According to the Pay Agent — a top-level interagency council that advises the president on federal pay policy matters — federal employees earn anywhere between 27% and 69% less than their non-federal counterparts, depending on where they work. Each year, these pay gap figures, which are derived from Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys, are used to calculate the locality pay increases given to federal employees.
But other studies indicate those pay gap figures are off the mark and that any pay gap is in favor of feds.
This week, compensation expert Howard Risher writes in Federal Times that, in fact, feds do earn salaries that are highly competitive with their non-federal counterparts in many areas and less in other areas. One problem, he argues, is that the method used to determine pay gaps is not effective:
It may be surprising, but under current law, there is no requirement that the Office of Personnel Management or any agency develop job-specific comparative salary data. OPM did have the data at one time. For years, the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics developed comparative survey data for a series of benchmark jobs — those that are defined in the same way by employers. That data was provided to OPM and the Pay Agent — a top-level interagency panel that advises the president on federal pay policy — for use in adjusting the General Schedule. But BLS discontinued its survey in 1996. Now the adjustments are based on the percentage increase in the Employment Cost Index (ECI) — which says nothing about salary levels.
Do you think the official estimate of a federal pay gap is reliable? In which areas do you think federal pay is and is not competitive with the private sector?