Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob J. Lew. (Charles Dharapak/Associated Press)

Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob J. Lew said it’s too soon to know whether federal employees should expect a pay bump in fiscal 2013 after a two-year pay freeze, or whether they might need to start paying more for their benefits.

But he did say that Washington — and the country — should stop using federal employees as scapegoats in conversations about federal largesse.

“I think that it’s sometimes misunderstood as a vote of confidence on federal workers as opposed to a budgetary necessity,” Lew said. “Wherever we go, on whether we can afford a pay raise or not, I think it’s important for federal workers not to be treated as if they’re the problem. They’re working hard, they’re doing extraordinarily important work, and I don’t think they get enough respect.”

But Lew also said the federal workforce should keep their current financial condition in perspective with other Americans.

“It’s not just federal workers who have had to manage without pay raises,” he said. “There are a lot of people around the country who’ve lost their jobs, who’ve seen declines in their wages, for whom not having had a pay raise would be good news compared to the reality they’re living with.”

Lew made his comments as a House committee is set to consider a series of bills Thursday that would cut the federal workforce through attrition, and establish new protections for federal whistleblowers.

Lew urged lawmakers — and the American people — to tread carefully when using cuts to the federal workforce to trim federal spending.

“I think it’s really important that federal workers not feel that they’re being singled out,” he said. “I personally — I know the president — have the highest regard and value of the work that federal workers do. It is the workforce that works for the U.S. government, so we don’t get to make decisions directly in other parts of the workforce.

“And I don’t think that it’s just a question of whether you have a pay raise or don’t have a pay raise. I think that federal workers don’t want to be treated as if they’re the problem, and we have to separate those issues.”

Lew spoke at a Politico Playbook Breakfast held at the Newseum.

Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Further reading:

Who is Jack Lew and what should he do?

Et tu, Jack Lew? (Opinion)

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