We were all shocked when the startlingly dysfunctional Veterans Affairs Department awarded $142 million in bonuses last year. How can an agency that has done such a terrible job do that?

An excellent oped in today's Wall Street Journal observes:

Taxpayers stumbling across this news might have been surprised by these rewards for bureaucratic incompetence, and perhaps they also got the sense that working for the federal government is a sweet gig. They’re right.

The article quotes a Cato Institute report on federal worker pay and benefits that found that in 2014 the average federal worker earned $84,153 (about fifty percent more than the average private sector employee) but that with benefits this came to $119,934 a year, which is almost eighty percent above the average in the private sector. And, as the VA story shows, competence isn't a must.

Cato's Chris Edwards, who did the Cato report, is quoted saying, “The federal government has become an elite island of secure and high-paid employment, separated from the ocean of average Americans competing in the economy.”

In the private sector, raises are generally determined by the performance of the employee and the financial health of the company. But in the federal sector, raises can simply be decreed, and it looks like there has been a lot of this decreeing:

Pay for federal employees has grown significantly faster than for private employees. The percentage difference between the two has doubled in the past 25 years. Federal work is more lucrative than the average jobs in finance, information and professional fields.

Moreover, the number of federal employees salaried at more than $100,000 has grown by nearly 10% in the past five years, to more than 300,000. The 1,000 best-paid federal workers make a minimum of $216,000, with most of the highest echelon working at Veterans Affairs. Employees of little-known agencies such as the National Credit Union Administration and the Farm Credit Administration also top the list.

The total cost to taxpayers of federal wages and benefits clocks in at $260 billion.

The taxpayers who foot the bill for these federal salaries and benefits are themselves not doing quite as well:

Now compare the plush life of the bureaucrat with that of the average American. The median household income in September hovered a little above $56,000. That is only 1% higher than in 2009 when the recession officially ended, and 0.5% lower than before the recession began. Meanwhile, consumer prices increased 10.6% over the past six years. Small wonder that 62% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, according to a January analysis by Bankrate.com.

 It should come as no surprise that, because of the federal bureaucracy, six of the nation's ten richest counties are near Washington, D.C. It is ironic that these bureaucrats, able to live the sweet life in Washington or its suburbs, toil to make life harder for their employers (us!) through regulatory burdens and rules that make it harder for the private sector to thrive.

This must-read Wall Street Journal article reminds me of two things: We are paying most of these bureaucrats more than they could earn in the private sector, and we could do with a lot fewer of them.