Taxpayers Paid Federal Workers More Than $400 Million to Stay Home on Last Week's Snow Days

February 16, 2010 - 10:41 AM
When the federal government closed for four days and two hours last week because of snow and ice in the Washington area, U.S. taxpayers still had to shell out an estimated $425 million and $670 million in wages and benefits to those workers.
(CNSNews.com) – When the federal government closed for four days and two hours last week because of snow and ice in the Washington area, U.S. taxpayers still had to shell out an estimated $425 million to $670 million in wages and benefits to those workers.
 
According to Dennis V. Damp, author of “The Book of U.S. Government Jobs” and founder of the Web site federaljobs.net, U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data show that as of December 2008, the average annual salary for a federal worker was $79,197. When all benefits were included, the full average annual compensation for a federal worker was $119,982.
 
These figures do not reflect pay increases that were given to federal employees in January 2009 and January 2010.
 
The upper end of approximately $670 million that taxpayers may have paid to D.C.-area workers when they missed work due to snow last week is based on the daily aggregate cost of all benefits and wages paid to the more than 340,000 federal employees who work in the Washington metropolitan area, according to the Office of Personnel Management.
 
If only the average annual salary of $79,197 is used to make the estimate, taxpayers paid federal workers about $445 million not to work when the government declared snow closures.
 
Time.com reported last week that Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry estimated the government shut down cost taxpayers $100 million a day in labor that workers were unable to perform. That would suggest that the four and one quarter days the federal workers missed last week cost taxpayers about $425 million--close to the $445 million calculated on the basis that federal workers average $79,197 per year in salary not counting benefits.
 
The federal government was officially shut down on Feb. 8, 9, 10, and 11 and opened for business two hours late on Feb. 12.
 
Federaljobs.net’s Damp told CNSNews.com that not all of the more than 340,000 federal employees stayed home on those days. Some of these workers are designated as “essential” employees and are supposed to show up even when the weather or other conditions closes the federal government. These include, for example, law enforcement officers, key personnel with the Federal Aviation Administration, and workers who are needed for national security reasons.
 
“But I think it’s safe to say most of the workers did not go to work,” Damp said.
 
When non-essential federal workers are told to stay home because of a government shutdown, they still get paid, according to the Office of Personnel Management.
 
The U.S. Postal Service is an independent government agency, but their ranks are counted in the total of about 340,000 federal workers in the Washington metro region. Postal Service operations were shut down at least one day last week, with some branches remaining closed for some part of the week because of the weather.
 
Damp noted that federal workers on average do much better financially than private-sector workers. The average American worker earned $59,900 in wages and benefits in 2008.
 
A Feb. 10, 2010 story on Time.com put the number of federal employees who stayed home because of the weather last week at 230,000--a number Damp said is probably too low.
 
As reported earlier by CNSNews.com, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah.) suggested that some federal agencies could be trimmed to help decrease the $1.4 trillion deficit that comes with the 2011 budget.
 
“Well, there are a number of Departments that we could seriously strip down and there are some departments that are costing us an arm and a leg for no good reason and it’s pure politics, pure liberal politics, to just build the federal government at the cost of everything else and get federal control here,” Hatch told CNSNews.com.
 
“There are things the federal government can do better--national security, intelligence, there are a number of things that the federal government is geared to do better on--but not everything, and they’re trying to get it into every one of our lives in every way and in the process, we get bureaucracies that don’t work,” Hatch said, adding, “people that on Friday afternoons, they’re gone before noon.”
 
CNSNews.com estimated the amount U.S. taxpayers paid to Washington-area federal workers who did not work last week by taking the total number of federal workers in the metro area, multiplying that by their average wages and benefits, and dividing that number by the 260 work days in the year (five day per week for 52 weeks) to get the average daily payroll federal payroll for the Washington metropolitan area. That average daily payroll was then multiplied by the four and a quarter work days that the government was shut.

CNSNews.com used three figures to derive a ballpark estimate of how much was paid to federal workers during the snow days last week. The first figure was 343,455, the number of civilian federal workers in the Washington metropolitan area in 2009, according to the Office of Personnel Management. The second was the average annual wages and benefits for federal workers, which was $119,982 at the end of 2008, according to David Damp’s analysis of Bureau of Economic Analysis data. The third was 260, the number of workdays in a year (5 work days for 52 weeks).

Here is an explanation of how CNSNews.com estimated how much the government paid workers not to work last week on snow days:

Multiplying the total number of workers (343,455) by the average annual wages and benefits per worker ($119,982) produced an estimate of the annual federal payroll for the Washington metropolitan area ($41,208,417,810). Dividing the estimated annual federal payroll for the Washington area ($41,208,417,810) by the number of workdays in the year (260) produced the average daily federal payroll for the Washington area ($158,493,914). Multiplying this average daily federal payroll for the Washington area by the number of workdays missed because of the snow and ice (4.25) produced an estimate of the money paid to federal workers for that time ($673,599,134).

Running the same calculation using the average federal wage but not including benefits ($79,197) produces an annual federal payroll for the Washington area of $27,200,605,635. Dividing that by 260 work days produces an average daily federal payroll for the Washington area of $104,617,713. Multiplying that average daily payroll by the number of federal work days missed last week because of snow and ice (4.25), indicates that the government paid federal workers $444,625,280 in wages not to work.

The estimation of a $104,617, 713 average daily payroll for federal workers in the Washington area based on an average salary of $79,197 (not including benefits) roughly equals the $100 million per day cost that the OPM director cited for Time.com.