Women are solving the problem of comparable worth in the federal government by voting with their feet: walking out of the typing pool and into better-paying jobs in dramatic numbers, the Office of Personnel Management said yesterday in a major report that was immediately hotly contested.

"The fact is that the overwhelming number of women are still concentrated in low-ranking jobs," said Andrew Feinstein, staff director of a House Post Office and Civil Service subcommittee.

"The OPM polemic suffers from shoddy analysis, finds nothing new, and proposes that nothing be done," said Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), chairman of the subcom- mittee, in a statement. She

called OPM's remedy "benign neglect."

"Women have gained greater access to nontraditional jobs," said Claudia Wayne, executive director of the National Committee on Pay Equity, "but that's a different issue. Pay equity is about eliminating discrimination for the majority of women who remain in female-dominated jobs."

Comparable worth -- the notion of requiring equal pay for differing jobs of comparable difficulty and responsibility -- is both "unnecessary and counterproductive," said Constance Horner, director of OPM, in releasing the report.

Pay equity, according to the report, is occurring naturally as women migrate into higher paying jobs, and comparable worth would be "socially and economically retrogressive" by imposing new artificial wage rates on a classification system that is already too hidebound and rigid.

Although women working for the government earn only 69 percent as much as men, on the average (up from 66 percent in 1976), the wage gap is shrinking and can be explained largely by factors such as education, experience and "intangibles such as career expectations, motivation, ambition and interest in leadership," the report said.

Wayne said that intensive studies of wage gender gaps have helped explain only half the gap by adjusting for differences in education and experience.

Heidi Hartmann, director of the Institute for Women's Policy Research and former study director for the National Academy of Sciences on the issue, said that the literature on work values, ambition and other "intangibles" does not show a significant difference between the sexes.

Indeed, the OPM report contains evidence that women in the federal government are slightly better workers than men, on average. Women receive more "outstanding" performance ratings and are promoted faster than men in the mid-level management grades.

OPM said that women's efforts to compete for demanding jobs have put them in the "pipeline" for promotion to the highest levels of the civil service in great numbers in the next decade.

Today, however, only 567 of the roughly 7,000 members of the Senior Executive Service are women. The number has increased since the SES was established in 1979, but remains at about 8 percent.

The report, clearly aimed at comparable-worth bills pending in both the House and Senate, presents a revealing snapshot of the role of women in the federal civil service.

In recent years, women have flooded into the government -- and the work force in general. Forty percent of federal employes are women, up from 34 percent a decade ago.

The number of women has increased in almost every category. At the lowest levels -- GS-1 to GS-8 -- women make up 71 percent of the workers, up from 67 percent in 1976.

In steps GS-9 through GS-12, women make up 33.5 percent, up from 20 percent a decade ago. And in steps GS-13 through GS-15, they account for 12 percent of the workers, up from only 5 percent.

Women make up almost half of the government's technical workers, and hold down about 35 percent of administrative jobs.

The OPM report contends that a silent revolution is taking place among the federal work force. "In dramatic numbers, women are moving into nontraditional and higher paying occupations. Wage gaps between men and women are diminishing . . . . The condition of women in the federal government today is good and rapidly getting better."

Sen. Daniel J. Evans (R-Wash.), sponsor of a Senate bill to require the government to conduct a study on comparable worth, said that if the OPM statement reflects the facts, the agency should "be overjoyed to support an independent study just to prove it."

"Other units of government have found discrepancies when they studied the situation," Evans said. The notion that the marketplace determines what jobs are truly worth, he said, fails to recognize that the marketplace is "incomplete."

For example, he said, "When I used to negotiate wages on behalf of contractors with craft unions, neither one of us was responsible for coming up with the money to pay for the agreement -- that had

to be come up with by the owner

of the projects that were being


"I have gone back and read the record on the fight over equal pay for equal work 25 years ago," he said. The arguments over comparable worth, he said, are "all the same."