Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

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B4Xt3r
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Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by B4Xt3r » Fri Feb 02, 2018 9:17 am

Hi all,

I have a question for you all. I was offered a job to work with the federal gov, I'm hoping for some comments about the finances of such a job. I think it seems reasonable, but I'm curious if any of ya'll see something that I didn't catch.

Some highlights:
  • Location is rural, LCOL, I could find a very adequate house for ~200k.
  • They offered me a starting salary of 80ishk, and would be hiring me in a salary band that tops out at 115k
  • There is hope that I could be eventually promoted one band higher (this band tops at $155k)
  • My education at the time of employment would be a PhD in physics. I have seen multiple other physics PhDs begin at in low 100ks in medium cost of living areas at private companies. In your view, should I value fed. gov. benefits as sufficient to forgo the extra ~20-30k of salary that I might be able to receive by working in the private sector?
  • I would be 29 at the time of employment.
  • Married, no kids (though this might change in a year or two), no debt.
  • For retirement, my goal is to save >1k/month.
Thanks!

(If someone is curious, another career that seems viable is tenure track prof. job in LCOL, starting at ~$65k/year. ~$65k/year seems hard to make a budget work while saving ~>1k/month for retirement.)

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lthenderson
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by lthenderson » Fri Feb 02, 2018 10:02 am

I don't know if I can answer your question but having a brother that works for the government, I wanted to throw out that two of his biggest benefits are the pension (which is getting hard to find in private industry) and the time off. He gets around five weeks off a year paid vacation plus over the years has accumulated six months of paid sick leave off. His pension is a percentage of his average salary over the highest ten years (I think) of his pay. Both of those would have great value to my line of profession where the typical employee starts with one week off a year (vacation and sick combined) and after 20 years of service make it to four weeks a year combined. And as I said before, most pensions have been cancelled or stopped decades ago.

Valuethinker
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by Valuethinker » Fri Feb 02, 2018 10:12 am

kehyler wrote:
Fri Feb 02, 2018 9:17 am
Hi all,

I have a question for you all. I was offered a job to work with the federal gov, I'm hoping for some comments about the finances of such a job. I think it seems reasonable, but I'm curious if any of ya'll see something that I didn't catch.

Some highlights:
  • Location is rural, LCOL, I could find a very adequate house for ~200k.
  • They offered me a starting salary of 80ishk, and would be hiring me in a salary band that tops out at 115k
  • There is hope that I could be eventually promoted one band higher (this band tops at $155k)
  • My education at the time of employment would be a PhD in physics. I have seen multiple other physics PhDs begin at in low 100ks in medium cost of living areas at private companies. In your view, should I value fed. gov. benefits as sufficient to forgo the extra ~20-30k of salary that I might be able to receive by working in the private sector?
  • I would be 29 at the time of employment.
  • Married, no kids (though this might change in a year or two), no debt.
  • For retirement, my goal is to save >1k/month.
Thanks!

(If someone is curious, another career that seems viable is tenure track prof. job in LCOL, starting at ~$65k/year. ~$65k/year seems hard to make a budget work while saving ~>1k/month for retirement.)
Perhaps because of this forum, your question seems over focused on savings goals to me.

I don't know to what extent Federal benefits compensate for private sector compensation, but I believe US Federal government employees have an excellent healthcare + disability + pension benefits package (also possibly life insurance?). If you ever become disabled or develop a chronic medical condition that could be quite important. The pension package, a mix of a modest Defined Benefit scheme + TSP at very low cost, sounds excellent. US civil servants seem to be able to return mid 50s- early 60s on comfortable standards of living. I should note this is entirely 2nd hand-- I am not US based nor a US citizen.

The real questions are:

- which role seems the most allied with my skills, ability & goals out of a career? There are no clean quick answers on this

- generally Federal govt jobs have greater stability. But these days, nothing is certain.

- where do you want to live? LCOL areas are nice BUT usually dependent on a few big employers. When one of those closes, you may have to move. And you won't have much housing equity to help you if you move to a higher COL area. The reality is, if job change is likely to be part of your future life, then big metropolitan areas with lots of different employment options are preferred-- Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, NorCal, NYC. However there are big hassles in living in same in terms of housing costs (in some) and traffic/ commuting (in all).

But it's important to live some place you are happy to live. For example, in my youth, I needed to be some place where there were lots of single women of my age (read: a big City).

Being a professor is not a financial choice. There are huge challenges in being an academic. Until you get tenure, if you get tenure, you will work 60+ hours per week-- teaching, research, administration, grants applications etc.

Post tenure you will have more control over your life (but tenure no longer means perfect job security; changes like those in Wisconsin + legal judgements that allow, as I understand it, universities to make tenured faculty redundant for budget reasons) but you will still probably work pretty hard if you want to continue to have an impact in your field. There will probably be more administrative work required once you are tenured.

So being an academic is about feeling a calling: like to be a US Marine Corps officer, or a social worker. A desire to contribute to knowledge in your field and to the education of the next generation of scholars - -to advance the frontier of human progress.

The choice Federal v. Private sector is a more complex one.

Valuethinker
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by Valuethinker » Fri Feb 02, 2018 10:13 am

lthenderson wrote:
Fri Feb 02, 2018 10:02 am
I don't know if I can answer your question but having a brother that works for the government, I wanted to throw out that two of his biggest benefits are the pension (which is getting hard to find in private industry) and the time off. He gets around five weeks off a year paid vacation plus over the years has accumulated six months of paid sick leave off. His pension is a percentage of his average salary over the highest ten years (I think) of his pay. Both of those would have great value to my line of profession where the typical employee starts with one week off a year (vacation and sick combined) and after 20 years of service make it to four weeks a year combined. And as I said before, most pensions have been cancelled or stopped decades ago.
I think that this is good advice.

A career that begins relatively young in the US Federal civil service can build up some good long term benefits.

ICMoney
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by ICMoney » Fri Feb 02, 2018 10:21 am

kehyler wrote:
Fri Feb 02, 2018 9:17 am
Hi all,

I have a question for you all. I was offered a job to work with the federal gov, I'm hoping for some comments about the finances of such a job. I think it seems reasonable, but I'm curious if any of ya'll see something that I didn't catch.

Some highlights:
  • Location is rural, LCOL, I could find a very adequate house for ~200k.
  • They offered me a starting salary of 80ishk, and would be hiring me in a salary band that tops out at 115k
  • There is hope that I could be eventually promoted one band higher (this band tops at $155k)
  • My education at the time of employment would be a PhD in physics. I have seen multiple other physics PhDs begin at in low 100ks in medium cost of living areas at private companies. In your view, should I value fed. gov. benefits as sufficient to forgo the extra ~20-30k of salary that I might be able to receive by working in the private sector?
  • I would be 29 at the time of employment.
  • Married, no kids (though this might change in a year or two), no debt.
  • For retirement, my goal is to save >1k/month.
Thanks!

(If someone is curious, another career that seems viable is tenure track prof. job in LCOL, starting at ~$65k/year. ~$65k/year seems hard to make a budget work while saving ~>1k/month for retirement.)
We took a fed job right out of PhD in a rural, LCOL town. Decided we did not like the community long-term for our family, but were able to transfer within the agency after a year to a more desirable city (still LCOL). There is likely mobility once you get "in" with a fed job, where it may be harder to hire directly in a more desirable location. Note that fed salaries vary by cost-of-living area so your starting salary would likely be higher in a medium cost of living area for the exact same fed position. (i.e. the true salary difference may be less than 20-30K)

Best,
ICM

Rupert
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by Rupert » Fri Feb 02, 2018 10:24 am

In addition to the pension + TSP + social security retirement benefits noted above, the feds offer health insurance to retirees, which is practically unheard of in the private sector these days. Also, in addition to the paid annual leave (which starts at 4 hours per pay period, increases to 6 hours after (I think) 5 years of service and then 8 hours after 15 years of service), many federal jobs offer flexible work schedules, where you can work your 8 hours anytime between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., and work-from-home opportunities. You can carry over 240 hours of annual leave each year; so it is somewhat use-it-or-lose it. If you leave federal service, they have to pay you for your accumulated annual leave. The sick leave is 4 hours per pay period and accumulates (i.e., you don't lose unused sick leave at the end of the year), but they don't pay you for accumulated sick leave if you leave federal employment. The leave and flexible work schedule becomes extremely valuable when you have kids, which is why so many professional women end up leaving the private sector for government service after having children.

LosFederales
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by LosFederales » Fri Feb 02, 2018 10:25 am

Don't overlook job security and the 40 hour week, which provides you with the ability to have a side grind.

Barefoot
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by Barefoot » Fri Feb 02, 2018 10:36 am

Rupert wrote:
Fri Feb 02, 2018 10:24 am
Also, in addition to the paid annual leave (which starts at 4 hours per pay period, increases to 6 hours after (I think) 5 years of service and then 8 hours after 15 years of service).... The sick leave is 4 hours per pay period and accumulates (i.e., you don't lose unused sick leave at the end of the year), but they don't pay you for accumulated sick leave if you leave federal employment.
Annual Leave goes to 6 hrs/pay period after 3 years

Accumulated sick leave is added to time in service at retirement. (I'm retiring in May, and have around 2500 hrs sick leave accumulated, so my time in service calculation that determines my pension will be higher by about 14 months)

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djpeteski
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by djpeteski » Fri Feb 02, 2018 10:50 am

I worked with some Fed Gov employed geologist. Some really knew how to work the system, which I don't fully understand, but the possibility for promotions are pretty good. Sure you can move up to the next band, but if you have contracting and management skills you can move up well beyond that. For them it was an excellent option. Many got to do things that their civilian counterparts did not get to do.

Compensation can also be augmented with travel. TDY/per diem pay is lucrative. And of course you build points when traveling, which might enable you to take nice vacations at steep discounts. Pick either Marriott or Hilton, join their club, and always stay there. Same kind of thing with airlines.

The other option is the career after the career. Defense contractors hire guys out of the government and pay them massive salaries depending on their perceived value. Now this possibility is more likely the more one is involved in the management and contracting side of the lab. Also technology in some cases. However, if one remains a simple technician then pay and post retirement opportunities will be mediocre.

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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by InvisibleAerobar » Fri Feb 02, 2018 12:48 pm

kehyler wrote:
Fri Feb 02, 2018 9:17 am
Hi all,

I have a question for you all. I was offered a job to work with the federal gov, I'm hoping for some comments about the finances of such a job. I think it seems reasonable, but I'm curious if any of ya'll see something that I didn't catch.

Some highlights:
  • Location is rural, LCOL, I could find a very adequate house for ~200k.
  • They offered me a starting salary of 80ishk, and would be hiring me in a salary band that tops out at 115k
  • There is hope that I could be eventually promoted one band higher (this band tops at $155k)
  • My education at the time of employment would be a PhD in physics. I have seen multiple other physics PhDs begin at in low 100ks in medium cost of living areas at private companies. In your view, should I value fed. gov. benefits as sufficient to forgo the extra ~20-30k of salary that I might be able to receive by working in the private sector?
  • I would be 29 at the time of employment.
  • Married, no kids (though this might change in a year or two), no debt.
  • For retirement, my goal is to save >1k/month.
Thanks!

(If someone is curious, another career that seems viable is tenure track prof. job in LCOL, starting at ~$65k/year. ~$65k/year seems hard to make a budget work while saving ~>1k/month for retirement.)
A few points for you to ponder:

As someone upthread has pointed out, the payscale differs from city to city; though your area may already be tied to the payscale of a city (e.g. parts of WV ~80 miles west of DC gets lumped in with DC). Also, as mentioned upthread, the FEHB benefits in retirement is a big plus in this day and age.

As for whether the pension alone is worth the 20-30k, keep in mind that you are essentially paying slightly more than 4% of your income per annum to fund the pension. This pension may or may not receive a haircut in the future (let's hope not). Net all the other expenses of a place with higher cost of living, is the additional salary of the private sector enough to buy you a COLA-adjusted annuity paying comparable to that offered by FERS? That's the question you should answer (annuity calculators are available online). FWIW, as someone who got lucky (i.e. right before they hiked annual FERS contribution), I value the pension as ~20-30% of my current salary, which means that had I started later, that pension would be worth a bit less.

What are you willing to pay for stability? You are young and presumably have not been laid off before, but when the private sector cuts jobs, things can go downhill fast.

You mention you are a physicist and the job is in a rural position, my wild stab at this is that you perhaps will work in one of the national labs. If this happens to be Los Alamos, for your own sanity, you should think of an exit strategy to another fed job. The place is so desolate that there's only one road into town, and it can't even get decent supply of fresh produce as of 10 years ago. Ignore if the job is elsewhere (e.g. PNNL).

As for tenure track jobs, it's an exceedingly difficult racket, made all the more difficult by dwindling funding. It's a labor of love, and those who pursue it are admirable. But one should lose any romantic notion of what financial stability it may offer.

Gray
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by Gray » Fri Feb 02, 2018 5:39 pm

Once you’ve worked for the Federal govt for 3 years you attain what’s called “status.”

With that you can apply for jobs advertised to Feds only, also called Merit Promotion or MP. It’s worth it to become a Fed for the long term stability (knock on wood these days). After those 3 years are up, go anywhere. Same career, same benefits, same personnel file, only the agency you work for changes.

tjhar
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by tjhar » Fri Feb 02, 2018 5:47 pm

I'll offer another perspective, I'm also a Physics PhD working as a govt contractor. I want out, and want to go work for tech. Why?

Tech salaries (if you're in a hot job/sector) can be almost 2X more than govt salaries. Yes, their COL is higher, but overall it's still at least +50% more. Also, you get bonuses both in cash bonuses and stock bonuses (which is how tech can overpay relative to other industries). None of this for govt work.

Also, if you are a high performing individual, you get golden handcuffs, and to me this is the most important thing as it shows that you are valued by the organization. No such thing for govt work.

Pension? Eh... whatever. It's a dead weight that you need to drag around with. Also, no telling how things will change just before you retire. I prefer to control my destiny.

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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by TigerNest » Fri Feb 02, 2018 5:55 pm

[deleted]
Last edited by TigerNest on Fri Feb 02, 2018 5:59 pm, edited 2 times in total.

student
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by student » Fri Feb 02, 2018 5:55 pm

Between a tenure track job and a government job, the government job is better financially. Unless you get a job at an R1 university with a lot of research grant, it is unlikely that you will make as much with your government.

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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by golfCaddy » Fri Feb 02, 2018 6:16 pm

If you just finished a PhD, I assume you know what academia's like, so I'll focus on the federal government vs government contractor vs the private sector.

government -
Pros - Pension. A defined benefit pension that pays you retirement benefits for as long as you live with cost of living increases for new workers is almost non-existent in the private sector. How to value the pension depends on your assumptions about future investment returns and changes in life expectancy.
Pros - Job Security. Layoffs and firings in government are rare. It's not quite as secure as a tenured faculty position, but it's close.
Pros - Opportunity to work on interesting projects not available anywhere else. No one is going to send men back to the moon except for NASA.
Pros - If you make it to the SES level, you have the opportunity to influence government policy and budgets.
Cons - Pension - This only provides a large benefit if you're a lifer due to how the system is setup. After you've put in 10 years, these could be silver handcuffs making it difficult to leave for a non-federal job.
Cons - Bureaucracy
Con - To move up, you need to move into project management(which could be good or bad depending on your perspective)
Cons - Your salary maxes out. Almost all federal employees operate along the same GS pay scale with a few exceptions like VA doctors.

government contractor
Pros - Opportunity to work on interesting projects not available anywhere else
Pros - Easier to get raises for being a technical expert without moving into managerial roles
Pros - Higher earning potential than the government
Cons - Less job security
Cons - divided loyalties(you have to work for both the benefit of your government client and the company), sometimes that creates conflicts of interest
Cons - Bureaucracy

private sector
Pros - Earning potential should be higher. If you work for a startup, you could win the options lottery.
Pros - Less bureaucracy
Cons - No job security
Cons - Most of the best jobs may be in HCOL areas, which it sounds like you want to avoid. For some people, this might go in the pro column.
Last edited by golfCaddy on Fri Feb 02, 2018 6:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.

btenny
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by btenny » Fri Feb 02, 2018 6:25 pm

I recommend you go read this guys blog and history and some of his writing. He is a PhD from MIT that was on the tenure track but did not make it. But he is also a very successful business guy who still teaches at MIT and does lots of other things. He has a very good insight into getting tenure and owning businesses. The key is that lifestyle and life path is just totally different from a government job. I think you need to decide what direction you want to go in life and select a job accordingly. Good Luck.

http://philip.greenspun.com/

Gray
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by Gray » Fri Feb 02, 2018 7:37 pm

How about a high paying govt job in tech? $170-$240K/yr.

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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by stan1 » Fri Feb 02, 2018 7:45 pm

Gray wrote:
Fri Feb 02, 2018 7:37 pm
How about a high paying govt job in tech? $170-$240K/yr.
An SES or related technical position would be at the very low end of that range but I can't think of any situation where such a job would go to a recent Ph.D. Might be possible in state or local government in a very high cost of living area but I'd be very surprised if such a position could be had without substantial relevant experience.

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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by Nestegg_User » Fri Feb 02, 2018 11:31 pm

InvisibleAerobar wrote:
Fri Feb 02, 2018 12:48 pm
kehyler wrote:
Fri Feb 02, 2018 9:17 am
Hi all,

I have a question for you all. I was offered a job to work with the federal gov, I'm hoping for some comments about the finances of such a job. I think it seems reasonable, but I'm curious if any of ya'll see something that I didn't catch.

Some highlights:
  • Location is rural, LCOL, I could find a very adequate house for ~200k.
  • They offered me a starting salary of 80ishk, and would be hiring me in a salary band that tops out at 115k
  • There is hope that I could be eventually promoted one band higher (this band tops at $155k)
  • My education at the time of employment would be a PhD in physics. I have seen multiple other physics PhDs begin at in low 100ks in medium cost of living areas at private companies. In your view, should I value fed. gov. benefits as sufficient to forgo the extra ~20-30k of salary that I might be able to receive by working in the private sector?
  • I would be 29 at the time of employment.
  • Married, no kids (though this might change in a year or two), no debt.
  • For retirement, my goal is to save >1k/month.
Thanks!

(If someone is curious, another career that seems viable is tenure track prof. job in LCOL, starting at ~$65k/year. ~$65k/year seems hard to make a budget work while saving ~>1k/month for retirement.)
A few points for you to ponder:

As someone upthread has pointed out, the payscale differs from city to city; though your area may already be tied to the payscale of a city (e.g. parts of WV ~80 miles west of DC gets lumped in with DC). Also, as mentioned upthread, the FEHB benefits in retirement is a big plus in this day and age.

As for whether the pension alone is worth the 20-30k, keep in mind that you are essentially paying slightly more than 4% of your income per annum to fund the pension. This pension may or may not receive a haircut in the future (let's hope not). Net all the other expenses of a place with higher cost of living, is the additional salary of the private sector enough to buy you a COLA-adjusted annuity paying comparable to that offered by FERS? That's the question you should answer (annuity calculators are available online). That is very true— FERS, then FERS-RAE, followed by FERS-FRAE and potentially (“likely “) further increases in costs with NO concomitant increase in benefits. The only real benefit today is the health insurance benefits ** in retirement **, as many companies have eliminated them for retirees, but the benefit for current workers is often better than that for federal employees (likely due to the expectations that the federal workforce is more like the general population and not the “healthy workforce “)FWIW, as someone who got lucky (i.e. right before they hiked annual FERS contribution), I value the pension as ~20-30% of my current salary, which means that had I started later, that pension would be worth a bit less.

What are you willing to pay for stability? You are young and presumably have not been laid off before, but when the private sector cuts jobs, things can go downhill fast.
Some government workers have also been forced to relocate (“your job is now there, due to senator XYZ wanting it there, or you can submit your resignation “)...seen it ( “professional “ series, not the wage grade)
You mention you are a physicist and the job is in a rural position, my wild stab at this is that you perhaps will work in one of the national labs. If this happens to be Los Alamos, for your own sanity, you should think of an exit strategy to another fed job. The place is so desolate that there's only one road into town, and it can't even get decent supply of fresh produce as of 10 years ago. Ignore if the job is elsewhere (e.g. PNNL).

As for tenure track jobs, it's an exceedingly difficult racket, made all the more difficult by dwindling funding. It's a labor of love, and those who pursue it are admirable. But one should lose any romantic notion of what financial stability it may offer.

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M_to_the_G
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by M_to_the_G » Sat Feb 03, 2018 9:03 am

It partly depends, as well, on which agency you will be working for. There is an annual ranking of the best places to work in the Federal Government: http://bestplacestowork.org/BPTW/index.php. It's a website that ranks the "best places to work" in the federal government based on how happy people report that they are in any given agency, how likely they would be to recommend their agency to someone else, etc. At the top of the list (among large agencies), year after year, is NASA. If you were offered a job at NASA, I would say take it, fast, and don't look back. At the bottom of the list (among large agencies), year after year, is DHS. Even with the cushy federal benefits, people are miserable enough at DHS to where there is a surprising degree of turnaround among the staff.
"It’s basically the plot of 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.' If you stick around, doing nothing, while everyone around you ****s up, you’re going to win big." - John Oliver

FedGuy
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by FedGuy » Sat Feb 03, 2018 11:19 am

I work for the federal government and am very happy with it. I think most of the pros have been mentioned. One con that I haven't seen mentioned, though, is that federal employees are something of a punching bag for certain political interests. It can be demoralizing to read every week about some politician denigrating federal employees, introducing a bill to cut our benefits, or threatening to close our agency. Regardless of the chances of any such changes happening, it's a frustrating experience to be used as a political pawn by someone you don't respect.

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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by Swansea » Sat Feb 03, 2018 12:16 pm

Gray wrote:
Fri Feb 02, 2018 5:39 pm
Once you’ve worked for the Federal govt for 3 years you attain what’s called “status.”

With that you can apply for jobs advertised to Feds only, also called Merit Promotion or MP. It’s worth it to become a Fed for the long term stability (knock on wood these days). After those 3 years are up, go anywhere. Same career, same benefits, same personnel file, only the agency you work for changes.

While my fed HR work was a while ago, here's my spin on the status issue. Assuming you are on a career conditional appointment (not an excepted appointment), you acquire status immediately and may apply for jobs restricted to Feds only. The 3 year situation is important for folks who serve for three years, then leave the Feds. The 3 years plus enables them to return through reinstatement, not having to compete with outside applicants.

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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by B4Xt3r » Sun Feb 04, 2018 3:33 pm

Valuethinker wrote:
Fri Feb 02, 2018 10:13 am
I think that this is good advice.

A career that begins relatively young in the US Federal civil service can build up some good long term benefits.
I think this is my impression.

B4Xt3r
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by B4Xt3r » Sun Feb 04, 2018 3:35 pm

Rupert wrote:
Fri Feb 02, 2018 10:24 am
In addition to the pension + TSP + social security retirement benefits noted above, the feds offer health insurance to retirees, which is practically unheard of in the private sector these days. Also, in addition to the paid annual leave (which starts at 4 hours per pay period, increases to 6 hours after (I think) 5 years of service and then 8 hours after 15 years of service), many federal jobs offer flexible work schedules, where you can work your 8 hours anytime between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., and work-from-home opportunities. You can carry over 240 hours of annual leave each year; so it is somewhat use-it-or-lose it. If you leave federal service, they have to pay you for your accumulated annual leave. The sick leave is 4 hours per pay period and accumulates (i.e., you don't lose unused sick leave at the end of the year), but they don't pay you for accumulated sick leave if you leave federal employment. The leave and flexible work schedule becomes extremely valuable when you have kids, which is why so many professional women end up leaving the private sector for government service after having children.
Thx for the perspective..

B4Xt3r
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by B4Xt3r » Sun Feb 04, 2018 3:52 pm

InvisibleAerobar wrote:
Fri Feb 02, 2018 12:48 pm
As for whether the pension alone is worth the 20-30k, keep in mind that you are essentially paying slightly more than 4% of your income per annum to fund the pension. This pension may or may not receive a haircut in the future (let's hope not). Net all the other expenses of a place with higher cost of living, is the additional salary of the private sector enough to buy you a COLA-adjusted annuity paying comparable to that offered by FERS? That's the question you should answer (annuity calculators are available online). FWIW, as someone who got lucky (i.e. right before they hiked annual FERS contribution), I value the pension as ~20-30% of my current salary, which means that had I started later, that pension would be worth a bit less.

Is this really the question? I thought that the question should be wether or not 4% of my per annum pay is worth the benifit of the pension? If I make a career of the fed. gov., it appears to be a reasonable but not smoking deal.

Lets say I had a 100k salary for 35 years. In stocks/bonds at 5.5% real growth, that would be ~$423k. That would get an Annuity of $1.9k per month. The pension though would be 100k*.011*35/12=$3.2k/month. So the pension seems reasonable?

Shouldn't the question be wether or not the reduction in pay is worth the healthcare benifits + time off + job stability?

B4Xt3r
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by B4Xt3r » Sun Feb 04, 2018 3:54 pm

LosFederales wrote:
Fri Feb 02, 2018 10:25 am
Don't overlook job security and the 40 hour week, which provides you with the ability to have a side grind.
I have to admit that this is part of the appeal.

Helo80
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by Helo80 » Sun Feb 04, 2018 4:19 pm

kehyler wrote:
Fri Feb 02, 2018 9:17 am
(If someone is curious, another career that seems viable is tenure track prof. job in LCOL, starting at ~$65k/year. ~$65k/year seems hard to make a budget work while saving ~>1k/month for retirement.)


No, you don't want to do that unless you have the hookups or knowledge to work the academic system.

College professorships can be a great gravy train of high income, high job security, decent benefits, and relatively cush jobs when you earn tenure status. But, that gravy train is coming to an end as with many things, economic realities hit and academia needs to operate within a fiscal budget.

The only thing that could sway me in this respect is that if you had a fairly solid path to tenure at a well-respected public or private college with a strong physics program.

Helo80
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by Helo80 » Sun Feb 04, 2018 4:23 pm

M_to_the_G wrote:
Sat Feb 03, 2018 9:03 am
At the bottom of the list (among large agencies), year after year, is DHS. Even with the cushy federal benefits, people are miserable enough at DHS to where there is a surprising degree of turnaround among the staff.


TSA falls under DHS, and it would not surprise me if TSA weighs down a lot of that score. When I think TSA employees, I think the more transient type.

Helo80
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by Helo80 » Sun Feb 04, 2018 4:35 pm

stan1 wrote:
Fri Feb 02, 2018 7:45 pm
An SES or related technical position would be at the very low end of that range but I can't think of any situation where such a job would go to a recent Ph.D. Might be possible in state or local government in a very high cost of living area but I'd be very surprised if such a position could be had without substantial relevant experience.

Never say never, but I agree --- entering SES with 0 years of practical work experience would likely get blocked by OPM or the agency's HR dept. The quickest I have ever seen somebody make SES is about 12 years after graduation from undergrad though he was more management aka. advanced paper pushing. Definitely not a bad a** tech or skill wise.

THY4373
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by THY4373 » Sun Feb 04, 2018 4:59 pm

Honestly comparing something as varied as the Federal Government to the even more varied private sector is difficult without knowing the particulars.

I worked as a civil servant but left after a few years and have never once regretted that decision. I moved to government contracting and then a rather unusual non-profit (that is actually highly profitable). Really a lot of this is going to come down to what you want to do, where you feel you will be happy, etc. There are many variables. Personally I think folks tend to over estimate the value of the civil service FERS pension for folks starting out today. A pension is certainly nice abut it is not nearly as outstanding what older employees got/get or even a lot of state and local government employees get.

What I really do think has value is the FEHB retiree health benefits. Those are much harder to replicate in the private sector. But who knows what will happen over the next several decades before you retiree.

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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by THY4373 » Sun Feb 04, 2018 5:05 pm

FedGuy wrote:
Sat Feb 03, 2018 11:19 am
I work for the federal government and am very happy with it. I think most of the pros have been mentioned. One con that I haven't seen mentioned, though, is that federal employees are something of a punching bag for certain political interests. It can be demoralizing to read every week about some politician denigrating federal employees, introducing a bill to cut our benefits, or threatening to close our agency. Regardless of the chances of any such changes happening, it's a frustrating experience to be used as a political pawn by someone you don't respect.
I agree with this and I'll add that changing administrations can have very different priorities so while your job may be relatively safe, the project or program you are working on may change radically from administration to administration.

B4Xt3r
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by B4Xt3r » Sun Feb 04, 2018 5:49 pm

THY4373 wrote:
Sun Feb 04, 2018 4:59 pm
Honestly comparing something as varied as the Federal Government to the even more varied private sector is difficult without knowing the particulars.

I worked as a civil servant but left after a few years and have never once regretted that decision. I moved to government contracting and then a rather unusual non-profit (that is actually highly profitable). Really a lot of this is going to come down to what you want to do, where you feel you will be happy, etc. There are many variables. Personally I think folks tend to over estimate the value of the civil service FERS pension for folks starting out today. A pension is certainly nice abut it is not nearly as outstanding what older employees got/get or even a lot of state and local government employees get.

What I really do think has value is the FEHB retiree health benefits. Those are much harder to replicate in the private sector. But who knows what will happen over the next several decades before you retiree.
Do you agree/disagree with my above valuation of FERS pension?

golfCaddy
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by golfCaddy » Sun Feb 04, 2018 7:26 pm

kehyler wrote:
Sun Feb 04, 2018 3:52 pm
Lets say I had a 100k salary for 35 years. In stocks/bonds at 5.5% real growth, that would be ~$423k. That would get an Annuity of $1.9k per month. The pension though would be 100k*.011*35/12=$3.2k/month. So the pension seems reasonable?

Shouldn't the question be wether or not the reduction in pay is worth the healthcare benifits + time off + job stability?[/color]

5.5% real is close to the return I would expect for stocks going forward. On bonds, I'm expecting less than 1% real. With a balanced portfolio, I would expect 3-4% real going forward.

Gray
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by Gray » Mon Feb 05, 2018 5:53 am

Swansea wrote:
Sat Feb 03, 2018 12:16 pm
Gray wrote:
Fri Feb 02, 2018 5:39 pm
Once you’ve worked for the Federal govt for 3 years you attain what’s called “status.”

With that you can apply for jobs advertised to Feds only, also called Merit Promotion or MP. It’s worth it to become a Fed for the long term stability (knock on wood these days). After those 3 years are up, go anywhere. Same career, same benefits, same personnel file, only the agency you work for changes.

-----

While my fed HR work was a while ago, here's my spin on the status issue. Assuming you are on a career-conditional appointment (not an excepted appointment), you acquire status immediately and may apply for jobs restricted to Feds only. The 3 year situation is important for folks who serve for three years, then leave the Feds. The 3 years plus enables them to return through reinstatement, not having to compete with outside applicants.
That's good to know. Granted, after joining an agency, I wouldn't recommend changing jobs after 1 year unless you really hate the job or environment, or a much better (or higher paying) Federal job comes along. The reinstatement eligibility (which comes with Status) for 3 years after separation can be a plus if you jump to the private sector and it doesn't work out.

The FERS annuity isn't as good a deal for new employees who must contribute 4.4% of their pay to it vs previous folks who were grandfathered in at .8%. Still, there are many good aspects to being a Fed.

GCD
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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by GCD » Mon Feb 05, 2018 6:06 am

If you want to dial down on what exactly you are getting with the Feds, I highly recommend this:

https://fersguide.com/

The author is widely respected and recommended throughout federal government. Read the link if you want details on his background.

The thing with the Feds is your promotional opportunities and pay are fairly predictable. A lot can change over 20-30 years of course, but it's probably fair to say it is more predictable than the private sector.

By random luck, my personal case turned out to be almost exactly the same as one of his examples in the guide. Now 1.5 years into retirement I can say his figures were dead on. If you want to know what you are getting into for comparison purposes it's worth the $15 subscription.

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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by GCD » Mon Feb 05, 2018 6:34 am

THY4373 wrote:
Sun Feb 04, 2018 4:59 pm
Honestly comparing something as varied as the Federal Government to the even more varied private sector is difficult without knowing the particulars.

I worked as a civil servant but left after a few years and have never once regretted that decision. I moved to government contracting and then a rather unusual non-profit (that is actually highly profitable). Really a lot of this is going to come down to what you want to do, where you feel you will be happy, etc. There are many variables. Personally I think folks tend to over estimate the value of the civil service FERS pension for folks starting out today. A pension is certainly nice abut it is not nearly as outstanding what older employees got/get or even a lot of state and local government employees get.

What I really do think has value is the FEHB retiree health benefits. Those are much harder to replicate in the private sector. But who knows what will happen over the next several decades before you retiree.
I agree, a lot depends on personality and ability. Pensions may not be as wonderful as they were in the past, but psychologically many people are ill-equipped to handle a higher pressure super $ compensated job. My roommate in law school has been a partner in a law firm doing patent law for 15+ish years and making $1M+ for about a decade now. There is no way I could have done what he did to get where he is today. When people downplay pensions I think the unspoken assumption is that everyone is capable of earning an alternate salary big enough it would beat the pension with what you could invest/save.

If I were to buy an annuity to provide an income stream equal to my pension it would cost roughly $1.2M. To be honest, I would have either been miserable or incompetent (and maybe fired) at the kind of job that would have paid me enough that I could have saved an additional $1.2M by the age of 50.

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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by AtlasShrugged? » Mon Feb 05, 2018 8:20 am

kehyler....Honestly, this sounds like a no-brainer. Take the Federal job. You'll be able to move around once you're in.

The real question to me is this: Will you be happy. Never mind the rest of it (pay, benefits)....but will you be happy?!

I am very happy with my F/T and P/T work. So they are not just 'jobs'. Of all the advice that I can give, it would be: Find whatever is going to make you very happy. And do that. Because as sure as the sun rises in the East, the money will follow.

If the Federal job will not make you happy, move on. But federal jobs are about the most secure thing going.
“If you don't know, the thing to do is not to get scared, but to learn.”

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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by simas » Mon Feb 05, 2018 9:08 am

"Do you agree/disagree with my above valuation of FERS pension?"

The problem you have is that you are comparing apples to fantasies about oranges
- do you want to live somewhere else ( in 'medium cost of living places')? if no, who cares what some other job pays in place X if you do not want to live there.
- if you want to live somewhere else, apply somewhere else. see what you actually get as an offer (if you get anything). A lot of people have very inflated opinions of themselves and their worth to the job market and job market usually sorts that pretty fast.
- compare real offers to each other and be serious about it , do you have an actual offer other than Feds? if not, don't waste your time as this is nothing but mental masturbation

As a person who run teams and groups for few decades , I have seen this over and over an over - with people coming in and stating but I want X because someone completely different in completely different part of the country does completely different job. So? do you want to live in completely different part of the country doing completely different job and if you do, what stops you from trying/applying? and if do not want to ever move or if you fail in getting other opportunities, why keep bringing it up? And that usually sorts things pretty fast - I had people who actually did things (got trained, moved, moved across the country to chase options) and those who preferred comfort/security/staying put (for whatever reason).

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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by azurekep » Wed Feb 21, 2018 3:12 am

FedGuy wrote:
Sat Feb 03, 2018 11:19 am
I work for the federal government and am very happy with it. I think most of the pros have been mentioned. One con that I haven't seen mentioned, though, is that federal employees are something of a punching bag for certain political interests. It can be demoralizing to read every week about some politician denigrating federal employees, introducing a bill to cut our benefits, or threatening to close our agency. Regardless of the chances of any such changes happening, it's a frustrating experience to be used as a political pawn by someone you don't respect.
Consider setting up a Boglehead "Deep State" Chapter. ;)

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Re: Need help - first major career choice (fed. gov.)

Post by Valuethinker » Wed Feb 21, 2018 4:18 am

azurekep wrote:
Wed Feb 21, 2018 3:12 am
FedGuy wrote:
Sat Feb 03, 2018 11:19 am
I work for the federal government and am very happy with it. I think most of the pros have been mentioned. One con that I haven't seen mentioned, though, is that federal employees are something of a punching bag for certain political interests. It can be demoralizing to read every week about some politician denigrating federal employees, introducing a bill to cut our benefits, or threatening to close our agency. Regardless of the chances of any such changes happening, it's a frustrating experience to be used as a political pawn by someone you don't respect.
Consider setting up a Boglehead "Deep State" Chapter. ;)
;-).

In addition it can be demoralizing to work for any large bureaucracy. Particularly one where leadership and direction can change every 4 years or even faster than that.

On a personal level, most civil servants I have encountered are dedicated professionals. But you do get the "rules don't allow that".

I think the problem is we all have experiences with front end people who may be purely administrative functions and deal with angry and difficult clients every day (I am thinking the Sloth scene in "Zootopia" at DMV ;-)). That sours us.

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