November 22, 2012

In the first line of their Nov. 19 op-ed, “The truth about federal pay,” Andrew G. Biggs and Jason Richwine asked, “Should federal workers get a raise?” The answer is an unequivocal yes. These workers continue to serve our nation well, despite a pay freeze for more than two years, even as they face, like all Americans, a continuing rise in costs for health care, gas, groceries and other necessities. Federal workers have seen $103 billion in compensation reductions since 2011.

More broadly, the argument that federal workers are overpaid falls under the weight of the flawed methodologies underpinning them. The human-capital approach favored by the op-ed authors is unsuitable for setting pay in that it compares demographic and personal attributes of workers. A Bureau of Labor Statistics study, comparing the work being performed, clearly has greater validity.

Federal employees have borne a disproportionate share of deficit reduction — a 27-month pay freeze, increased pension contributions and increased workloads due to agency budget cuts. It is time to end the pay freeze and spread the sacrifice beyond our dedicated public servants and their families.

Colleen M. Kelley, Washington

The writer is president of the National Treasury Employees Union.

If lobbyists’ pay were capped at the level of that of the highest paid federal employees, such as senators and representatives, there would be equity — and many fewer lobbyists — to the great benefit of the country.

Allan R. Gall, Arlington

As a soon-to-be-retired federal employee, I concur with Andrew Biggs and Jason Richwine that the consensus of serious economic research is that “federal pay is equal to or higher than those of comparable private-sector workers” — on average. But Mr. Biggs’s own research shows that lawyers, doctors, accountants and engineers on the federal payroll, for example, are exceptions, and the distribution and variance of compensation packages and their associated risk premiums are different in the two sectors.

Federal workers give up substantial opportunities for bonuses and advancement in return for greater stability and equality of pay over a lifetime of service, which compensates them for the opportunity cost of not competing against private peers. Only blind faith in the justice of the free market — more and more devoid of union representation and arguably skewed in favor of management in many sectors — would lead one to conclude that private wage packages are fairer than federal equivalents and that we might be “overcharging taxpayers.”

I remain unconvinced that there are more free-riders in public than in private employment. The data could equally suggest that private-sector workers are, on average, underpaid and exploited compared with a more just federal system having important checks and balances blessed by the taxpayer.

Stephen B. Wickman, McLean