For the Good of Illinois

Subscriber Special: Why Are Taxpayer-Funded Salaries a State Secret?

February 27, 2018 09:10 AM
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"With its newly minted excuses, the bureaucracy itself is trying to fight back against open government. We don’t think taxpayers, legislators or the president should allow them to get away with it."
 
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Why is the U.S. government withholding salary information on nearly 255,000 employees whose salaries are paid for by American taxpayers?

Over the past 11 years, our organization, OpenTheBooks.com, summed up and posted online the salaries and bonus information for nearly every person employed in federal government agencies – a tally that mostly keeps growing and growing.

This year, our auditors filed our standard Freedom of Information Act request for the same information in Fiscal Year 2017 – and we got a big surprise.

For the first time, the government’s response involved massive and targeted deletions of salary data. A total of 254,839 federal salaries were removed from the Civil Service payroll. That’s a huge increase from the 3,416 salaries redacted in total in Fiscal Year 2016. 

Considering that there are 1.35 million people employed by executive agencies, about one out of every five salaries are now hidden from the public.

In military terms, that’s the headcount equivalent of 17 Army divisions. It’s about equal to the urban population of Buffalo, New York, or Madison, Wisconsin.

Worst of all, it’s an affront to taxpayers who have the right to know who makes how much and in what position in the federal bureaucracy. It’s our money, and we should be able to follow it.

What we can’t follow now is truly a mammoth sum. We calculated – using median salaries for the departmental numbers the government did cough up – that about $20 billion in total federal payroll costs now lacks transparency. The number could be lower, of course – but it could also be a lot higher.

Less transparency means less government accountability. These redactions hinder your ability to examine the salaries of civil servants in your own neighborhood. Over the past two years, we literally mapped the bureaucratic swamp by ZIP code, pinning all federal disclosed bureaucrats by employer location on our interactive map for Fiscal Year 2016.  

Not this year. We can’t map what we can’t see.

Now, with its newly minted excuses, the bureaucracy itself is trying to fight back against open government. We don’t think taxpayers, legislators or the president should allow them to get away with it. 
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Jessie Fox
Communications Specialist
 
Adam Andrzejewski (say: Angie-eff-ski)
CEO & Founder, OpenTheBooks.com
 
Matthew Tyrmand
Deputy Director at Large
 
 

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