In case you missed it, the latest study from the official Federal Salary Council (FSC) asserts that white-collar federal employees (“feds”) are paid a whopping 35% less than their private sector equivalents. Are federal executives really being short changed by more than one-third of their salary versus private sector peers?
Feds don’t work in government to get rich. It’s not about pay, but principles. First and foremost, the principle of dedicated public service to America.
Yet public recognition and respect for feds has been in short supply. Rather than being viewed positively by the public, feds are often vilified by politicians, the news media and private industry — all of which drive negative public perceptions of government.
And while feds certainly don’t expect to receive anything within the stratosphere of a 35% pay hike, is a mere half of 1% unreasonable and inappropriate?
Thankful for Feds
While feds too frequently receive a bad rap, the tide may be slowly changing. Tom Fox of the Partnership for Public Service recently told the DorobekINSIDER on GovLoop: “Right now in particular, despite some of the negative perceptions and stereotypes of federal employees, there are a lot of folks that are very thankful for federal employees. People that were affected by Superstorm Sandy in particular were able to see how FEMA, HHS and other agencies were able to quickly and effectively step up to the plate.”
President Obama’s FY 2013 budget proposal to hike federal pay by a scant one-half of 1% should not be grounds for controversy. Rather, there should be unity in Washington to give feds a little bit of recognition and respect. In addition to the President, the largest federal employee unions (AFGE and NTEU) and some members of Congress deserve credit for caring about the federal family enough to defend it against constant calls to slash pay and benefits.
Great Pay Debate
The so-called Great Pay Debate has been raging in Washington for years. Yet the basic question at issue remains the same: how does the salary of feds compare with their private sector counterparts in similar jobs?
It turns out that such a seemingly innocuous question has no easy answer. It depends upon whom is asked.
According to the Washington Post: “The Federal Salary Council’s newly released annual report comes as federal pay again has come under scrutiny while political leaders look for ways to prevent automatic spending cuts that otherwise will take effect in January. Other studies using different methods and different sets of data have reached widely varying results, with several conservative think tanks saying that federal employees enjoy an advantage of roughly the same size on average—and more, if benefits are taken into account.”
What’s the end result? The Post reports, “Disputes over pay comparisons have continued all year, with the Government Accountability Office in mid-year concluding that no one approach is definitive.”
It’s too bad that with so much bickering and number crunching from all sides, the GAO has still failed to offer a proposed solution to the pay debate.
Feds are under no illusions regarding fiscal austerity in government; we deal with it on a daily basis. Many feds must juggle multiple jobs simultaneously with shrinking staff, often taking on work duties that were once handled by two or more employees.
While feds feel fortunate to serve America during good and bad times, the fact is that federal salaries have been frozen solid for the past two years. Thus, a pay increase of .05% would represent at least some recognition and respect for federal public service.
Yes, even a token gesture during these tough times could help boost low morale government-wide. Moreover, higher employee morale results in greater productivity, engagement and efficiency, while reducing absenteeism and disengagement.
Pay Freeze = Pay Cuts
Why do feds feel frozen out? While some in the general public may not realize it, the pay freeze has actually resulted in pay cuts for feds because annual salaries can’t keep pace with inflation – like cost-of-living increases, or COLA for Social Security recipients, for example.
Again, feds are not trying to strike it rich by working for Uncle Sam, we just want a fair deal. To reiterate, most feds place a premium on public service to America over issues of personal pay. Yet this truism may often be misunderstood or overlooked by the news media, politicians and the public – explicitly or implicitly — further tarnishing the brand image for feds generally.
Unconventional Problem Solving
In essence, the Great Pay Debate comes down to conventional problem solving. Afterall, isn’t that what our elected lawmakers are supposed to do in Washington?
But in today’s Washington, unconventional and uncooperative are too often the default positions. Still, why has this particular issue of federal pay become such a perennial problem? It’s certainly not for a lack of data-driven studies, theories, analysis and debate.
While federal pay comparisons with the private sector may involve some complicated math, it’s certainly not rocket science. Feds give 100% effort to public service every day of the year across the country and overseas.
Thus, a minuscule pay raise totaling one-half of 1% would be a move in the right direction — especially after two consecutive years of feds being frozen out.
* All views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only.