Question: Why doesn’t the comparison of federal employee pay against the private-sector take benefits into account?

Answer: Because the law requiring that annual report orders a study only of salaries, not of total compensation.

The latest Federal Salary Council report, based on Labor Department data, again concluded that federal employees are behind in pay by about a third on average. In contrast, the Congressional Budget Office, using a different method, last year concluded that salaries overall are about equal, with the least-educated federal workers well ahead and the most-educated at a big disadvantage.

That study did examine benefits and concluded that federal employees are ahead there as well, mainly because of their retirement and health-care benefits. Combining pay and benefits, it said that federal employees with the least education are ahead by 53 percent while those with the most education are behind by 18 percent — for an average federal advantage of 17 percent.

However, it cautioned that a comparison of benefits is “much more uncertain” than one of wages, largely because of the difficulty of projecting the future value of retirement benefits. It did not even attempt to put a value on other factors such as job security.