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Federal 'pay gap' continues to grow, council finds

Dec. 17, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments

The pay advantage that private-sector employees enjoy over their federal General Schedule counterparts widened slightly to 35.4 percent this year, the Federal Salary Council said Tuesday, up from 34.6 percent last year.

The council, an advisory body made up of union representatives and compensation experts, based its calculations on Bureau of Labor Statistics data. This year’s bump was far smaller than last year’s, when the “pay gap” exploded from 26.3 percent in 2011. The council attributed that previous swing to a change in methodology after President Obama’s budget effectively canceled the National Compensation Survey — one of two survey models used by BLS to estimate the gap — and forced it to rely on only a model using Occupational Employment Statistics numbers.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, the federal pay agent also confirmed eight additions to federal locality pay areas, among them the metro areas of Austin, Texas, and Colorado Springs, Co., along with the combined statistical area for Albany-Schenectady, N.Y., said Drew Halunen, a spokesman for the National Federation of Federal Employees, one of the unions represented on the body.

The salary council’s repeated conclusion that federal pay is lagging has come under attack from conservative critics who say it fails to account for benefit packages much more generous than what workers outside of government typically receive.

In a report last year, a panel of experts took a more nuanced view, saying that lower-tier federal workers tend to be overpaid in comparison with their private-sector counterparts, while the reverse is true for employees higher up the ladder. To help even out the differences, the government should scrap General Schedule across-the-board increases in return for more flexibility to boost salaries within grades, according to the report, sponsored by the National Academy of Public Administration and the American Society for Public Administration.

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