Pay Fairness is Persistent Problem for Feds


In case you missed it, President Obama’s FY 2016 Budget of the U.S. Government recommends a scant 1.3 percent pay raise for the federal workforce next fiscal year.

Well, as the old saying goes, something is better than nothing. However, when it comes to issues of fair pay, it appears that many feds are once again being short changed.

“Welcomed and Criticized”

A recent article in the Washington Post cites language in the President’s budget documents telling most feds what we already know:

“Wages [for feds] have fallen consistently and significantly relative to the private sector”

The article goes on to point out:

  • “Purchasing power has been eroded by a three-year freeze on their [feds] basic pay rates, followed by two years on 1 percent increases.”
  • “That amounts to a 2 percent basic pay raise over 5 years. Obama’s plan to provide feds a 1.3 percent increase next year is both welcomed and criticized as too little.”

De Facto Pay Cut

In addition to the prior three-year pay freeze, feds were also forced to endure weeks of unpaid mandatory furloughs; sequester (indiscriminate budget cuts across-the-board gov-wide); cuts in benefits and hikes in health care premiums.

In other words, over the past five years feds have been subjected to a de facto pay cut as the economy has incrementally improved with more private sector job growth and less unemployment.

FED BULL'S EYEMeanwhile, the new Congress appears intent on passing legislation to increase the amount of salary new and recently hired feds must pay into their retirement accounts.

Considering all this, it should really come as no surprise that many segments of the federal workforce remain demoralized and disengaged, according to the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS).

Therefore, is it any wonder that federal recruitment and hiring of a new generation of leaders (millennials) remains such a daunting challenge?

Glass Half Full

In an effort to stay positively focused let’s try to look at the proverbial glass being half full rather than half empty.

As I wrote here back in November 2012 during the three-year pay freeze, federal salary is about principles more than pay – at least for many feds who have dedicated their lives and careers to public service:

“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.”

I also pointed out that white collar feds are paid about 35% less than their private sector equivalents, at least according to comprehensive data by the Federal Salary Council.

The Takeaway

If Uncle Sam wants to boost sagging morale, sinking job satisfaction and low employee engagement of the federal workforce then the important issue of pay fairness cannot be ignored.

In essence, the currently proposed 1.3 percent pay hike at least represents another small step in the right direction of retroactively melting the 3-year cumulative pay freeze and other cuts – all of which have left many feds still feeling stuck out in the cold this winter.

What do YOU think?
1. Are feds still being short changed?
2. Are federal salaries relatively equivalent to the private sector?
3. How big a factor is fair pay in boosting employee morale, job satisfaction and engagement?
4. How important is fair pay in recruiting millennials to public service?
5. Would you take a private sector job doing essentially the same work for a 35 percent pay raise (per the Federal Salary Council)?



NOTE: All views and opinions are those of the author only and not official statements or endorsements of any public sector employer, private sector employer, organization or political entity.

David B. Grinberg is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Terrence (Terry) Hill

To be honest, I don’t think that the Federal salary is mis-aligned with the private sector. Of course it depends on the occupation, but when you take the entire package (e.g. pay, benefits, security, flexibility), we don’t have to bad of a deal. Most of us are not here to get rich. What’s more important is having meaningful work that gives you a sense of mission and accomplishment. That is what is missing in many government jobs.

Pay gets a lot of attention, but it is secondary to having engaging work. That’s why we have Americorps and Peace Corps members who are willing to work for almost nothing for the opportunity to make a difference.

Camilla Nawaz

This is such a very important issue. If we want the government to function best, we have to be willing to pay for talent. So many people don’t consider the public sector, opting instead for the private sector for the greater pay opportunities. If federal workers received better compensation, they’d probably be better at their jobs.

Mika Cross

Fair pay is such an important factor for any working American, but for the public servant it’s even more of an issue when faced with such drastic resource challenges as we’ve all faced in recent years. As I recently transitioned to the newest Fed Agency in government (the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) which is comprised of nearly half a workforce that comes directly from private industry, I was struck by the similar values each of the new employees I shared orientation with shared. When our new employee orientation class was asked to cite our top three values we weigh most heavily when choosing a position, nearly all universally stated: 1) Service and the ability to make a difference for the American public whom we serve; 2) Autonomy, innovation and creativity in our work; and lastly 3) Work/Life Flexibities. At the end of the day, while pay is of course important, organizations can easily realize other wins in recruitment, retention and engagemt of the Federal workplace by fostering an environment that allows employees to be creative and adopt new solutions to their work while encouraging a flexible and supportive work environment that allows them to manage priorities outside of work as well. Thanks for your insightful article David!!

David B. Grinberg

Mika, thank so much for sharing your exemplary comments. I agree that broad work flexibility options will play an integral role in attracting millennials — followed by Gen Z — to public service. Therefore, your outstanding leadership role in the area of work transformation and work-life balance is very much appreciated (if not under-appreciated).