T he debate over federal pay is never-ending, as longtime federal employees well know.

Wednesday's column reporting that 56 percent of federal employees taking part in a government-wide survey described their pay as good and that 64 percent said they were satisfied with their pay drew brickbats from a number of Federal Diary readers.

A General Schedule 12 at the Defense Department said it best:

"I am skeptical of how the data on pay is being presented. It needs to be stratified by skills. I think you will find the best educated and skilled people are underpaid, and they are also the group the government needs most."

The Defense employee, who asked not to be named, added: "The government does indeed pay well when you have no easily defined marketable skills. However, the federal government can't hire properly qualified accountants, attorneys, computer scientists or engineers. Their starting salaries and opportunities for advancement are insulting for most qualified college graduates in the skills I mentioned above. The federal government hires industry's rejects in these fields or grows its own skilled personnel but then often lacks the organizational culture to exploit their newfound skills and they languish in disuse."

These points are not off the mark. A number of federal agencies find it hard to compete for top talent, especially entry-level and mid-career professionals. In the Bush administration, some pay analysts think the government's competitive posture would be improved if the federal compensation system could be revamped so that some key occupations could be brought more closely in line with private-sector rates. The National Commission on the Public Service even recommended creating a new system that emphasizes achievement rather than longevity in the workplace.

What, if anything, to do about federal pay policy will be explored next week at a hearing called by Rep. Jo Ann S. Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House civil service subcommittee.

In briefings on the survey results, Office of Personnel Management officials said they were surprised by the employee responses showing a relatively high degree of satisfaction with federal pay. Employee perceptions on pay may have been influenced by salary increases over the past decade, fueled in part by the introduction of higher "locality pay" pegged to specific locations, they said.

Retirements

On Monday, Richard Brown, Steve Slavsky and Richard Wojciechowski will retire from the office of the secretary of defense, defense procurement and acquisition policy. The three senior procurement analysts represent more than 100 years of combined Defense acquisition experience.

Lawrence Hannahan, a computer specialist at the Air Force Pentagon Communications Agency, will retire Tuesday after 32 years of service with the Defense Department.

Larry Mason, executive assistant at the Social Security Administration's office of hearings and appeals in Falls Church, will retire Monday after 35 years of federal service.

Cathy Milone, a secretary in the Justice Department's Tax Division, retires today after 42 years of government service.

Sandi Payne, head of human resources and equal employment opportunity at the OPM, retires today after 35 years of federal service. She played key roles in establishing the interagency Human Resources Management Council and the administration's human capital initiative.

Alice Villavicencio, a compliance specialist in the Federal Trade Commission's premerger notification office, will retire Monday after 34 years of federal service.

Talk Shows

Sam Serio of the Internal Revenue Service will discuss federal income taxes on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. today on federalnewsradio.com.

Claude A. Allen, deputy secretary at the Health and Human Services Department, will be the guest on "The Business of Government Hour" at 8 a.m. tomorrow on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).

"Support the Troops and Oppose the President?" will be the topic for discussion on the Imagene B. Stewart call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL radio (1450 AM).

Stephen Barr's e-mail address is

barrs@washpost.com.