I’ve been impressed by a number of initial moves by Obama as he’s assumed the presidency. One of them was a pay freeze. There’s a nice video where he addresses that and a few other executive orders, but I was able to pull this quote from the memorandum on Whitehouse.gov:
Many have accepted the call to serve in Government and to assist me in restoring a sound economy and in improving the lives of average Americans. In this challenging economic period, it is only appropriate that senior officials on the White House staff forgo pay increases until further notice.
Accordingly, as a signal of our shared commitment to restoring the country’s economic vitality and because of the serious economic conditions we are facing, I intend to freeze the salaries of senior members of the White House staff, to the extent permitted by law. I direct you to report back to me within 30 days with recommendations for actions to implement this freeze.
The memorandum was directed to the Assistant to the President, but since it was out there on the interwebs and he does ask for a “report back” with recommendations, I figure it’s my duty to give him a response as well.
In 2003-2004, right after I was married, my wife and I went to serve for one year with AmeriCorps in Atlanta Georgia. AmeriCorps is our government funded Civic Service program encouraging volunteer civic service (like the PeaceCorps). It’s a one year program where you serve full-time, usually with a government program (school, park district, etc) or a non-profit (for me, Hands On Atlanta). For your commitment you receive a living stipend, which is enough to provide you with adequate housing and transportation cost in your area, you receive an education reward of about $4500, and you are eligible for food stamps. Most volunteers are overworked and clearly underpaid (figure probably less then minimum wage). It’s a commitment and sacrifice to choose to participate in this program (but, don’t ask me, ask Dr. Jackson, whom I worked with, a phd educated woman with a daughter and grand daughter still under her roof).
I give you that background as my research for what I think a ‘freeze’ should look like for the White House and the rest of your government leaders. I don’t mean this as a criticism of their work, rather, I believe if politicians are going to true servants of the people, then we need to take away some of the other incentives (namely: money). So, here’s my brief letter to Obama.
I believe, effective immediately, all members of government should cease to receive salaries and instead receive living stipends based on federally recognized ‘living-wage’ standards for the area in which they serve (i.e. Washington D.C. or Minneapolis, MN). This stipend can take into account family size and other household incomes, but should remain reasonably based on data. The stipend need not account for food costs, as explained in the following paragraph.
All members of government, will be eligible and enrolled in the EBT-Foodstamps program in their state. Again, this would account for family size, but should follow the same paramaters as all other citizens of their state. For example, regardless of the government employees income, if the combined household income is greater then the qualifying rate, they need not be eligible since according to state standards they can afford to cover their food cost out of their own pocket.
Finally, similar to incentives in AmeriCorps and Teach For America, I think government members should receive some sort of education incentive. Since many in our upper levels of government have already pursued and exhausted their education advancement, they should have the option to use their education incentive for their children. This would help balance out some of the sacrifice of the living stipend rather than a salary.
Pay freezes on already overblown salaries is a small step to walking in step with the American people. If this administration is truly committed to “the call to serve” then I think this pay change would be a true step toward civic servitude.