OBVIOUSLY, ABOUT 300,000 residents of this area are less than overjoyed by President Reagan's recommendation of a 4.8 percent annual pay raise for the government's white-collar workers. But if any of these civil servants is surprised, it had best be with delight--because the president had good political cause and more than a little advice pointing to no increase at all this year. He could have gone for broke. And given the not-so-happy lot of many other Americans who are not under Uncle Sugar's wing, there's much to be said for accepting this adjustment as fair enough.
Ah, yes, comes the answer from intrepid federal union leaders, but what about "comparability" with whatever a government worker's alleged counterpart in private business may be earning? In fact, those relationships don't mesh; you wind up comparing apples with golden apples when you take into account the financial and psychological worth of pensions and tenure protections that most federal employees still enjoy.
There are exceptional circumstances, of course, just as surely as there's double-digit inflation. One can always find categories of federal workers who are worth their salt and more in similar--or even identical--jobs in the private world. There is no question, for example, that the federal pay structure impairs the recruitment and retention of certain professional people such as doctors, actuaries or engineers.
Employees in the top federal-executive categories have been quite squeezed; not only have their salaries been artificially restrained over the years, but also more and more of them have been pushed up against the ceiling. One result is a government of too many chiefs, and another is a lot of costly retirements of talented people who find they can make ends meet much more easily on pension benefits, often laced with consulting fees or other odd-job income.
The comparability game is not such great fun, either, if you include job security, which the government includes just about as well as any employer. Do federal workers want comparability with others when it comes to layoffs? There have been shifts and RIFs in government, but hardly at the pace of layoffs and closings around the country. In this area, the number of government employees who have been "riffed" is estimated at perhaps several thousand. It may well grow but would have a way to go before it could raise any eyebrows in Youngstown or Detroit or a lot of other job markets, for that matter.
Here you come to the consequence of ill-considered, top-to-bottom, double-digit federal pay raises: the higher the pay, the more likely the layoffs. Just as producers are also consumers and buyers are also sellers, federal workers are also taxpayers--who can appreciate the benefits of cutting your losses one way or another.