The Washington Post

Federal workers are falling farther behind on pay, study shows

White collar federal employees are underpaid on average by about 35 percent compared with the private sector, a widening of the “pay gap” that stood at about 26 percent last year, an advisory group said Friday.

The Federal Salary Council based that number on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that by law are supposed to be used in setting annual General Schedule pay raises that vary by locality. However, in practice federal pay raises are negotiated in the congressional budget process.

Salary rates have been frozen since they last were increased in January 2010 and it already has been decided that rates will not increase at least until April 2013.

Members of the council, which consists of union leaders and outside pay experts, attributed the increase in the gap to the freeze and to some changes in the methods BLS uses in its pay comparisons.

“This clearly shows that there is a pay gap and that federal employees are underpaid,” said J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees and a council member. “Hopefully we can get back to reasonable cost of living adjustments and work on the pay gap.”

“I think on federal pay there’s too much misinformation and fiction out there,” said National Treasury Employees Union president Colleen M. Kelley, also a council member. “There’s a very long history to this methodology. Even if someone wants to argue with what the number is, it’s important to address that there is a gap and it continues to grow. There’s no way to make the number zero, if you’re basing it on facts.”

The data reflect differences among metropolitan areas, showing federal workers the farthest behind in San Francisco/San Jose, Washington-Baltimore, San Diego, New York and Los Angeles. The difference was the smallest for employees working in areas outside the 31 city areas that are studied specifically.

While federal pay has been a long-running issue, the cost of the federal workforce has drawn heightened scrutiny in the last several years, and especially during this year’s presidential campaign. In addition to proposing a 10 percent workforce cut through attrition, Republican nominee Mitt Romney argues that federal workers are overcompensated by 30 to 40 percent on average.

That assertion is based on a study by the conservative Heritage Foundation that included the value of benefits; based on salary alone, that study found an average advantage to federal workers of 22 percent. The government’s own data do not reflect the value of benefits.

“The salary council is following the procedure laid out in the statute. The issue is that nobody thinks that number has any credibility,” said James Sherk, the Heritage Foundation senior policy analyst who performed that study. “No president has recommenced a raise anywhere close to 30 percent across the board.”

“No one who takes a look at these numbers, other than federal employee unions, concludes that federal employees are massively underpaid,” he said. “Our research at Heritage, the academic research, no one who uses methodology other than what the salary council uses comes to that conclusion.”

Other studies using different methods and different sets of data have found federal employees ahead on average by varying amounts, with differences by education and other factors. The Government Accountability Office recently said that none of the approaches is definitive.

The salary council’s recommendations on the pay gap and technical issues involving defining the locality pay areas go to a higher-level body, which in turn reports to the White House.

President Obama has recommended paying a 0.5 percent increase in April after a temporary government funding measure expires. Although no general raise has been paid since 2010, individual employees remain eligible raises for performance, promotion or successfully completing the waiting periods used in some federal salary systems.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments
Republicans debated Saturday night. The South Carolina GOP primary and the Nevada Democratic caucuses are next on Feb. 20. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Dan Balz says...
Rarely has the division between Trump and party elites been more apparent. Trump trashed one of the most revered families in Republican politics and made a bet that standing his ground is better than backing down. Drawing boos from the audience, Trump did not flinch. But whether he will be punished or rewarded by voters was the unanswerable question.
GOP candidates react to Justice Scalia's death
Quoted
I don't know how he knows what I said on Univision because he doesn't speak Spanish.
Sen. Marco Rubio, attacking Sen. Ted Cruz in Saturday night's very heated GOP debate in South Carolina. Soon after, Cruz went on a tirade in Spanish.
The Fix asks The State's political reporter where the most important region of the state is.
The State's Andy Shain says he could talk about Charleston, which represents a little bit of everything the state has to offer from evangelicals to libertarians, and where Ted Cruz is raising more money than anywhere else. In a twist, Marco Rubio is drawing strong financial support from more socially conservative Upstate. That said, Donald Trump is bursting all the conventional wisdom in the state. So maybe the better answer to this question is, "Wherever Trump is."
Past South Carolina GOP primary winners
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the first state in the South to vote, where he faces rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
The complicated upcoming voting schedule
Feb. 20

Democrats caucus in Nevada; Republicans hold a primary in South Carolina.

Feb. 23

Republicans caucus in Nevada.

Feb. 27

Democrats hold a primary in South Carolina.

Upcoming debates
Feb 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

March 6: Democratic debate

on CNN, in Flint, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands
Most Read

politics

federal-eye

Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.