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Readers speak out: The great federal pay debate

The question Can you really trust claims about federal pay? was posed last week in a story about the complexities in determining which sector earns the most. The consensus among the panelists cited in the article was that compensation data could differ dramatically considering which methodology was used.

Case in point: The Federal Salary Council’s research had determined that federal employees on average make between 30 and 40 percent less than employees in the private sector. In contrast, the Congressional Budget Office's number pointed to feds making roughly 2 percent more than employees in private industry.

These discrepancies stirred up a debate among readers, some of whom agreed with the Federal Salary Council’s estimate.

“Federal employees have never been on par with the private sector as far as pay and has always been lower,” wrote one reader. “A person doing my job as a government contractor gets paid two times more for the same work.”

A reader posting under the name Spacedude said even with tens of years of experience, he was still making less than his private sector colleagues. “I am near the upper end of the government pay scale and after several decades being a fed employee, I can truthfully say my counterparts in industry earn more,” he commented.

Other readers pointed out federal employees may earn less but oftentimes have much better benefits packages compared to their industry colleagues. Reader Agnes, who said she spent 15 years in industry, recently joined the government and noted the public sector “has good benefits long term, good vacation time if accumulated.”

The downside, however, was that even with a master's degree and some IT professional certifications she said she still took a salary cut in the government.

Reader Paul acknowledged he had great benefits working for the government, but his move to the public sector came at a higher price than he had anticipated than just the pay cut he took.

 “With all the added benefits, I figure I came out slightly ahead but realized later that I also gave up much chance for career progression. . . Now that I'm a fed, I'm trapped in one job, in one area, and have no flexibility and no promotion options,” he wrote. “I'm having to look at getting a third degree just to hope I can see some movement.”

As is typical of these type of stories, a few readers questioned the validity of the research methods used. "I have to wonder," wrote one reader, "given who they work for, how reliable, accurate and unbiased are the CBO's figures?"

A fellow reader responded, not without taking a slight jab at the media: "CBO and GAO are widely considered credible. It is a function of how as an organization they are designed, their purpose and audience. The special agenda folks like Heritage and Cato typically push a narrow agenda. The media likes their stuff because it is easy to believe the worst."

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Jun 18, 2012 at 12:19 PM

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Nominations for the 2018 Federal 100 Awards are now being accepted, and are due by Dec. 23. 


Reader comments

Thu, Jun 28, 2012 Denver, CO

To anybody considering a job with the Federal Government, I would strongly urge them to ran away as fast as they can, especially if they are considering USGS. If I didn't already have 25+ years of service, I'd be looking at anything other than government work, especially in the IT field. Working conditions have gone downhill faster than a lead balloon, pay sucks, promotion potential doesn't exist. Maybe if you have no qualifications and can't get a job flipping burgers, governemnt work may be okay, but for most people nowdays, you are far better off looking for employment anywhere else.

Tue, Jun 19, 2012 Retired FED Knoxville, TN

The role of government and the importance of those who run it far outweighs any normal comparison between the two sectors. You cannot compare apples to oranges. The positions in government have been classified to national position classification bookmarks. You can't compare a Clerk at Walmart to a GS 7 Clerk at the Dept. Of State, sometimes requiring a Masters degree in certain specialized positions. Scientific and technical oriented federal jobs are greatly underpaid compared to identical jobs of government contractors and/or in the private sector. Want proof? Check the wages of our Astronauts, Scientists and VA medical Doctors and Engineers compared to the private sector. Also, go see how much federal officers in the FBI, ATF, DEA, to name a few, who put their lives on the line, make in one year. American just don't realize how lucky they are to have a dedicated and patriotic federal workforce.

Tue, Jun 19, 2012 OccupyIT

As always value is lost in aggregation. Good Feds are underpaid - talent-free Feds are overpaid. Private sector is just more relentless is chasing out talent-free staff - they simply can't afford it and are accountable. Fed managers can't really do much about their staff so... in general Feds are overpaid with those islands of excellence that carry the load.

Tue, Jun 19, 2012

Peg my pay to the private sector. I'll take the pay cut now, for the higher pay after the economy recovers.

Tue, Jun 19, 2012 Private Sector Tysons Corner

There are benefits, drawbacks and tradeoffs in both public and private sector employment. If you are unhappy, underpaid, underutilized - take responsibility and improve your work environment. Extended time off and retirement benefits are a thing of the past in private sector. Unfortunately, both the public and private sector are going to be negatively impacted by the excessive deficit spending of the past 20 years (note - watch Europe).

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