How much does a government employee cost?

What does our federal workforce cost us? It’s a hard question to answer, because the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t say what the loaded cost is. BLS says the average federal salary is $35.65/hour (see their website), but that isn’t the cost, which takes into account the salaries of contractors who do so much government work, and all the other overhead elements. Sometimes we can tease out that information by putting together various figures, and sometimes the government hands us an answer even though they are not intending to.

Earlier this month, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released the results of a “data call” — an inquiry sent to 26 federal agencies on systems that help them manage their work. The 329 pages of responses were characterized as “not serving taxpayers well” by the committee chairman, because “agencies employ a tangled web of disparate manual processes to generate the data.” I am dubious about that conclusion, because if they can’t spell “publicly” correctly (see their press release), I don’t give them much credence. 

But the responses were interesting in another way: they gave an idea of how much government workers (employees and contractors together) cost per hour on average. Here are some relevant factoids:

  • OPM estimates the average labor rate per hour for the kinds of people who are responsible for managing financial information is $57/hour. They also say that the average rate for a contractor is $90/hour.
  • USDA says it costs them $600,000 annually for staff to run their centralized reporting system — “four full-time equivalents, or approximately 8,320 hours.” That tells me their people cost a tad over $72/hour.
  • The VA says its contractors and government employees together cost $1.4 million for 12,880 hours of work, or about $108.70/hour.
  • The Department of the Interior says just plain “workers” run about $62.85/hour (7,000 worker hours at a cost of $440,000), and “grants officers” are just under $49/hour (347,000 worker hours for $1.7 million).
  • The Department of Labor estimates about $49.50/hour ($668,400 for 6.5 FTEs).

In 2007 TCG analyzed the cost of a federal employee’s time at USDA to be $94.93/hour, and when we asked the CFO’s office to verify, they came up with $95.16/hour for the average USDA employee.

So averaging all these figures, we end up with 95.16+94.93+49.50+49+62.85+108.70+72+90+57/9=$75.46. Note that this is not the average worker’s salary, it is the fully loaded COST of a federal worker, including the building, the air conditioning and heating; the vacation hours that have to be covered; the computers, uniforms, paper clips, and desk chairs; the floor wax and toilet paper; the contract negotiations and the landscaping… you get the picture. It’s rough, but it’s a start.