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."

NEXT STORY: When leaders don't lead

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