Heritage: Feds put in fewer hours than private workers


Federal employees have heard countless accusations that they’re overpaid in recent years. Now a new study from the conservative Heritage Foundation suggests they may be lazier than private sector workers.

Heritage on Tuesday released a report that concluded federal employees work, on average, nearly three fewer hours each week than workers in the private sector. By the end of the year, Heritage said, most feds put in about a month less on the job than private workers when vacation and other paid leave is taken into account.

Heritage studied the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey, which queries workers about their activities, including work time, in a 24-hour period. It concluded that average private-sector workers typically worked 41.4 hours per week, while feds worked 38.7 hours. State and local workers put in 38.1 hours on average, Heritage said.

This “should be of concern to taxpayers who expect private-sector levels of work in the public sector in exchange for private-sector levels of compensation,” Heritage said.

And Heritage suggested reducing federal employees’ paid leave to narrow the gap between allegedly overcompensated and underworked feds and private workers.

“With several recent studies” — including one published by Heritage two years ago — “suggesting an overall compensation premium for public employees, reducing aspects of that premium — such as paid leave — could be part of a larger strategy to shrink the pay gap and save taxpayer money.”

Federal employee organizations fired back at the report.

National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association Legislative Director Julie Tagen said Heritage’s reports are “historically biased against federal workers and retirees, and this one is no exception by only surveying 1,776 federal employees, or 0.07 percent of the entire federal employee population.”

On the other hand, Heritage used data on 8,053 state and local workers, and 39,042 private sector workers.

“It’s unlikely the researchers reviewed the timesheets of the federal team that landed the Curiosity Rover on Mars, prepared the United States for Hurricane Irene, and are currently responding to the crises in Syria and Egypt,” Tagen said. “As America’s federal employees devote their lives to our country, it is insulting to belittle their contributions with reports that disparage their work ethic.”

American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox called the report “utterly misleading” and “yet another opportunity to manipulate data in order to pit the public against government workers”:

The differences Heritage cites evaporate if one adjusts for firm size and length of service — the two most important factors determining hours of work and paid time off. … The reality is that many private, non-union employers provide absolutely no paid time off. No sick leave, no vacation, no holidays. That is the disgrace, not the fact that public sector employers recognize that all workers need some paid time off in order to maintain a work-life balance.

The Heritage Foundation’s attempts to mislead the public and denigrate the work of public employees is all part of their campaign to dismantle vital government services.

Heritage did note that it did not control for overtime pay in its report, which is often more available to private-sector workers than public workers. But Heritage said doing so would not be relevant, or account for the gap between public and private workers.


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  1. This is a ridiculous accusation and attack on public servants who continue to give to our country. As a federal employee I, as well as my co-workers and friends, work an average 9 or 9 1/2 hr day. Many federal employees lose leave each year that there is no time to take because gov offices are understaffed and the public has high expectations. Additionally, when you are a new fed, you only get 10 days per year, very comparable to the private sector. It is only after years of service that additional days are earned. During the last government shut down people were willing to work with no pay to keep their mission, particularly supporting the warfighter, from failure.

  2. I think these guys are going a little too far, I made a career decision based on many factors, but one of those was the possibility of earning fair leave after 15 years of service. Now I have almost reached my goal they want to take that away so I have been working for less pay (engineers make significantly more money outside of Federal service) with less health insurance benefits hoping that I would at least have a few more hours of leave in my later career and now they want to pull that rug out from under us as well. I guess it isn’t too late for a career change, but vacation is something that takes a long time to earn and at my age it will be tough to ever get back, but take away my one hope and I won’t be signing any long term intent of staying. I enjoy serving my country and helping keep the free world free but there comes a time when perhaps my services are more valuable to someone else, apparantly my country no longer values them.

  3. While never working less than an 8 hour day, I often worked worked 11 – 16 hour days just to gets my assignments completed. This was always FREE overtime for the agency… but my time report always only showed a 40 hour week worked. There are many, many Federal employees that do the same. After 15 years, I did start earning 5 weeks of vacation. I rarely took more than 2 weeks off because I was just too busy. My unused leave was donated to co-workers experiencing catastrophic medical issues. This report is bunk because no one’s time report is going to show more than a 40 hours worked.

  4. They must be mistake for the state and city public sector cause federal sector is almost impossible to get overtime-paid, those over time only can earn as leave that there’s limited how much you can accrue before you has to use it.

  5. Gloria Bartosik on

    I bet the Heritage Foundation didn’t speak to Nursing staff( not nursing administrators) who are on the front lines and work for the federal government. Rarely if ever did I get off on time. Comp time was the standard not overtime. I worked 3:30pm to midnight. Was usually there till 1am and later if there was a crisis.Sometimes had to stay till 8am if a night person called in sick.
    So in my estimation the study is bogus!

  6. In my nearly 30 years of government service I was paid for overtime only in the first year when I was still a GS-5. After that it was expected that you would do what ever was necessary to get the job done. If you were in the professional series you did not even contemplate going through the process of applying for overtime. And I like many others not only lost leave…but I donated leave for coworkers that needed it. These skewed reports are an insult to hard-working government employees in every agency, and even more so on a day we are bringing home four government civil servants who just made the ultimate donation to their country…their lives!

  7. I was a trial attorney at the Department of Justice. All time sheets showed 80 hours weeks regardless of extra hours worked since attorneys were not entitled to overtime, comp time or credit hours. Since i was involved in litigation, i often put in 16 hour days, yet a reviewer of time sheets would never know this. Now, at DHS, I do policy work. I am entitled to a max of x number of credit hours. Again, extra hours worked are not recorded. My wife is a government scientist. Again, no extra hours permitted. Finally, whether or not workers get to report extra hours depends on their supervisor in many cases. Some supervisors simply don’t permit it. Heritage should be ashamed at its shoddy methodology that shows it has no understanding of what it was attempting to measure.

  8. What rubbish. I have to report 40 hours whether I work 55 or 90. My typical work week is about 60 hours a week, though with my agency operating in crisis mode, lurching from one fire to another, that average of late has been bumped up.
    In the private sector, my equivalent would either be fired or go to jail for lying on their time reporting. Contractors get overtime. I don’t. I specifically prohibit any of my contractors from working or charging overtime unless absolute wartime necessity demands such. Turning in paperwork on time doesn’t count.

    I am disappointed in this so called analysis as it reeks of absolutely sophomoric reasoning and slathered with a very thinly disguiised political agenda. I would welcome any of these alleged analysts to spend a week with me–if they have the guts.

  9. If I recall, OPM did a study several years ago that showed federal employees work longer hours when their occupations were matched with like occupations in the private sector, including age, length of time in the assignment, etc. I’m now retired. When I was employed with the VA it was common for people to work extra time, work through breaks and scheduled lunch times, etc., when the workload demanded. I would also frequently take work home so I could complete reports or studies without interruption. The Heritage Foundation starts any study or position paper with the premise that federal employees are under worked and overpaid. Then they try to generate some data to support that view. If the data they collect doesn’t support that premise they just don’t publish it.

  10. I agree with most people here. I regularly work 50 to 60 hours a week, but my time sheet always says 40. Now, if I do take time off, that always gets recorded. So if they studied my time sheet, it would Ashland that I take time off and only work 40 hours per week. If those are the stats you want to use, then its a shame someone hired that private sector company, because they did a piss poor job in their research. It must have been one of those underpaid contractor companies. Not an overpaid one.

    Also, I never see in these reports where federal agencies must conduct feasibility studies to see if it is cheaper to do a fed job with a contractor. If it truly was cheaper, wouldn’t they have found out already with those studies? Question is, which study uses accurate information to determine their findings?

  11. Overtime in the federal system has to have prior approval by at least 2 layers of supervision….Good Luck with that one! When work comes up that requires OT it is usually without enough time to apply for OT and it needs to be accomplished NOW or yesterday!!

    I have workd many projects where I’ve just stayed late to get the work done with NO overtime pay whatsoever! I did it because the work needed to be done! No there’s a concept! Many times I take the work home with me and work on my own time on nights and weekends to accomplish the work. That may sound amazing to the Heritage Foundation but I know far more people like me, ones that are dedicated to their jobs, that work until it’s done and take pride in their work….than the type of people they seem to talk to when they do their surveys.

    What a bunch of skewed garbage!!

  12. The Heritage Foundation is a far-right propaganda outfit. They have no interest in doing an honest comparison of public v/s private sector jobs. They have a political agenda and they refuse to let small things like truth and ethics get in their way.

  13. It appears Heritage wrote its report to minimize hard working Government employees. Reading this article made me really sad because it really isn’t true. Sad also, because for those people who don’t know will believe Government employees are just getting paid for not working and that is not factual. I am speaking from my experience. During my Government career, I worked with very hard working Government employees who wanted to do a “Good” job and they knew they had a responsibility to protect the taxpayers money at the same time. I held few positions which only required a 40 hour week. I worked many years 40 plus hours a week; more like 50 or 60 hours. The hours were necessary because of the heavy workload and lack of staff. Worked from home while on vacation, traveled on my own time and was not compensated for most of my time. I was not the only employee who worked extra long hours. We worked to ensure the mission was met, so we did what was necessary. Before a report of this type is published, it should be checked to ensure it is correct and accurate. Do remember Data is just Data, and it is in many instances manipulated, skewed and bogus.

  14. Where I worked the managers refused to grant overtime and comp time is also less often approved. We had a 20% reduction in the number of employees via retirement and staff being promoted elsewhere. The employees remaining are working as hard as anyone can and cannot do it all everything. Peak performance has reached a saturation point. Those still willing to work for the government are doing the best anyone can with horrible working conditions. There is a false assumption that the workload isn’t there to justify more hours work. What’s really happening is not all of the work that needs to be getting done is done timely and there is a backlog of work being created.

  15. I normally work 10 hrs a day. With the fiscal year end, I work 12-16 hours a day. These extra hours are not recorded on my time sheet because we are not paid for ot or comp time. Most of my coworkers do the same here. My boss works 12 hours a day every day. she comes in 8:00 am in the morning and doesn’t leave the office before 8:00pm, no lunch break or whatsoever. With fiscal year end she stays til midnight every day for whole month of September. As the boss, she doesn’t get paid ot or comp time. Every year, she donates her leaves to someone who needs it because his/her illness. Now can someone tell me if the average work day for us is is less than 8 hrs a day here? I think not !!!!!!

  16. Yeah right…now that almost every Federal manager has a “wireless leash” (e.g. Blackberry, smartphone, etc.) they are NEVER off-duty. After my CSRS retirement I started consulting and often get texts and emails from Wash DC Federal clients late at night and early in the morning and very often on weekends….

  17. Just completed an 86 hr work week, including Saturday and Sunday, for which I am NOT compensated with dollars or comp time. As a matter of fact, I quit a second job to dedicate myself to the government and my salary is being cut $15K this year. 25 years of dedication, working ridiculous hours and dedicating myself to this job and this is what is simply expected. I am so angered by those who paint us as over paid, lazy workers. I am even more angered by now being owned and beaten down by my bosses and career choice.

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