The CBO took a lot of union heat for the report Republicans love to cite, a report that continues to inflame federal pay discussions. It must be noted that the study, issued in 2012, covered the years 2005-10, which was before the freeze and furloughs were implemented.
Yet it is hard to square Cox’s remark, in a Tuesday news release, that “the CBO did not conclude that there was a 16% differential in favor of federal employees when comparing total compensation,” with the report, which essentially said just that.
Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns.
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The report said: “Overall, the federal government paid 16 percent more in total compensation than it would have if average compensation had been comparable with that in the private sector, after accounting for certain observable characteristics of workers.”
Asked about this, an AFGE spokeswoman said, unconvincingly, that the CBO did not reach a conclusion.
Cox was on stronger ground, however, when he added: “Even the CBO acknowledged that its data on benefits were unreliable, even though without that element of the comparison, there was no differential in favor of federal compensation.”
The word “unreliable” isn’t in the study, but “uncertain” is. The report undermined its 16 percent finding when it said “CBO’s estimates of the costs of benefits are much more uncertain than its estimates of wages.” Without the “uncertain” estimate of benefits, CBO found “the federal government paid 2 percent more in total wages” compared with the private sector.
If that 2 percent was there in 2010, it’s probably not there now and certainly not by the time the government gets through with the freeze and furloughs.
The CBO report aside, Ryan’s budget, which does call for increased retirement contributions from feds, along with the House and Senate measures that would extend the pay freeze through the end of the calendar year, “are just more evidence,” Cox said at the news conference, “that too many politicians have virtually no regard for either the services our members provide, or the ability of our members to pay their bills.”
Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.