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OPM enlists outside experts to determine federal-private pay gap

Jun. 17, 2010 - 06:00AM   |  
By STEPHEN LOSEY   |   Comments
Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry has enlisted outside experts to help come up with a better way to determine the pay differences between private sector and federal employees
Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry has enlisted outside experts to help come up with a better way to determine the pay differences between private sector and federal employees (Sheila Vemmer / Staff file photo)

Government statistics on the gap between federal and private-sector salaries "have a credibility problem," Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry says. So he's enlisted outside experts to help come up with a better way to determine the pay differences.

According to the President's Pay Agent an interagency council of top agency and labor leaders that advises the White House on pay issues federal employees earn 22 percent less on average than their counterparts in the private sector earn. But studies by the Cato Institute and USA Today which have been cited by Republican lawmakers trying to cancel next year's federal pay raise have found that federal employees earn far more than private-sector workers.

"Everybody has their formula, and says, ‘My formula's right, your formula's wrong,' " Berry said Wednesday at a Senior Executives Association conference in Washington. "If people of goodwill come together and are genuine about this, we ought to be able to craft a formula that has credibility everywhere."

Berry said he has asked the National Academy of Public Administration and the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) to work together with statisticians from OPM, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics to settle the debate. NAPA is an independent, nonprofit group of public management leaders that studies government issues. ACUS is a federal advisory committee that studies ways to improve agency operations.

Berry has defended the growth in federal salaries by pointing out the increased education and specialization of the federal work force in recent years, as the government has hired more people in fields such as financial regulation, medical research, cybersecurity and law enforcement. He told lawmakers in March that Cato's comparisons are "misinformation" and include service-industry jobs, such as restaurant workers, that are not in great demand in the federal work force. But Berry also supports lowering the salaries of federal employees who earn more than private-sector employees doing comparable work with similar levels of education.

Berry also said that his plan to create an office to oversee Senior Executive Service policies and standards has stalled because he hasn't found a "superstar" to head it. OPM announced the SES office last August and had hoped to have it up and running by the end of 2009.

Also, OPM soon plans to start looking for ways to make it easier for students to find federal jobs, in what Berry called "phase two" of his hiring reform effort. .

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