What You Need to Know: Pay Scales

By Eric Yoder
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 18, 2008; 12:00 AM

There are several bits of conventional wisdom about federal pay. One is that the government underpays its employees when compared with similar jobs in the private sector¿the so-called pay gap. In part that's due to a series of reports generated by the government itself supporting that perception. The government's troubles in hiring and keeping employees in high-demand occupations buttresses that perception.

The reality is more complicated. While some data show that federal jobs do indeed lag behind on average, that's in part due to large differences in certain occupations¿such as some professional and administrative positions¿or only at certain levels¿such as entry level or very senior levels. In contrast, other studies have found that in certain occupations federal employees are paid more than the private sector on average.

Another common belief is that the federal pay structure is a monolith, and that everyone is pegged into one of its slots. Again, the reality is more complicated.

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