According to public employees’ unions, federal employees are substantially underpaid, and this year’s pay freeze is just one more slight against workers who could easily earn much more outside the government. It is curious, then, that so many people without federal jobs are lining up for them, apparently hoping to become “underpaid” themselves.
Even out in the southern Maryland region, where farm fields predominate and fresh fish is usually on the menu, interest in federal jobs is apparently high. The College of Southern Maryland offers continuing education for adults, and listed among the sewing classes and cooking-for-beginners courses is a curious offering: “Secrets of Acquiring Federal Employment.”
For $62 in tuition and fees and a few Saturday mornings of their time, students can learn about “the SF 612 form, federal resumes, and the five basic KSAs (knowledge, skills, and experience) critical in the selection process.”
There’s nothing wrong with a course like this, which could be very useful for a lot of people. But that’s the point: If federal employment is such a bad deal for workers, why are people willing to pay money for a course that increases their chances of becoming, as unions would characterize it, unappreciated and exploited?
The answer, of course, is that federal workers are not underpaid. They get a great deal: higher wages, more benefits, and greater job security compared to similar private-sector workers. If federal workers were underpaid, the federal government would suffer from severe recruitment and retention problems. But the opposite is true: People line up for federal jobs and rarely quit once they get them. Regardless of what the unions might tell us, people don’t take courses on how to get a crummy job.