Wicker wants House staffer salaries off the internet

Published 7:01 pm Friday, December 15, 2006

U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., has joined in introducing legislation that would remove congressional staff member salaries from public reports on disbursements of the House.

The move would remove these salaries from public scrutiny.

Wicker, who served as a congressional staffer during the 1980s, acknowledged the practice of disclosure was in place during his day, but at that time the information was in print form only.

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He said the issue came to his attention recently when the salaries of all congressional staffers showed up on a Web site — Legistorm.com.

“Having your salary bandied about the world is an intrusion that doesn’t serve a public purpose,” Wicker said.

The bill, assigned to the Committee on House Administration, was co-sponsored by Reps. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii; John Conyers Jr., D-Mich.; Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., and Don Young, R-Alaska.

Jackson attorney Leonard Van Slyke, who specializes in public law access, said that since a public employee’s salary is paid by taxpayers “it should be available to taxpayers.”

All salaries of public employees in Mississippi covered by the state’s Public Records Act are available for anyone to examine, Van Slyke said. That list of employees covers everyone who works for cities, counties, the state, schools and public colleges and universities.

For years, congressional staff member salaries have been publicly available through a report named “Statement of Disbursements of the House,” compiled by the chamber’s chief administrative officer. This document is issued each quarter, so the amounts contained in it aren’t annual salary or expenditure figures.

Neither the House nor Senate posts this information on the Internet.

Wicker said he won’t spend a great deal of time on the issue because it’s not a major one. But he said it was already difficult to attract bright young college graduates into the public sector without having their salaries posted on the Internet.

He pointed to the military, which gives a range of salary for ranks or classifications but doesn’t list them by name. Wicker said he wouldn’t oppose an aggregate listing of salaries.

One Mississippi congressional staffer, however, says recognizing the public’s right to know is part of being in public life.

“It comes with the territory,” said Lanier Avant, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. “Our position is that as a government employee – one of the conditions of employment is that your salary is public record. If an individual has a problem with that, then he or she would probably do better to find other employment.”