat, introduced legislation to cut congressional salaries by 5 percent, from $174,000 to $165,300. If enacted, it would be the first pay cut for Congress since the Great Depression.

A similar measure for federal civilian employees would be difficult to do, especially for Democrats in an election year, but fiscally worth considering, said Pete Sepp, the executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union.
"By expanding the scope beyond (members of) Congress, the savings at stake go from the millions into the billions," Sepp said. "In Washington, any talk of cutting salaries seems taboo, but outside the Beltway, where many people are making do with smaller paychecks or none at all, there might be a lot of receptive ears to the idea."

Want to Get Rich? Work for Feds


Washington Examiner
April 29, 2010

For decades, public sector unions have peddled the fantasy that government employees were paid less than their counterparts in the private sector. In fact, the pay disparity is the other way around. Government workers, especially at the federal level, make salaries that are scandalously higher than those paid to private sector workers. And let's not forget private sector workers not only have to be sufficiently productive to earn their paychecks, they also must pay the taxes that support the more generous jobs in the public sector.

Data compiled by the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis reveals the extent of the pay gap between federal and private workers. As of 2008, the average federal salary was $119,982, compared with $59,909 for the average private sector employee. In other words, the average federal bureaucrat makes twice as much as the average working taxpayer. Add the value of benefits like health care and pensions, and the gap grows even bigger. The average federal employee's benefits add $40,785 to his annual total compensation, whereas the average working taxpayer's benefits increase his total compensation by only $9,881. In other words, federal workers are paid on average salaries that are twice as generous as those in the private sector, and they receive benefits that are four times greater.

The situation is the same when state and local government compensation data is compared with that of the private sector. As the Cato Institute's Chris Edwards notes in the current issue of the Cato Journal,
"The public sector pay advantage is most pronounced in benefits. Bureau of Economic Analysis data show that average compensation in the private sector was $59,909 in 2008, including $50,028 in wages and $9,881 in benefits. Average compensation in the public sector was $67,812, including $52,051 in wages and $15,761 in benefits."
Those figures likely underestimate the true gap on the benefits side because the typical government employee gets a guaranteed defined benefit pension under very generous terms, while the private sector norm is a 401(K) defined contribution plan that is subject to the ups and downs of the economy. With the federal deficit and national debt heading into the stratosphere, taxpayers can no longer afford to support such lucrative government compensation. Public sector pay and benefits at all levels should be reduced to make it comparable to the wages and benefits earned by the average working taxpayer. The first politician to propose a five-year plan for this purpose is likely to be cheered mightily by taxpayers.!

Inside DHS: Average Salaries by Agency in 2006

Homeland Security Watch
Originally Published on October 30, 2006

In a post last week, I linked to a document on the Government Printing Office website that contained the full congressional justifications for the FY 2007 DHS budget request. In that post, I mentioned that it contained a wealth of information for DHS-watchers about the Department. On that note, I went through the document to research one topic that I haven’t seen analyzed previously: the average salaries within each of the constituent parts of DHS, which can be estimated by analyzing the “Permanent Positions by Grade” charts that are found throughout the document. You can see the full results of that analysis in this Excel spreadsheet, which computes average salaries for FY 2006. Some key findings:
  1. The average salary of the 177,844 DHS employees included on the spreadsheet was $56,334 in FY 2006.

  2. The average salary of a civilian (i.e. non-military Coast Guard) General Service (GS) or GS-equivalent civilian employee (e.g. TSA, which has a different pay-band system) was $56,319. And the average salary of a civilian Executive Service (ES) or ES-equivalent employee at DHS was $151,376 in FY 2006.

  3. Within both categories (ES and GS) there is a lot of variation among agencies and sub-agencies in terms of average pay. Part of this is due to natural variations in the years of experience and skill requirements of employees, and/or is abnormal due to a small sample size, but it’s difficult to tell if it’s all attributable to these differences. The highest paying-components of DHS in the analysis (ES+GS) are as follows:

    • US-VISIT, $151,197 average salary (115 employees).
    • Office of the Undersecretary for Preparedness, $131,360 (85 employees).
    • Infrastructure Protection and Information Security, $118,425 (445 employees)
    • FEMA, Disaster Relief Account, $115,781 (25 employees).
    • DHS Chief Information Officer, $112,590 (78 employees).
    • US Coast Guard, Acquisition Account (Civilian), $112,311 (345 employees).
    And the lowest-paying accounts are as follows:
    • TSA, Aviation Security, $36,387 (51,275 employees).
    • ICE, Immigration User Fee Account, $39,050 (275 employees).
    • ICE, Breached Bond Detention Fund, $41,084 (63 employees).
    • CBP, Puerto Rico Account, $51,098 (654 employees).
    • US Coast Guard Military, $54,715 (39,764 employees).
    • Customs and Border Protection, $59,852 (34,319 employees).
You can see the full analysis by downloading the spreadsheet which contains the complete analysis. Note that the Federal Air Marshal Service is not included within the scope of this analysis, because statistics on its workforce are classified.

In 2003, at DHS, the Bush Team and Unions Were Actually Getting Along

By Brian Friel, Government Executive
July 1, 2003

A year ago, federal employee unions and the Bush administration were locked in a nasty battle over whether Congress should grant broad power over personnel in the proposed Homeland Security Department to President Bush. On Capitol Hill, Republicans accused Democrats of putting the unions' special interests above national security, while Democrats accused Republicans of exploiting fears about terrorism to bust the unions. From June 2002, when Bush proposed the new department, until November 2002, when Bush signed the new department into law, federal unions and Bush administration officials were bitter enemies.
"It was long, bloody and divisive," recalls Jeff Sumberg, a labor relations official at the Office of Personnel Management.
* New department begins pay and personnel overhaul 04/01/03
* Homeland employees' jobs, pay safe for at least a year 11/26/02
* Homeland officials must work with employees on civil service rules 1/22/02
* Homeland Security leaders win broad power over civil service rules 11/21/02
A year later, federal unions and officials at the new Department of Homeland Security are doing a surprising thing: They're getting along. Union leaders are working with officials from Homeland Security and OPM to design a new personnel system for the department. Both sides say the process is working well, at least so far.
"We really couldn't ask for better people to work with at OPM and DHS," American Federation of Government Employees General Counsel Mark Roth said Tuesday at the Excellence in Government conference in Washington.
The conference, which ends Wednesday, is sponsored by the Council for Excellence in Government and Government Executive.

Kay Frances Dolan, co-chair of the personnel system design team at DHS, said the process of involving employee representatives is helping to build trust and credibility at the agency.
"The ultimate test of a personnel system is, does almost everyone think it's fair?" Dolan said.
"Fair" is not a word union leaders would use to describe the labor relations policies of the Bush administration. Almost immediately after taking office, Bush rescinded an executive order instructing agencies to set up labor-management partnership councils to involve unions early in management decisions. He went on to deny collective bargaining rights to several hundred Justice Department employees. Bush officials have also denied collective bargaining rights to employees at the Transportation Security Administration -- which is now part of Homeland Security -- and at the National Imagery and Mapping Agency.

Unions, meanwhile, have fought Bush administration efforts to revamp rules governing the civil service. This year, the American Federation of Government Employees, the National Treasury Employees Union, the National Federation of Federal Employees and other unions are battling plans to eliminate statutory civil service rules for employees at the Defense Department and Securities and Exchange Commission.

The legislative battle over the Homeland Security Department last year was particularly heated. Many observers say Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., was defeated for re-election in part because of Republican attacks on him for siding with the unions during the fight. After the election, in which Republicans gained several seats in the Senate, the Republican version of the Homeland Security bill quickly passed and President Bush signed it into law on Nov. 25. The law granted the new department power to redesign rules in six personnel areas: hiring, pay and classification, labor relations, employee discipline, employee appeal rights and employee evaluation systems.

The law said that department officials could come up with personnel rules, issue them in the Federal Register and give unions 30 days to provide comments. In the end, the department could issue whatever rules it wanted. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and OPM Director Kay Coles James decided to involve the unions more closely than the law required.

On the same day Bush signed the law, Ridge and James met with AFGE President Bobby Harnage and NTEU President Colleen Kelley to start coming up with a collaborative process to design the department's personnel system. In April, the Homeland Security Department and OPM set up a design team of 45 management officials, employees -- and union representatives -- to develop a list of options for personnel reform at the department. AFGE and NTEU have representatives on the design team, as does the National Association of Agriculture Employees, which represents agriculture inspectors.

Dolan and Roth said Tuesday that the design team will complete its work in September, at which time a senior review committee will put together proposals, which will ultimately be approved by Ridge and James.

The design team has been traveling across the country gathering input from Homeland Security employees, reading human resources publications and talking with personnel experts. Union and management representatives are working side-by-side, identifying problems in the department as well as personnel practices that are working.
"There's a lot of commitment of time, energy and money," Dolan said.
Both said department officials have done a good job of including union representatives. Four AFGE employees are on the design team.

The design team will present its list of personnel reform options to a review committee of management and union officials, Dolan said. AFGE President Harnage, NTEU President Kelley and National Association of Agriculture Employees President Michael Randall will represent unions. OPM is represented by Adviser Steven Cohen, Chief Human Capital Officer Doris Hausser, and policy officials Ron Sanders and Marta Brito Perez. Homeland officials on the review committee are Undersecretary for Management Janet Hale, Secret Service Director Ralph Basham, Transportation Security Administration chief James Loy, administration chief Michael Dorsey, immigration chief Eduardo Aguirre and customs chief Robert Bonner.

That group will be advised by a panel of academics and outside management experts: Bernard Rosen and Bob Tobias of American University, Patricia Ingraham of Syracuse University, Maurice McTigue of George Mason University and Pete Smith of the Private Sector Council.

Roth said union officials are still worried that the Bush administration will harm employee rights.
"We have fully committed to the design process," Roth said. "But we are also cautious."
Dolan, a veteran of personnel reform efforts at the Federal Aviation Administration and Internal Revenue Service, said the design process is helping build the trust necessary for success. But she is also cautious, noting that many factors could derail employees' acceptance of personnel reform.

2008 Pay Raise Prospects for Federal Workers Under Bush Were Part of the Financial Services Spending Bill

By Brittany R. Ballenstedt, Government Executive
July 12, 2007

It's only July and already the House has passed a 3.5 percent pay raise for civilian federal employees for 2008. The Senate appears to be on track to back a similar adjustment. But does that mean federal employees will receive their raises on time next year? Not necessarily.

The House moved quickly to pass the pay raise just before the July recess, as part of the 2008 financial services spending bill. And Tuesday, a Senate Appropriations subcommittee backed the 3.5 percent pay hike in its version of the financial services bill.

But for federal employees to see the result in their paychecks at the start of 2008, a number of steps still must be completed. Once the Senate finishes the financial services legislation, members of each chamber will have to work out the differences between the two versions. After the conference committee reaches agreement, each chamber must pass the final version and President Bush must sign it.
"The Senate has yet to pass any of their appropriations bills, so it's hard to say when we'll get to conference," said Stephanie Lundberg, a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
The target adjournment date for Congress is Oct. 26, and the last possible moment Congress and the president can finish their work on time is Dec. 31. Then the pay increase could go directly into effect for the 2008 calendar year.

If there is a delay in Congress, however, employees will receive part of their raise retroactively. This is what happened in 2003 and 2004, when workers received their raises at least three months late.

The failure of Congress to enact an appropriations bill including the pay raise last year before it adjourned resulted in President Bush putting his recommendation for a 2.2 percent 2007 raise into effect by way of executive order. Labor unions and some lawmakers have said it was the lowest in almost 20 years.

Lundberg said that one foreseeable obstacle to timely approval of the 2008 raise is President Bush's threat to veto the bill over unrelated provisions regarding sanctions against Cuba and changing policies on abortion.

In addition, the president has objected to the 3.5 percent adjustment itself, arguing that it exceeds the average increase in private sector pay measured by the Labor Department's Employment Cost Index. The change in the ECI from September 2005 to September 2006 was 3 percent, the figure the president proposed in his 2008 budget request.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said that year after year, NTEU reminds employees that the pay raise is not a guarantee.
"This is an annual fight," she said, "especially when the administration continues to say it doesn't agree on parity and tries to act on lesser raises for civilian employees."
Kelley added, however, that the 2008 raise appears to be on track.
"The support is there in both the House and Senate," she said, "and now it's just a matter of ensuring that the financial services bill gets passed in time."

Inflated Federal Employee Pay Costs Taxpayers $47 Billion a Year

The federal government does not create a traditional sellable product and thus produces no revenue outside of what it collects from taxpayers.

By Andrew Schneider, Americans for Tax Reform
July 13, 2010

With government spending impelling huge deficits, budget hawks are looking for ways to reduce the government’s burden on taxpayers. One avenue to reduce government expenditures is to bring federal employee compensation (wages and benefits) in line with those in the private sector. A recent study by the Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk shows that workers in comparable fields and occupations are paid disproportionately more when employed by the federal government. The following figures from Sherk’s study illustrate this point:
  • Federal employees’ hourly wages are 22 percent more than workers in the private sector.

  • Aligning federal workers’ compensation with market rates would save taxpayers $47 billion a year.

  • When combining wages and total benefits, federal employees earn 30-40 percent more than private-sector workers.

  • Full-time federal employees can take 13 paid sick days a year along with all 10 days of national holidays.

  • Federal employees with ten years of experience earn on average ten more sick days a year than private employees.

  • The average federal civilian employee earns on average $32,115 a year in non-cash compensation compared to a private sector employee who earns three times less, $9,882 annually.

  • Over 81 percent of federal employees participate in employer-sponsored pension plans compared to less than half (47.9 percent) of private sector employees.

  • Federal employees receive 22.0 percent more in employer payments toward their health care than their private sector counterparts.

  • During the recent recession (2007-2009) the private sector unemployment rate jumped to 9.4 percent from 4.2 percent while federal unemployment barely increased to 2.9 percent from 2.0 percent.

GOP Calls for Federal Hiring Freeze, Spending Cuts, Eliminating the 1.4% Federal Pay Raise in 2011
September 23, 2010

House Republicans on Thursday unveiled plans to freeze federal hiring in an effort to reduce the size of government.

The "Pledge to America," a document GOP members have called a "governing agenda," includes a series of proposals to cut government size and control spending. In addition to canceling unspent stimulus funds and capping discretionary spending, Republicans promise to freeze federal hiring for all non-security-related jobs. Government shouldn't grow at the expense of the private sector, the document stated.
"By cutting Congress' budget, imposing a net hiring freeze on non-security federal employees and reviewing every current government program to eliminate wasteful and duplicative programs, we can curb Washington's irresponsible spending habits and reduce the size of government while still fulfilling our necessary obligations," the report said.
Party leaders also pledged to continue weekly votes on the YouCut program, an initiative to rein in government spending. The public each week votes on proposals, and the winning idea goes to the House floor.

Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., in May proposed eliminating the 1.4 percent federal pay hike President Obama requested for 2011, but House lawmakers rejected the legislation. Other proposals have included federal workforce cuts and a plan to fire government employees with delinquent income taxes [276,300 federal employees and retirees owe $3 million in unpaid income taxes].

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, House minority leader, led party efforts to draft and review the pledge.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., called the GOP's promises a "broad assault on the federal workforce."
"The idea that a hiring freeze somehow is going to wipe out the federal deficit is nonsensical and frankly is an arbitrary, capricious and mindless approach to government," said Connolly, adding additional federal workers are needed in areas like border patrol, health care and scientific research and development.

"Even under a hiring freeze the work of the federal government would still have to be done," said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. "But without sufficient staffing, federal agencies would be forced to turn to unaccountable and costly private contractors."
Comments from Michael J. Smith, M.P.A.:

The US taxpayer in today's national economy is being positioned to fund the surmised 'housing' costs of two married active duty personnel stationed in San Diego functioning in CLERICAL support roles of some sort. And yes, there are legions of CLERICAL support Navy staff of all ranks currently stationed in San Diego.

This couple, these ERLY THITY-SOMETHING volunteers, EACH WITH NO MORE THAN A HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA, have been in the Navy for 16 years. Each has risen to the ENLISTED rating/rank of E-7. Each are provided with a generous base annual BASE salary of circa $48k. But they are also currently handed, each of them, even for the very same household in which they both reside, a tax-free monthly 'housing' (and I'll call it for levity a US taxpayer 'hosing') allowance of precisely $4,107. According to current mil policy, one volunteer gets $2,208 (BAH w/dependent rate), and the other gets handed $1,899 w/o dependents rate.Think about that fact for a moment. THIS COUPLE gets handed greater than $4,100 PER MONTH (OR $49,200 PER YEAR) TAX FREE, ABOVE AND BEYOND THEIR COMBINED NEAR $100K BASE SALARY FOR SO-CALLED "HOUSING."

Several points: First: Why should the US taxpayer pay these volunteers ANYTHING for surmised 'housing' when they are already being given >$100k each year in salary alone? Second: Why shouldn't these volunteers use at least some of their combined $100k salary to pay for their own housing just like the rest of the American population? Third: Why should the US taxpayer pay BOTH of these volunteers a tax free monthly surmised 'housing' allowance when they both live in the same residence?

If the GOP is sincere about cutting fed expenditures, which is is NOT, they ought to consider the following:

Fact 1: The majority of DOD expenditures are for pay and benefits for active duty members.

Fact 2: Mil pay and benefits are at all-time highs. O-5/ O-6 compensation, when >20 years, commonly reaches $175k per year, $40k and more of which is in fully tax free 'housing.'

Fact 3: All members of the military are volunteers.

Fact 4: Most members enlist to serve and serve in non-combatant fields and specialties.

Fact 5: Only a small percentage of active duty volunteers (when viewed DOD-wide) served in Iraq or Afghanistan, and an even smaller percentage of those that did ever set a foot outside of the wire in either geographic location.

Fact 6: The VAST majority of active duty members are stationed stateside or on safe overseas bases.

Fact 7: According to recently published peer-reviewed studies, mil direct compensation (salary and 'housing' allowances, amongst others) is now HIGHER than their demographic counterparts in the private sector. Note: This has NEVER EVER occurred in the Nation's history. NEVER!

Fact 8: The monthly tax free 'housing' allowances are excessively high. Many reach upwards of $3-4k per month.

Fact 9: No receipts are required to prove that these funds are even used on 'housing.' And as a result, many members pocket huge windfalls each and every month.

Fact 10: Other than the PHS and NOAA (both of which are miniscule in comparision to DOD, and both of which are full of MDs, PHDs, and public health scientists, there is no other public sector organization on the planet that hands its de facto employees between $3-4k (and above) tax free for so-called 'housing' above and beyond their salaries.

Fact 11: The majority of the American public, millions of who are struggling to even locate employment, are FULL UNAWARE of these 'housing/hosing' windfalls.

You want something to cut, GOP, cut here!

House GOP: Freeze Federal Salaries

May 28, 2010

House Republicans will try to force a vote on freezing federal wages when Democrats bring a defense spending bill to the floor Friday afternoon.

It’s the last day of a long legislative week on Capitol Hill, and before lawmakers head out for the weeklong Memorial Day recess, House Democrats are trying to pass a flurry of legislation: a tax extenders bill, legislation that provides for science programs and the defense authorization bill. Even though the proposal would be attached to the defense bill, military salaries would be exempt from the pay freeze. The proposal would also freeze pay for members of Congress.

Republicans plan to use a motion to recommit — a procedural method that sends a bill back to its committee of jurisdiction — to force lawmakers to vote on the freeze to federal worker pay. Republicans hope it puts Democrats in a bind: The majority doesn’t want to vote for the motion because it could temporarily kill the legislation, but if it doesn’t vote for it, the GOP could then say Democrats voted against a spending cut. This proposal is the latest from the House GOP’s YouCut project in which voters text-message their votes on how to cut government spending.

Republicans say that freezing federal salaries — except for those in the military — would save the government $30 billion in the next decade. The Obama administration intends to increase federal salaries 1.4 percent.

Because they are in the minority, Republicans are forced to use parliamentary maneuvers to try to get Democrats to vote on such spending cuts.
“We need to reject this cynical ploy to make federal employees a scapegoat for spending after congressional Republicans added trillions to the debt when they were in the majority,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) wrote in an e-mailed statement. “Rather than purely political maneuvers, House Republicans should work with Democrats to build on efforts already under way to cut unnecessary spending and help reduce the deficit.”

Cut Government Salaries Now

The Daily Reckoning
March 2, 2010

With the 2011 federal budget the Obama administration is adding a two percent wage increase for civilian federal workers. It doesn’t sound like much but, at a time when the total compensation for the average federal worker is double the average of a private sector worker, any increase is too much.

Here’s how Forbes describes the madness of the US government payroll:
“Imagine a company that dominates its field. It’s been No. 1 in its industry as long as anyone can remember. But lately it’s fallen on hard times. Revenue has dropped dramatically. The only thing keeping it afloat is record borrowing based on its stellar credit rating, earned many years ago.

“Meanwhile, independent analysts have shown that workers at this company earn higher than average wages. Moreover, the workers have skills that are not easily transferable.

“If this were an airline or an automaker, the solution would be a no-brainer: It would be time for a big pay cut. If the company didn’t cut pay, or increased it, creditors and investors would question the seriousness of management.”
Yet, with the above perfectly sound logic, what we see is another pay increase. Forbes doesn’t claim that a payroll cut would sharply increase government savings — a 10 percent decrease would only save about $15 billion — but it would at least send the right message… that the nation’s leadership isn’t asleep at the wheel.

The complete article is worth a look, and can be found in Forbes coverage of why we should cut pay for government workers.

Database of Salaries of America's Overpaid Federal Employees (Searchable by Name)

Stacie Naczelnik, Ever wondered where all of your tax money goes?

In a society where salaries are secrets nobody wants to reveal, it is refreshing to find websites that have a tell all approach when it comes to the salaries of federal employees.

If you are interested in finding out just how well (or not) a government job pays, all you have to do is get online and click away.
For a broad view:
2010 Salary Tables and Related Information
For general salary ranges of particular job descriptions, check out this U.S. Office of Personnel Management website.

For an in-depth look:
Federal Employees 2008 search
Find federal salaries based on location, agency, or even name at this site. Jobs that relate to national security are excluded, but other positions are available.

Note that the database shows 2008 salaries. Federal pay for civilian employees increased 3.9% in 2009 and by 2% in 2010; and the proposed increase for 2011 is 1.4%.
Why does it matter?

There are a variety of reasons why you should be able to find out how much federal employees are making.

First of all, it is important to know how tax money is used. This doesn't mean that you, personally as a taxpayer, are paying these salaries. But as a taxpayer, you should find out how taxes are used.

Second, it helps to see the salary differences between the private companies and government jobs. When I first saw some of the federal salaries, I was shocked--I was certain that the private sector paid more. I was wrong.

Searchable Database for Federal, State, County and Local Government Salaries

This is a directory of links to federal, state, county and municipal government salary and employee name databases. These searchable databases of salaries, pay, overtime and compensation of government workers are compiled by news organizations, open government advocates and government agencies.

Federal Employees: Pay and Pension Increases Since 1969 (Click Here for Chart)
The Effects of Local Market Conditions on Two Pay-Setting Systems in the Federal Sector
American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, 1998

General Schedule (GS) federal employees, on average, should have received pay increases this year in excess of 10%. (This number is significant for Wage Grade (WG) employees as well since for the last several years they have been given the same raises as GS employees.) But because of continued defiance of the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act of 1990 (FEPCA) by politicians in both the executive and legislative branches, those employees are actually receiving, on average, raises of only 2.8%. Shortchanging federal employees on their pay raises is nothing new. Actually, it's happened year after year after year. In 1999, GS employees should receive pay increases of almost 13%. However, the Clinton Administration proposed in its budget that pay raises for GS employees next year be only 3.1%, on average.

Comparing Federal Salaries with Those in the Private Sector, July 1997
The Evolution of Compensation in a Changing Economy

A major change in the Bureau of Labor Statistics wage survey program came with passage by Congress of the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act of 1990 (FEPCA), which changed the pay-comparability process by creating a combination of national and local pay adjustments. The FEPCA provided that Federal white collar worker pay include a national adjustment (based on the ECI) and a locality adjustment. The latter required creation of a locality-based system to replace the single General Schedule that largely disregarded locality pay differences found in the private sector.

A Government Document in Which Government Employees Justify their High Salaries

The General Schedule (GS) is a payment structure set in place in 1949 that classifies occupations according to the difficulty and responsibility of the work. In 1953, about 75 percent of Federal employees had a GS level of 7 or below. By 2009, in contrast, more than 70 percent of the workforce was GS 8 or higher.

Milestones in Federal Worker Labor History through 1997

1991: President George Bush signed the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act (FEPCA), establishing locality pay to gradually close the 30 percent pay gap between the federal and private sectors. President Bill Clinton subsequently rejected the bill’s pay formula and refused to follow the mandates of FEPCA.

Attracting Graduates to Government

2002: Homeland Security Act created Department of Homeland Security and provided authority for it to design its own pay system.

2003: National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2004 granted the Department of Defense authority to develop and implement a new pay system Human Capital Performance Fund established.

Payroll and Human Capital Changes During Downsizing

During fiscal years 1993 through 1997, the federal civilian workforce (excluding the Postal Service) was reduced by almost 300,000 employees, or 13.8 percent. At the same time, the federal civilian payroll—basic pay, premium pay, and benefits increased by 9.3 percent, to $102.4 billion. In addition, in analyzing this reduction in the federal workforce, GAO and others have raised concerns about the implications of downsizing on the employees—a human capital issue.

Hearing on the Department of Defense's Proposals for Its Civilian Workforce, May 2003
Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act (FEPCA) of 1990
Federal Employment Statistics: 2002 Publication of Employment by Geographic Area
Federal Salary Council's Recommendations for Locality Pay in 2007
Salaries and Benefits of US Congress Members
The Annual Cost of US Federal Government Civilian Employees
What is the average teacher salary in each state?
Federal Pay Still Inflated After Accounting for Skills
Federal employees owe Uncle Sam $3B in unpaid taxes
Income angst? Not for public employees
Taxpayer uprising the only answer
Inflated Federal Pay: How Americans Are Overtaxed to Overpay the Civil Service
Federal Employee Salaries: Some Above Private Sector
Reforming Federal Pensions
Federal Employee Salary Freeze? Here is What Readers Think About It
Federal Employees Pay Raises and Getting Fat Off the People
Why do civil servants earn twice the annual salary of taxpayers?
Washington Elites Face Reality Gap on Economy
Obama's Union Payoffs
Public-sector Unions Bleed Taxpayers to Help Dems
Why not cut salaries of federal employees to reduce deficit?
Scott Brown blasted by federal union for saying that federal employees earn twice as much as the private sector
Federal Employees at the Trough
Federal workers earn double their private counterparts
“Government Pay: Now For The Really Bad News”
More government employee theft of taxpayer dollars
By now, most Americans are familiar with the newly revealed statistics concerning federal pay. As we slept, as it were, our federal minders awarded themselves impressive pay/benefits increases that average out to $123,000 per year, compared with $61,000 in the private sector.

Government defined-benefit pensions offered to federal, state, and local government employees
Overtime, pension rules burn the taxpayers
Government pension abuse costs taxpayers
Pension gap divides public and private workers
Taxpayer Cost of Public Retirement Plans
Pension ‘pain train’ coming
Overpaid Federal Workers
Despite Overwhelming Evidence, Federal Workers Still Claim They Are Underpaid, Not Overpaid -
To the Struggling Taxpayers Who Pay Their Bloated Salaries, Fed Workers Say "Bite Me"
(November 2010)

The public is angry at federal employees, claiming they are overpaid and underworked. But new Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows federal employees are paid an average of 24 percent less than their private sector counterparts. The figure was presented to the Federal Salary Council last week. GovExec reports the gap widened by two percentage points in 2010 versus 2009. The Council is made up of union leaders and federal managers. It makes annual pay recommendations to the President's Pay Agent. Meanwhile, the change in the Employment Cost Index was 1.6 percent in 2010. That figure could become the basis for the president's raise recommendation to be included in the 2012 budget proposal.

Want a Fat Paycheck? Work for Uncle Sam [the U.S. Taxpayers]
Federal Government civilian employment, except U.S. Postal Service, November 2008

September 29, 2010

The Asian Invasion: Stink Bug, Asian Carp, Northern Snakehead Fish and Burmese Python

The brown marmorated stink bug is known as an agricultural pest in its native range of China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Recently, it has become a serious pest of fruit, vegetables and farm crops in the Mid-Atlantic region, and it is probable that it will become a pest of these commodities in other areas of the United States. - Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, Penn State College of Agricultural Studies, September 2010

Stink Bugs Causing Crop Damage in the United States

The Washington Post
September 24, 2010

Shaped like shields and armed with an odor, dime-size brown bugs are crawling into area homes over windowsills, through door crevices and between attic vents in such numbers that homeowners talk about drowning them in jars of soapy water, suffocating them in plastic bags or even burning them with propane torches. In the process, some people are unwittingly creating another problem: When squashed or irritated, the bugs release the distinctive smell of sweaty feet.

Get used to it, experts say -- the invasion is only going to get worse.
"This is the vanguard," said Mike Raupp, a University of Maryland entomologist and extension specialist. "I think this is going to be biblical this year," he said. "You're going to hear a collective wail in the Washington area, up through Frederick and Allegany counties, like you've never heard before. The [bug] populations are just through the ceiling."
The change in season, as days shorten and nighttime temperatures start to dip, is nature's call to the brown marmorated stink bug - pest extraordinaire -- to leave its summer gorging grounds and seek refuge inside. What's happening now is a massive population shift from orchards, cornfields and gardens to suburban homes, office buildings and hotels -- the urban U.S. equivalents of rocky outcroppings in the stink bug's native Asia.

Stink bugs are harmless to people and their possessions. They don't bite. They don't sting. They're not known to transmit disease. But their population has grown so tremendously that they are not only causing vexation to homeowners but also, for the first time, wreaking damage to peaches and apples, soybeans and corn, and even ornamental shrubs and trees.

There is no easy way to kill lots of the bugs at once. They have no natural predators in the United States. Pesticides don't work effectively. The insects travel easily -- hitching rides on buses and construction material -- and adapt to winter in homes. As a result, they have flourished, spreading to 29 states since they arrived in Allentown, Pa., in 2001, likely stowaways in a shipping container from Asia. They are native to Japan, Korea and China, where they are known as "stinky big sisters."

And now they are causing a stink in the mid-Atlantic region.

Experts say homeowners should prevent them from coming indoors by sealing cracks and openings around doors and windows. Once the bugs are inside, residents can vacuum them up, remove the bag and put it in the garbage outside. (Beware: The smell may linger in the vacuum cleaner.) Experts warn against using outdoor pesticides.

It's true: 'They smell'
"I'm looking out my window here, and I bet I have 30 of them on the screen," said longtime Middleburg resident Margo Tate. "My husband smushes them and throws them in the trash. They're a mess. They smell when you squish them."
Lori Rice, 48, runs an organic farm in Middletown, in Frederick County. She finds them indoors and outside. Indoor bugs she traps in "death jars" -- pint jars containing soapy water. The soap, she said, dissolves the exoskeleton. Twice a day, she flushes the bugs down the toilet.

On Rice's farm, Asian pears, raspberries and tomatoes have all suffered.
"If all our vegetables hadn't already [been] withered by the heat and drought this year, the bugs would likely have broken our hearts there as well," she wrote in an e-mail.
She is experimenting with spraying soapy water outside.

For people, stink bugs are nowhere near the menace of bedbugs, which feed on human blood. Their resurgence prompted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue an unusual statement last month about their public health impact. Stink bugs, by contrast, are a mere nuisance for people, though they are causing farmers real distress.

Maryland's Agriculture Department last week warned that the bug is emerging as a devastating pest to orchard owners and potentially to soybean growers.
"In Maryland this year we have had the most extensive brown marmorated stink bug damage to both tree fruit and vegetables ever reported in the U.S.," said Jerry Brust, a University of Maryland pest expert.
Bob Black, whose 100-acre Catoctin Mountain Orchard in Thurmont, Md., includes peaches and apples, said he has lost about 20 percent of his crop. The bugs suck out juices, leaving pockmarks that make fruit and vegetables unmarketable.

Dairy farmers are worried that cows that feed on chopped-up field corn full of dead stink bugs might develop a bad smell in their milk.

Federal intervention?

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a Republican who represents Maryland's rural 6th District, sent a letter Friday, signed by 15 members of Congress, asking U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson to take immediate action to limit damage caused by Halyomorpha halys.

Because so little is known about the insect, researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state universities in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia and New Hampshire (the bug popped up there for the first time this year) have formed the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Working Group. Among the priorities: study the bug's basic behavior and biology, identify natural ways to control it and develop public awareness.

Tracy Leskey, a USDA scientist and a leader of the group, made the first positive identification of a specimen in Maryland in 2003, at a gas station in Hagerstown. She tracks them from her research station in Kearneysville, W.Va. Outside Shepherdstown, where she lives, residents have reported having thousands massing on the sides of their homes.
"I have never seen anything like this in my career," said Leskey, 42.
Researchers are racing against the clock to find ways to kill the stink bugs.

At a USDA lab in Newark, Del., scientists have quarantined tiny parasitic wasps -- collected from China and Korea, where they are the bugs' natural predators -- to determine whether the wasps can be used against the stink bugs without harming other species here. The wasps attack the eggs of the stink bugs. That research is likely to take two more years.

The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

University of Florida
Originally Published on April 2005; Latest Revision in July 2010

The brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB), Halyomorpha halys Stål, is a pest that was first officially reported from the western hemisphere in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 2001 ...

BMSB is polyphagous, and is a pest of several important crops in its native range. In Japan it attacks shade and fruit trees, vegetables, and leguminous crops (Hoebeke 2002). In southern China, it feeds on flowers, stems and pods of various legumes, and also on apple, cherry, Citrus, fig, apricot, mulberry, peach, pear, and soybean as well as other plants.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to assess the damage caused by one species of stink bug, since several species cause similar damage. A similar situation may occur in the southern U.S., as the BMSB spreads south and overlaps with the distribution of the southern green stink bug.

Originally, populations in Pennsylvania were limited to ornamental plants, garden crops, fruit and shade trees in suburban areas and urban landscapes. Damage was observed on several ornamentals, including butterfly-bush (Buddleia spp), and the princess tree (P. tomentosa). Both adults and nymphs fed on the leaves of these two host plants, and leaf damage was very apparent by the end of the season. These two ornamentals may attract the stink bug as it spreads to new areas, and homeowners are likely to be the first to see this new pest. Significant damage was also reported on urban peach and pear crops. Following the first official identification of BMSB, Bernon et al. (2004) found BMSB on over 60 host plants.

As the BMSB continues to expand its range, it is likely to invade agricultural areas and may pose a risk to various crops. Nielson and Hamilton (2009) conducted an extensive study of BMSB populations at farms in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and found approximately 25% damage per fruit tree. These studies critically indicate the potentially increasing pest pressure that may occur in tree fruits, particularly pears, apples, and peaches, as a result of the introduction of BMSB. Nielsen and Hamilton (2009) predict that pest pressure from BMSB could be more severe in southern U.S. peach-producing states, as it is possible that two generations per year would occur in warmer climates.

Stink Bugs Invading Dan River Region Homes (North Carolina)
September 25, 2010

Many residents can’t leave their homes without bumping into stink bugs crawling on screen doors and around entryways trying to sneak in.

An unprecedented population of the brown marmorated stinkbug — an invasive species — has local homeowners calling exterminators for help.
“We’re definitely getting a lot of calls about stink bugs, that’s for sure,” said John Adkins, owner of Four Seasons Pest Control on Franklin Turnpike.
Calls started picking up within the past two weeks. Adkins estimates about 50 calls so far, but it’s still early in the season.
“This year for some reason, they’ve gotten a lot worse,” Adkins said. “I’m seeing them all around.”
Eric Day, entomologist and director of the insect identification lab at Virginia Tech’s Department of Entomology, agreed the numbers surged this year.

While Virginia hosts native stink bugs, the ones on the screen doors and entering homes are a new species to the state, Day said.

The brown marmorated stink bug — a native agricultural pest for China and Japan — first arrived by accident to eastern Pennsylvania in 1998. The bugs showed up in the Roanoke area in 2005 and are spreading across the state, he said.

The dry, hot summer helped increase numbers for both native and brown marmorated stink bugs, but the invasive species’ numbers surged because they have no natural enemies to keep the population in check, Day explained.
“So, it’s kind of run amuck,” he said.
Yet, the bugs are harmless. They aren’t poisonous and don’t cause structural damage to homes. They just want a place to live for the winter.

Of course, when squashed or threatened, they excrete an icky smell.
“They are a classic nuisance pest,” Day said.
Vegetable gardens and farms had been dealing with the immature stink bugs or “nymphs” all summer, he said. They like to feed on seeds and fruit, like grapes, apples and peaches. In some areas, they fed on soybean pods.

What can homeowners do?

Companies like Four Seasons can treat in areas where the bugs are trying to get in, but the best thing homeowners can do is winterize their homes — sealing up cracks and crevices around door seals and windows, Adkins said. That’ll help keep stink bugs and other insects out while making your home more energy efficient.
“It makes us a little bit more aware of our homes and how easy it is for insects to invade,” Adkins added.
Dodson Pest Control on Memorial Drive is definitely getting more calls this year than last year, said District Manager Randy Mullens.

This year, the company is offering perimeter treatments in areas where the stink bugs are most likely to land, he said. Stink bug numbers are so great, customers are asking for treatments.

He expects stink bug traffic will pick up as the weather cools and Dodson Pest Control will deal with them through November.

Mullens lives in Franklin County, where stink bugs adorn his home.
“We’re starting to see a lot more,” Mullens said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Move Over, Bedbugs: Stink Bugs Have Landed

The New York Times
September 26, 2010

When they retreated from the Battle of Gettysburg, Confederate troops passed by the area that is now Richard Masser’s orchards. If only the latest enemy — the brown marmorated stink bug — would follow suit.

A stinkbug.

Damage to fruit and vegetable crops from stink bugs in Middle Atlantic states has reached critical levels, according to a government report. That is in addition to the headaches the bugs are giving homeowners who cannot keep them out of their living rooms — especially the people who unwittingly step on them. When stink bugs are crushed or become irritated, they emit a pungent odor that is sometimes described as skunklike.

Suddenly, the bedbug has competition for pest of the year.

Farmers in Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other states are battling a pest whose appetite has left dry boreholes in everything from apples and grapes to tomatoes and soybeans. Stink bugs have made their mark on 20 percent of the apple crop at Mr. Masser’s Scenic View Orchards here. Other farmers report far worse damage.
“They’re taking money out of your pocket, just like a thief,” said Mr. Masser, flicking stink bugs off his shirt and baseball cap as he overlooked his 325 acres, a few miles south of the Pennsylvania border. “We need to stop them.”
No one seems to know how. Government and university researchers say they need more time to study the bug, which has been in the United States since about 1998. Native to Asia, it was first found in Allentown, Pa., and has no natural enemies here.

Some people noticed an increase in the stink bug population last year, but all agreed that this year’s swarm was out of control. Researchers say the bugs reproduced at a faster rate this year, but they are unsure why.
“These are the hot spots right now, but they’re spreading everywhere,” Mr. Masser said. “They even found them out in Oregon.”
Populations of the brown marmorated stink bug — different from the green stink bugs that are kept in check by natural predators here — have been found in 15 states, and specimens in 14 other states, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

The bug travels well, especially as it seeks warm homes before the onset of cold weather.
“It’s an incredible hitchhiker,” said Tracy Leskey, an entomologist with the Agriculture Department’s Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville, W.Va. “The adults are moving and looking for places to spend the winter.”
The research station is among three laboratories looking for a solution. Government and university researchers also formed a working group this summer. But Kevin Hackett, national program leader for invasive insects for the Agriculture Department’s research arm, said no immediate solution was in sight.
“We need to do considerable more research to solve the problem,” he said. “We don’t even have a way to monitor the pests. I’m confident that we have excellent researchers. I’m not confident we’re going to find a solution immediately.”
The department is spending $800,000 this fiscal year on stink bug research, double last year’s budget, Mr. Hackett said. But he estimated that seven more full-time researchers were needed, at a cost of about $3.5 million a year for salaries and research expenses.

In Asia, a parasitic wasp helps control stink bug populations by attacking their eggs. Unleashing those wasps here, however, is at least several years away because they would first need to be quarantined and studied.

There has been limited success using black pyramid traps in orchards, Ms. Leskey said. The traps contain scents that trigger sexual arousal. The nymphs, or young bugs, respond seasonlong, Ms. Leskey wrote in a recent report, but adults respond only late in the season, in late August.

Representative Roscoe G. Bartlett, Republican of Maryland, convened a meeting last week of officials from the Agriculture Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. He is pushing to have the stink bug reclassified, which would allow farmers to use stronger pesticides, and is advocating that the Agriculture Department reallocate $3 million of its budget for research.

A problem that can arise when more pesticides are used, experts and farmers say, is that many years’ worth of effective “integrated pest management” can be ruined in the process. Farmers kill some pests but allow others to live because they prey on yet other pests. Wasps, for example, eat worms that otherwise would kill crops.
“It is a way to use nature’s own defenses against pests in orchards,” said Steve Jacobs, an urban entomologist at Pennsylvania State University. “That’s been finely tuned and works well. This brown marmorated stink bug blows all that out the window. You kill them today, new ones come tomorrow. So this is a serious problem.”
Meanwhile, homeowners in the region are coping with this latest nuisance.

Vicky Angell of Thurmont, Md., said she first noticed the stink bugs last year, but “not in flocks” like this summer. She kills about six a day and suspects that they get inside her home when she leaves the door open to let the dog out.

Damage to crops from stink bugs in mid-Atlantic states has reached critical levels, a government report said.

Ms. Angell said she flushes them down the toilet after catching them in a napkin. Other people use their vacuum. And many have turned to exterminators.

Stink bugs, whose backs resemble knights’ shields, do not bite humans and pose no known health hazards — even the fruit they have gotten to is edible, once the hardened parts are cut out. They leave small craters on the surface of an apple or pear, and the inside can get brown and corklike. Females can grow to nearly the size of a quarter. “Marmorated” refers to their marbled or streaked appearance.

Still, sometimes they are just too close for comfort. Ms. Angell said she got a surprise when she put on her pants Friday morning, having washed them and left them to dry in her laundry room.

She felt something in the right rear pocket.
“I thought I left a piece of paper in them when I washed them,” she said.
But it was not paper.
“Pulled it out. He was alive. Stink bug. Flushed him down the toilet,” she said. “I thought, I’m glad I didn’t sit on that.”
Kelli Wilson of Burkittsville, Md., said her home had been overrun by the bugs, especially in the past week.
In the afternoon sun, the north-facing exterior of the house “is black with stink bugs,” she said. “It looks like the wall is crawling.”
Mrs. Wilson’s husband, Raymond, skipped services on Sunday at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Burkittsville to remove stink bugs from the house. Mrs. Wilson discovered a little hitchhiker as she and her children arrived at the church.
“I just pulled into the parking lot and there’s one on my purse,” she said. “They travel with me now.”
Mr. Jacobs, the urban entomologist, said the response to stink bugs so far is not an overreaction.
“I’m standing here in my living room watching some of them crawl up my walls,” he said. “The best thing to do is make your house as tight as possible. Use masking tape to seal around sliding glass doors, air-conditioners.”
Mr. Masser, the Sabillasville farmer, said that he had not yet raised his prices to offset losses, but added that it was a possibility next year if a solution to the stink bug invasion was not found.
“Stink bugs are going to destroy a lot of food — it’s just starting,” he said. “When Joe Blow starts hollering because he can’t find the food he wants, they’ll respond then.”

The Plague of the Halymorpha Halys in Our Nation's Capitol

And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see.
And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.
And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth,
To kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
--Revelation 6:7-8

And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the land of Egypt for the locusts,
That they may come up upon the land of Egypt, and eat every herb of the land, even all that the hail hath left.
And Moses stretched forth his rod over the land of Egypt,
And the LORD brought an east wind upon the land all that day, and all that night;
And when it was morning, the east wind brought the locusts.
And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the coasts of Egypt:
Very grievous were they; before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such.
For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened;
And they did eat every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left:
And there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt.
--Exodus 13:10-15

Word of Life Ministry
September 24, 2010

When the LORD God was trying to convince the Pharaoh of Egypt to free the Israelites, plagues came upon Egypt. One of the plagues described in Exodus10:14, 15:
"And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the coasts of Egypt: very grievous were they; before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such. For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they did eat every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left: and there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt."
This was the eighth plague sent upon Egypt because the Pharaoh was a stubborn man with a hardened heart. And more plagues were sent upon he and his people before he gave in to the will of the LORD.

The LORD gives plenty of warnings to those whom he wishes to persuade. And like Egypt of old, America should examine itself as a nation and as a people and try to discern what the LORD is after. America has had costly natural disasters. America has had political disruption, such as a nearly decade long war against terrorist forces. America has had tremendous financial disaster brought on by its elected leadership. And all the while, the leadership continues to say there is more than one way to heaven.

Now a plague of a different sort is annoying all who live within 200 miles of Washington, D.C. It is causing damages from 20- to 100% on farms across Maryland, Pennsylvania and up the New England coastline. It is invading houses by the millions.

Maryland Republican Congressman Roscoe Bartlett recently organized a briefing on the threat, bringing together congressional staff, regional and federal agricultural officials and others to understand the problem and to try to find ways to combat it. Bartlett was quoted in the Baltimore Sun saying,

"If you wanted to design a terrorist bug, it would have the features of the brown marmorated stink bug."
Yes, the plague is called the stink bug. It is a bug thought to have made its way to the United States in containers shipped from China. And if one smashes the bug, it will take no time to know why it is called the stink bug. It has no natural predators and its population is exploding.

The irony is that this bug is invading the area surrounding the nation's Capitol--the NBC affiliate in Washington, DC led with the story "Stink Bugs taking area by storm." Indeed, we have been gathering up hundreds of stink bugs each morning in our windows and on our walls. Perhaps the stink bug from China is a not so subtle message about the leadership in America and Americans' tolerance of it.

And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.
The first angel sounded,
And there followed hail and fire mingled with blood,
And they were cast upon the earth:
And the third part of trees was burnt up,
And all green grass was burnt up.
And the second angel sounded,
And as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea:
And the third part of the sea became blood;
And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died;
And the third part of the ships were destroyed.
And the third angel sounded,
And there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp,
And it fell upon the third part of the rivers,
And upon the fountains of waters;
And the name of the star is called Wormwood:
And the third part of the waters became wormwood;
And many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.
(Revelation 8:6-11)

Other Invasive Species from China Have Been Introduced in the U.S.

Asian Carp
Asian Carp are a significant threat to the Great Lakes because they are large, extremely prolific, and consume vast amounts of food. Many in the Great Lakes region fear that the fish, because they are voracious filter feeders and prolific breeders, could wreck havoc on the region’s fisheries by disrupting the food chain, as it has done in parts of the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois Rivers. The Asian carp grows rapidly and can weigh up to 30 pounds within a few years, and females are highly fecund, able to produce as many as a million eggs at a time. The fish reproduce so swiftly that the species now constitutes up to 90 percent of the biomass in some stretches of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. The Asian carp is also a spectacular leaper, able to fling its body 10 feet above the water or higher, a phenomenon caused by noise, particularly from motorboats. As a result, in rivers where the carp has taken over, pleasure boaters, water skiers and fishermen are increasingly being forced to dodge huge flying fish as they motor down their favorite waterway — not the most pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

Asian Snakehead Fish
During the summer of 2002, an exotic fish species called the Northern Snakehead was found in a pond in Crofton, Maryland, about 20 miles north east of Washington, D.C. It is a voracious top-level predator, meaning that it has no natural enemies, and could decimate populations of native fish. About 90% of its diet consists of other fish, though it also eats crustaceans, insects, and plants. Snakeheads can breathe air and survive for up to four days out of water, and can survive for longer periods of time when burrowed in the mud. They are capable of traveling over land to new bodies of water by wriggling their bodies over the ground. Little is known about the toothy fish other than it is considered a top-level predator from its native region of China. Sportsman are advised to kill the fish and not simply “bank” it since the species is capable of living out of water for several days and crawling using its fins to propel it.

Lionfish native to the South Pacific, Indian Ocean and Red Sea have invaded Florida. They live among their world-famous coral reefs. With few natural predators, they have been rapidly expanding in Caribbean and Atlantic waters, voraciously preying on local fish, shrimp and crab populations across the region and in Florida. Some scientists are now listing the invasive lionfish species among the top 15 threats to global biodiversity. They are a danger to native marine life through predation. U.S. government researchers believe the red lionfish was introduced into Florida waters during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 when an aquarium broke and at least six fish spilled into Miami's Biscayne Bay.

Burmese Python
Over the years many big animal warehouses in Florida have been hit hard by hurricanes, and the Burmese python population they had in captivity escaped. Also, starting as pets, the Burmese pythons have been released into the wild by their owners who did not know what to do with them after they got too big to handle. This southeast Asian predator is taking over the Florida Everglades by competing with the native animals for space and food. Since they have no natural predators their population has been exponentially increasing. And a new species of invasive snake, the African rock python, has recently been found on the loose as well. At least five rock pythons, one that measured 14 feet long, have just been captured in Miami-Dade county. Now experts' fears are mounting that the Burmese and African rock pythons will begin breeding — and give rise to a new, dangerous 'super snake.'

Editor's Note: Some claim the following methods will kill stink bugs:
  • Mix Borax and water with a little Dawn dishwashing liquid in a spray bottle.

  • Mix salt and Dawn with water.

  • Mix one part Dawn to three parts water.

  • Spray them with rubbing alcohol.

Invasive Species from South America

February 25, 2011

Global Fire Ant

Red fire ants stand a good chance of colonizing half the world's land masses in the coming years and it's all our fault. The stinging ants originally come from South America, but genetic analysis of populations that have invaded much of Asia already show they all started in one place - the southern United States.

The Solenopsis invicta invasion began when the ants, originally from South America, appeared in the American south. It's believed they first arrived in the 1930s through the port of Mobile, Ala., on cargo ships, possibly in dirt used as ballast.

In the south the stinging, biting, highly aggressive ants became an established and expensive pest. Humans there have learned to walk carefully, as stepping on a red ant hill can result in thousands of the tiny stinging ants swarming over feet and legs.

Over the past 20 years, as the global movement of goods, foods and people began to explode, the ants went on to march. Newly invaded areas included California, China, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand.

They aren't just an annoyance. In the United States alone costs connected to control, medical treatment and damage to property for the invaders are estimated to be greater than $6 billion annually.

Now researchers in the United Stations and internationally have shown that the invasions came not from the ant's native South America, but from their colonies in the American South. Each major invasive wave is associated with an independent U.S. ant population. The only exception are the colonies in Taiwan, which appear to be most closely genetically related to the ones in California, which originally came from the American south.

The research is published in this week's edition of the journal Science.

This 'jumping off' type of expansion is called the invasive bridgehead effect and is a common way for invasive species to extend their range.
"Given that most invasions are shaped by trends in human transport, their frequency of occurrence will probably increase with increasing global trade and travel," the researchers write.
Knowledge of how the ants spread can help scientists look for the most effective biological control agents available to combat the ants, says DeWayne Shoemaker, a U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist affiliated with the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and senior author on the paper.

One tactic that's show success is the release of phorid flies, which inject their eggs into ants. When the egg hatches, the maggot develops in the ant's head, eventually decapitating it. The maggot turns into a fly and the cycle repeats.

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