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Where do numbers come from for salary comparisons?

Ron DeSantis

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) introduced a bill to cancel a planned federal pay raise.

In a story about a bill to cancel a federal pay raise, an anonymous reader took issue with Rep. Darrell Issa's comparison of government and private-sector pay, asking, Where do they come up with these numbers? The average government worker has an increase of $3,328 and private sector $1,404?

Matthew Weigelt responds: The Office of Personnel Management provided the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee with data about federal employee pay. Based on that, the committee found the median federal employee pay increased by $3,164 during the pay freeze. It went from $69,550 in September 2010 to $72,714 in September 2012. The number increases to $3,328 when the committee includes seasonal and temporary employees like Census enumerators, some firefighters, or seasonal park service employees.

For the private sector's increase, the Congressional Research Service gave the committee the figures. Click here for a fact sheet from the oversight committee. The fact sheet includes some data a 2012 Congressional Budget Office report on comparisons between the two sectors. It may be useful as you think about the whole issue.

Posted by Matthew Weigelt on Feb 22, 2013 at 12:10 PM

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Reader comments

Tue, Feb 26, 2013

Same old flawed comparison we've seen before. That someone is still using it after it's flaws have been so well exposed points to either a mental or moral inadequacy and that's an inclusive "or".

Sat, Feb 23, 2013 finserra Rockville, MD

I question the background of CBO to prepare this study and the methodology employed by CBO in its particulars. Without much analysis at all, it is immediately clear that comparing averages has a distorting effect on the most telling parts of its analysis. The private sector has an 18% concentration of professionals. The Federal Government has a 31% concentration of professionals, and Federal employees lagged far behind in that category. CBO's approach to defining relevant areas and localities is undisclosed and is central to its result. The studies of anti-Government advocates prepared by outfits such as the Heritage Foundation, AEI, and Cato contain the same mysteries, or, if you read the fine print, plugs that support the conclusion they are ideologically disposed toward reaching. The CBO study does not specifically mention profit-sharing and stock options as a source of compensation. The study is static in that it fails to account for periods prior to our deep recession (or the impacts of those periods on individual financial positions), nor does it differentiate between promises made to job applicants to entice entry (which, when it comes to Federal employment, clearly includes COLAs and steps). The CBO study genuflects before the fact that some Government work has no private sector analogue, but then does not explain or cope with its relevance. The CBO study is mostly an explanation that a subset of Federal employees continued to receive increases to compensation for which they had already bargained. The tacit object of the Congressman, and others like him, is to end those increases, which is a thinly veiled retrenchment on those commitments -- nothing more.

Fri, Feb 22, 2013

Wow, someone's been getting quite the raise, as my Federal GS pay has increased exactly $0 over the past three years. I'm due for my step increase this year, and that will only be about $2300. I don't see a link to the data, nor how the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee analyzed that data. That would be interesting. They must have made the assumption that all Federal employees are in the lower Step series, allowing for a Step increase every year? This is bogus, as in my office of roughly 350 people, I hazard only 15% of them are new enough to warrant those yearly increases. Are we that unusual?

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