If you are a federal worker, here's how to follow the money. But first, a short quiz:

Question: What's the difference between a Grade 13 federal lawyer in San Francisco and his or her counterpart at the Pentagon or Federal Trade Commission here?

Answer: About $1.52 per hour in favor of the West Coast. Multiplied by 40 hours a week that pay differential will buy a lot of sourdough bread. Or whatever.

Question: Who makes more, a Grade 9 civil servant in Suitland, Reston or Washington or an employee at the same level, doing the same work, in Gary, Ind. Or Covington, Ky.? Yes, that's right, Covington, Ky.

Answer: Them. Not us. The Washington area GS-9, depending on how long he or she has been in that grade, is now pulling down--before deductions--between $33,650 and $43,747 a year. The GS-Niner in Covington (which is to Cincinnati what Arlington is to Washington) makes a little bit more--$33,787 to $43,925. The same worker, if transferred to Gary (part of the metro Chicago area) would earn even more--$34,308 to $44,602.

You can look it up.

People in the Washington area may think it is expensive living and working here. But none of them has ever bought a cheeseburger in Alaska, a steak dinner in Hawaii or had to use their bank line-of-credit to get out of a parking garage in downtown San Francisco. People in New York City would die to get an apartment--any apartment--at Washington rent levels.

The point is that while Washington is the place to be for many aspiring civil servants, money isn't the lure. Sure we have the Kennedy Center, a beltway to die for and VIP-filled subways.

But if immediate gratification--as in money--is your thing, and government your choice, go to New York, California, Texas--even Ohio and Illinois for gosh sakes--if you want the big (relatively) bucks.

The pay differentials are the result of locality pay raises. By law, part of each regular annual federal pay raise is supposed to be allocated (by the president) toward locality adjustments. Washington has done better than most cities, under locality pay, but it is not No. 1. Feds in dozens of cities--such as Detroit, San Jose and Houston--make more than their counterparts here.

The next federal pay raise, an "average" 4.8 percent adjustment, is law. Within the next couple of weeks, President Clinton will decide how much of that raise--if any--to allocate to locality pay. If he decides to earmark 1 percentage point of that raise to locality raises, this is how various cities would fare:

White collar federal workers in the Washington-Baltimore area would get a total raise of 4.94 percent. The raise in San Francisco would be 5.59 percent; Houston, 5.52 percent; Los Angeles, 5.31 percent; New York City, 5.25 percent; Chicago, 5.23 percent; Detroit, 5.22 percent; Boston, 5.13 percent; Hartford, 5.12 percent; Denver, 5.11 percent; San Diego, 5.09 percent; Miami, 5.03 percent; Portland, 5.01 percent; Philadelphia, 5.00 percent; Seattle, 4.99 percent; Sacramento, 4.98 percent and Cincinnati, 4.96 percent. Just ahead of Washington.

Under the same assumption, federal workers in Kansas City, Indianapolis, Huntsville (Ala.) and St. Louis would get a 4.69 percent total increase next year. Feds in Pittsburgh and Orlando would get 4.70 percent. Government workers in Richmond would get 4.76 percent, while those in Norfolk, Salisbury, Md., and Easton, Md., Dover and Rehoboth Beach, Del., and Charleston, W.Va., would get what feds in most other cities would get--4.69 percent.

Bear in mind that those raises would be effective only if the president decides on a pay raise that gives 3.8 percent of the January pay raise as an across-the-board increase and the over 1 percent toward locality pay raises. If the mix is different, the numbers will also be different.

But the example shows that the 4.8 percent figure is simply an "average" which--under the above scenario--would produce a range of raises of from 5.59 percent to as low as 4.69 percent.

Senior Executives

Raises for members of the Senior Executive Service aren't automatic. They must be authorized by the president. While there is no guarantee of an SES raise, insiders bet it will be an adjustment of about 3.4 percent.

Same-Sex Partners

Some married-without-children feds feel that they are subsidizing big families because both groups--the couples and the big families--pay the same federal family health premiums. The issue has prompted some gay and lesbian feds to point out what they see as another form of discrimination in the federal health program.

Some of the can't-get-married-feds believe they are subsidizing married couples in the insurance program. Check this space tomorrow.

Sunday, Oct. 31, 1999