There are two ways to bury something in Washington:
1) Dig a hole in the ground, insert something and cover it.
2) Appoint an advisory commission to report on whatchamaycallit.
Unfortunately for federal workers, and maybe the public too, some of the best work on the $80 billion federal payroll problem is done by an advisory committee.
Quick! For the grand prize, name any of its members!
If you didn't say Martin L. Duggan, Frank G. Zarb or W. Perry Brown, you lose.
Duggan chairs the Advisory Committee on Federal Pay. The other two are members. Duggan is a respected former St. Louis newspaper editor; Zarb, once the nation's energy czar, is a partner in Lazard Freres & Co. Brown is vice president of American Cyanamid Co.
Each August, when official Washington turns ghost town, the committee makes its report, which is like waving a white shirt in a blizzard.
Its report to the president (who has made up his mind in January) says what he ought to pay his million-plus white-collar federal workers. Upon delivery to the White House it is never heard from again.
This year, as per usual, the committee delivered its report. It recommended an 8 percent raise for federal workers in October. Ten days later the president did what he said he would do seven months earlier and recommended a 2 percent raise for January.
Congress may sweeten the federal pay pot, adding another half-billion dollars to make the raise 3 percent. And another Band-Aid has been applied to what many see as a serious wound.
According to the government's own pay data, collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a job-for-job matchup with industry, Uncle Sam pays his employes 77 cents for every dollar they could earn in any decent company in the country. That 23 percent pay gap may be real, worse than that or total nonsense. Nobody knows for sure. Some of the answers may be in the committee report, which is based on testimony of interested parties including government officials, union leaders and pay experts from the private sector.
The Duggan-Zarb-Brown report is important because the authors aren't exactly professional cheerleaders for the bureaucracy. Although Zarb had intensive high-level federal training with the Nixon administration, all three are private-sector men to the core.
Duggan still plays newspaperman, interviewing cabbies and people on the street wherever he goes. Brown, as befits a corporate vice president for personnel, is inclined to keep the troops happy without giving away the store.
Yet these three hard-ball players, who made their way in industry and could be excused for having little respect for lifetime, low-risk bureaucrats, say that federal workers are getting a raw deal. They recommend more pay and more respect.
Their report says the pay system fails to achieve efficiency and that the problems are worse at the bottom (clerks, stenos and secretaries) and at the top where executives being paid $60,000 to $70,000 manage massive, life-and-death health, safety and defense programs. It speaks of the "creeping erosion" of the quality of the government work force.
Employes who like being part of the well-read minority can call the committee (653-6193) for a copy of its report. It probably has a few extra copies.