Federal Eye: Fed worker pay comes under fire

By Ed O'Keefe
Wednesday, March 9, 2011; 10:58 AM

The Republican-led House is scheduled to hold its first hearing Wednesday on the compensation of federal employees, pitting the Obama administration and federal worker union leaders against conservative fiscal experts armed with detailed reports suggesting federal employees are paid too generously when compared to private sector workers.

The hearing comes as state governments are working to overhaul public pension plans and scrap collective bargaining rights for state workers and as Republican continue introducing proposals to curtail federal pay and the workforce. Among the bills, some GOP lawmakers hope to cut the federal workforce by 10 percent, implement a two-week furlough of most workers, freeze some pay raises, fire tax-delinquent feds, prohibit federal retirees from earning workers compensation payments and cut the pay for overseas diplomats.

Wednesday's hearing is the first of several House Oversight and Government Reform Committee meetings on these issues that are also likely to serve as tutorials for freshmen members less familiar with the complexities of the federal personnel system.

Disagreements are likely to begin today with Rep. Dennis Ross's opening statement. The Florida Republican, chairman of the subcommittee on the federal workforce, suggests that federal employees earned an average $101,628 in total compensation in 2010 -- nearly four times the average private sector salary.

According to his opening statement, Ross combines the Office of Personnel Management average 2010 federal salary ($74,311) with statistics suggesting the government pays 36 percent of employees' base pay health insurance and pension benefits, plus the financial value of the government's "generous" paid leave system.

Those figures are sure to irk OPM Director John Berry and National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen M. Kelley, two of the scheduled witnesses who have spoken in defense of federal salary levels before. The others witnesses are Partnership for Public Service CEO Max Stier -- a relatively neutral, nonpartisan, well-quoted expert on the issue -- and American Enterprise Institute scholar Andrew G. Biggs and Heritage Foundation labor policy expert James Sherk -- who've penned detailed studies on the size and scope of the federal pay and benefits system.

A review of their written opening statements (kudos to the committee for posting all of the prepared statements more than 12 hours in advance) suggests all five agree that the General Schedule -- the system used to set federal pay and seniority -- is broken. The agreement appears to end there.

Review the highlights of their testimony below, click on the links to see their full written statements and leave your thoughts in the comments section below:

John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management:

"Our pay system is not perfect. I have said before that the system is six decades old and could use a reexamination. As for comparability, it is not perfect either. We are required by law to reduce the comparisons of all the Federal and non-Federal occupations and geographic regions down to one number. This does not reflect the complexity of the world we live in.

"But even if the system is not perfect, we must reject misleading uses of data that perpetuate the myth that Federal employees are as a whole overcompensated. As a whole, the wages that the Federal Government pays its employees are fair and the benefits it offers are competitive. Any reforms we undertake must meet the following principles that the existing GS system does well: transparency, equal pay for equal work, no political influence, ability to recruit and retain a well-qualified workforce.

"This is how it must be if we are to recruit and retain the best workers to carry out our critical life-saving and life enhancing missions. Falling behind is unacceptable."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2011 The Washington Post Company