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Burning Question: How Much Do You Make?

Government Executive

July 28, 2010

Under ordinary circumstances, it would be socially awkward at best to inquire about how much money someone makes. It’s simply not a topic for polite conversation.

Unless, of course, you work in an environment in which salary data is a matter of public record—as it is in government. The leaders of Bell, Calif., learned that the hard way this month when the Los Angeles Times reported that the town’s chief administrative officer was being paid nearly $800,000 a year, and its police chief was taking in more than $450,000.

These people may be public employees, along with their counterparts in state government and in federal agencies, but Andrew Krzmarzick of GovLoop still thinks asking what anybody makes, public or private, is a “rude question.”

“Knowing what our neighbors earn fundamentally alters the nature of our relationship, especially if we had an expectation in our mind and the reality was far higher than what we deemed to be ‘fair,’ " Krzmarzick writes.

Rude or not, many federal employees say that salary rates are often a topic of open discussion in the workplace. Some try to avoid the subject, but when the information is contained in various searchable public databases, it can be hard to sidestep.

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