Boehner Takes on Skyrocketing Federal Salaries

House Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner of Ohio, right, accompanied by Republican Majority Transition Chairman Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo
On Wednesday, a stark message for federal workers came from the incoming leader of the House of Representatives, reports CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson.

"There ought to be a freeze on the hiring of new federal employees, and frankly, we ought to freeze the pay," said John Boehner.

Federal workers have been subjected to a serious case of salary envy, stoked by the struggling economy and analyses like this one in USA Today: While the economy's been shrinking, part of the federal workforce has gotten fatter. The number of federal workers earning more than $150,000 has doubled since January 2009. It's gone up tenfold in five years.

"The average federal worker makes twice as much as the average private-sector worker," Boehner said.

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Defenders of federal salaries say many of the highest-paid federal workers are in it to serve the public, not for the money.

"Over half of them are doctors and lawyers and nuclear engineers and people who could easily make more money elsewhere," said Max Stier, the president and CEO of Partnership for Public Service.

Federal worker Jessica Schwartz says she's one of them.

"I am an attorney, and I know that I get paid well below market price for attorneys with my experience," Schwartz said.

It might be hard to get sympathy from struggling Americans who've watched their tax dollars expand government salaries as they've had to tighten their belts. Longtime federal workers have averaged 25 percent pay hikes since 2005, far outpacing the 9 percent inflation rate.

Meantime, that government lawyer Jessica Schwartz may be underpaid. But she still makes a six figure salary - and is due for a raise.

"Technically I am supposed to get one this week," Schwartz said. "We'll see when I get next week's pay check if it's in there or not."

As speaker, Boehner will get a raise of more than $30,000 to earn more than $223,000 a year.

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    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.