Is Federal Pay Too High?

OPM chief says recent reports are misleading

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Unless you're a senior citizen in New Jersey, you can kiss your property tax rebate check goodbye under the new budget.

    Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry is irked by recent studies suggesting that federal employees are paid much more than their private sector peers.

    “Recent press stories regarding pay for federal employees, I believe how they have treated this in comparing us to private sectors have been unfair and untrue," he told Federal News Radio. “Simply put these stories have compared apples to oranges. Federal employees are not paid double the private sector, period.”

    Berry’s complaint comes on the heels of President Obama’s budget request for the smallest federal pay hike in more than a decade. Republicans want to skip the pay hike altogether for 2011.

    A USA Today story last week said federal civil servants “earned average pay and benefits of $123,049 in 2009 while private workers made $61,051 in total compensation,” according to Bureau of Economic Analysis data. The federal workers’ advantage “has grown from $30,415 in 2000 to $61,998 last year,” USA Today said. Federal compensation “has grown 36.9% since 2000 after adjusting for inflation compared with 8.8% for private workers.”

    Budget analyst Ted DeHaven of the libertarian Cato Institute says the data show “federal civilian workers have the sixth highest average compensation” out of “72 industries that span the US economy.”

    But Berry says the numbers are misleading. He says the reports “look only at gross averages and include retail positions, restaurant and entry level jobs and that reduces private sector averages. The federal workforce is a highly specialized entity. If you wanted to be fair, you would have to compare like-to-like and job-to-job. Compare us to IBM or GE but not every job in the country.”

    Fair enough. But as DeHaven points out, the federal workforce has grown since 2000, while the private sector workforce has shrunk. The government is projected to create more than 25,000 new jobs by 2012, and 25,000 more by 2020. The old axiom is true: The government really is recession proof.