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Federal pay gap widens, report says

The federal government reported Friday that on average, its employees are underpaid by 26.3 percent compared with similar non-federal jobs, a “pay gap” that increased by about 2 percentage points over last year while federal salary rates were frozen.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics presented the figures to the Federal Salary Council, an advisory group of federal agency officials, union representatives and outside pay experts.

Under a 2010 law, federal salary schedules were frozen for 2011 and will be frozen again in 2012, though “within-grade” raises that are largely based on longevity still are allowed, as are raises after promotions.

The pay gap in the Washington-Baltimore area was calculated at 36.9 percent, slightly below the 38.1 percent reported last year. Officials said a variety of factors could have caused that result, including changes in the mix of jobs and switching thousands of Defense Department employees into the general schedule and out of a separate pay system that is being phased out.

The gap in the locality with the largest number of federal employees, the catchall locality, was pegged at 19 percent, up from 14.7 percent. The overall average gap was calculated at 24.1 percent last year.

The comparison of federal versus non-federal pay long has been a controversial topic, with other studies, using different sets of data and different methods, producing widely varying figures. The conservative Heritage Foundation, for example, concluded last year that federal employees are overpaid by 22 percent on average.

The methods BLS uses have been evolving, in part because funding is being cut off for a salary survey that it traditionally used in the federal pay comparison. BLS presented an alternative set of figures based on a different set of data that showed the pay gap to be still larger. However, the council voted to continue using numbers from the old method while it studies the reasons for the difference. In the meantime, it recommended restoring funding for the salary survey.

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