Obama tops government-pay Top 10 list

March 8, 2011, 9:00 a.m. EST
Obama tops government-pay Top 10 list
By Jon C. Ogg and Michael B. Sauter

NEW YORK (24/7 Wall Street) — Working for the government is often referred to as public service. The term implies sacrifice or taking less than what could be earned in the private sector or in an entrepreneurial position. Many government workers seem overpaid but are probably underpaid when you consider the scope of their responsibilities. Indeed, many in the private sector would not want to stand up to the scrutiny required of a top public-service job or to get elected to public office.


U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to the media at the White House in February.

The salary of the president of the United States is actually a token sum considering the responsibilities of the office. Still, officials in other public service jobs seem egregiously overpaid. People who hold these jobs are “set for life” after their public service ends because they are in demand for paid speaking gigs, memoirs and consulting roles in private industry.

24/7 Wall Street has gathered data from many public sources to ferret out how much these top government officials earn. Salaries of some jobs are shielded from public scrutiny for national-security reasons. This analysis did not consider health-care and retirement packages, security and transportation benefits and additional factor. In some cases, our public-service executives have actually taken considerable pay cuts to serve.

One thing also needs to be considered here: Some government salaries are actually shielded under executive order. Some of the shielded pay grades may be well into the hundreds of thousands or even higher. Some information, intelligence, and cloak-and-dagger positions are shielded and above our pay grade when it comes to identifying how much they are.

10. Secretary of state: Hillary Clinton

• Annual base salary: $186,600

• Maximum job length: Generally 8 years

• Previous job: Senator from New York

Job description: The secretary of state is appointed by the president to serve as chief diplomatic representative of the U.S. Besides overseeing all State Department operations, including the operations of the U.S. embassies and representation in the United Nations, Secretary of State Clinton is responsible for the foreign operations of the CIA, the Defense Department, and the Department of Homeland Security. Clinton is also fourth in the chain of succession for the presidency.

9. Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner

• Annual base salary: $191,300

• Maximum job length: Generally 8 years

• Previous job: President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Job description: Appointed by the president, the secretary of the Treasury serves as the principal economic adviser for the president. According to the Department of the Treasury: “The Secretary is responsible for formulating and recommending domestic and international financial, economic, and tax policy, participating in the formulation of broad fiscal policies that have general significance for the economy, and managing the public debt.” Geithner here is a proxy for many other Cabinet members, who make the same amount, including Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

8. Senate majority leader: Harry Reid

• Annual base salary: $193,400

• Maximum job length: Indefinite, usually 4-8 years, or until Senate changes hands

• Previous job: Governor of Nevada

Job description: The Senate majority leader did not exist until the beginning of the 20th century. According to the U.S. Senate website: “The leader must keep himself briefed and informed on national and international problems in addition to pending legislative matters. On the floor of the senate he is charged by his party members to deal with all procedural questions in consultation with them and his party’s policy-making bodies.” Additionally, Reid must be in contact with all of the various committees and maintain a line of communication between them and the senate. This position stands as a proxy here for the minority and majority leaders in both the Senate and House, who all make the same amount.

7. Chairman of the Federal Reserve: Benjamin Bernanke

• Annual base salary: $199,700

• Maximum job length: 14-28 years

• Previous job: Professor of economics at Princeton University

Job Description: The chairman of the Federal Reserve is in charge of the banking system of the U.S. As head of the Fed, Bernanke dictates and explains the direction of U.S. fiscal policy and works with the Department of the Treasury.

6. Chief justice of United States: John G. Roberts  
• Annual base salary: $217,400

• Maximum job length: Life

• Previous job: Judge on the Washington, D.C., Court of Appeals

Job description: As the top justice on the nine-member Supreme Court, Roberts is the head of the U.S. federal court system, and is effectively the leader of the judicial branch of government. The chief justice is the spokesman for the court, deciding who writes its opinions. Chief Justice Roberts is also responsible for setting the court’s agenda.

5. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: Adm. Michael Mullen

• Annual base salary: $220,734.36

• Maximum job length: 8 years

• Previous job: Chief of naval operations

Job description: While the president is technically the commander of the U.S. Armed Forces, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — the combined panel comprising representatives of the Army, Air Force and Navy — is the functional leader of the military. The chairman is appointed by the president.

4. Speaker of the House: John Boehner

• Annual base salary: $223,500

• Maximum job length: Potentially unlimited, generally 4-8 years

• Previous job: Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Ohio

Job description: The speaker does not legally need to be a member of the House of Representatives, but there has never been a speaker appointed from outside the legislative branch. The speaker is third in line for the presidency. The speaker’s role includes presiding over the chamber and setting his party’s agenda. This position stands as proxy for the House minority leader, who makes the same amount.

3. Vice president: Joseph Biden

• Annual base salary: $227,300

• Maximum job length: 8 years

• Previous job: Senator from Delaware

Job description: While the vice president of the United States is second in command in the executive branch and aids the president in all of bureaucratic and diplomatic efforts, a further role is as official president of the Senate, presiding over its meetings — although the only significant role in the chamber is as the tiebreaker in the event of a voting deadlock. Vice President Biden is also next in line for the presidency should Obama die or become incapacitated.

2. Postmaster general: Patrick R. Donahoe

• Annual base salary: $245,000

• Maximum tenure: 8 years

• Previous job: A number of executive positions in the U.S. Postal Service

Job description: Donahoe is the leader of the U.S. Postal Service, and his position predates the U.S. Constitution. Once a Cabinet position, the position’s appointees now come from within the service. Donahoe helps set postal rates and services and oversees major regulatory changes.

1. President: Barack Obama

• Annual base salary: $400,000

• Maximum job length: 8 Years

• Previous job: Senator from Illinois

Job description: The president is the head of the executive branch, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and the nation’s leader and figurehead. Obama is responsible for a great number of bureaucratic appointments and nominations, and many of the people on this list are put in place by the president.