Media reports comparing the "average" pay of government workers with the "average" pay in the private sector always anger some feds, who argue either that the figures are wrong or that the comparisons are irrelevant.

White-collar civil servants here earn an average of $31,187 a year, and the average salary of nonfederal workers is $25,120.

But federal workers who earn less than the average say they don't believe either the Office of Personnel Management's data or the private sector pay information compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Feds who earn more than the average say that printing the government-versus-industry pay averages only gives ammunition to people who contend that civil servants are overpaid.

The big problem is that the U.S. government is not private industry.

It does not, for example, have millions of young people earning minimum wages flipping hamburgers at fast food carryouts. Nor does it have Lee Iacoccas or other corporate executives earning the equivalent of a small nation's gross national product.

The government has 2.6 million full-time workers, while the private sector pay data takes in more than 90 million Americans whose job descriptions range from carwash attendants to chief executive officers of multinational corporations.

The federal establishment has a greater proportion of scientists, professionals and administrative employes than most businesses. It has thousands of computer specialists and lawyers, but only a handful of beauticians and messengers.

It also has an 18-grade pay structure and, except in a few cases, pays secretaries and computer operators the same salaries wherever they work. Industry, on the other hand, tends to pay different salaries in different parts of the country.

Federal salaries are higher in the Washington area than in the field because this is the headquarters city, where more high-level workers are assigned.

Here's a computer breakdown, from the Office of Personnel Management, of the number of white-collar feds here by grade and their average annual salaries. The data was complied last month and reflects the pay grade picture here as of March 31:

GS 1: 169 employes, with an average salary of $9,516. GS 2: 1,680 employes, $10,629. GS 3: 6,374 employes, $11,992. GS 4: 13,133 employes, $13,876. GS 5: 21,242 employes, $16,209. GS 6: 17,243 employes, $18,477. GS 7: 23,213 employes, $20,458. GS 8: 6,297 employes, $23,385. GS 9: 17,347 employes, $24,400. GS 10: 1,707 employes, $28,108. GS 11: 19,725 employes, $29,064. GS 12: 28,960 employes, $35,266. GS 13: 19,675 employes, $42,699. GM (merit pay) 13: 14,157 employes, $43,072. GS 14: 9,138 employes, $51,340. GM (merit pay) 14: 16,509 employes, 51,544. GS 15: 3,381 employes, $60,929. GM (merit pay) 15: 13,371 employes, $61,538. GS 16: 471 employes, $67,958. GS 17: 98 employes, $68,700. GS 18: 46 employes, $68,700, the statutory maximum for the GS levels.

The pay figures don't include the more than 4,000 members of the Senior Executive Service here whose pay ranges from $61,296 to $72,300, nor does it include several thousand political appointees.