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Trading Honorariums for a Pay Raise

December 24, 1988

The enormous pay raise being proposed for federal officials is wrong (Part I, Dec. 13). Leaving aside the untold billions it will add to the cost of government (salaries plus retirement pay), I believe that higher federal salaries--with the exception of the President--will give us worse government, not better. Here's why:

Incumbency is the major problem with government today. Just look at Congress. The nation would be served far better if senior representatives, senators and top-level career civil servants were encouraged to seek employment elsewhere. There should be a disparity, and a significant one, between top government and corporate salaries, to create a strong incentive to leave the government after a period of service.

The United States possesses an enormous reservoir of talented people eager and willing to serve. There is no shortage of skill or talent at any pay level. Service in government should be a steppingstone to careers in the private sector. Our system was founded on that principle, but it seems to have been lost somewhere along the line.

Lifetime tenure for judges is another point against high pay. When average life expectancy was about 60, our Founding Fathers expected federal judges to serve only 10 to 15 years. Now 30-year-plus judgeships, and more, are common. But is the country well-served by judges who are on the bench that long? I think not.

The argument that salaries should be higher to compete with the private sector is wrong. It assumes that government service is forever, or that high-paid executives will not leave their positions to serve in government for any length of time. Baloney! The best and the brightest will always serve. And their government service--including members of Congress--should be an interlude, not a lifelong career.

Trading high salaries for honorariums is morally wrong. If it's wrong to be bought--and honorariums are legal bribes--then it's doubly wrong to be blackmailed into granting higher salaries in return for eliminating such bribes. Representatives and senators already earn handsome salaries. If they can't live on them, they should find other work.


Playa del Rey

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