Rep. Lynch calls inaccuracies in pay debate 'hogwash'

Monday - 8/23/2010, 6:08am EDT

WFED's Max Cacas

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By Max Cacas
Reporter
Federal News Radio

The chairman of a congressional committee that focuses on issues surrounding federal workers says he's concerned about all the inaccurate information being spread about the pay and benefits of government employees--even from his fellow lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D.-Mass.) is chairman of the Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia Subcommittee -- part of the larger Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

In a recent interview with Federal News Radio, Lynch said there's a lot of misperception about federal pay, and some of it even made its way into a recent hearing of his subcommittee on the issue of transforming the hiring process.

"The accusation that was made by the Republican ranking member (Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah), in committee and on the record, is that the average federal employee makes $60,000 more than their private sector counterpart," he said. "I know, for example, that we have secretaries at the Library of Congress who are making $45,000 a year. And to say that they're making $60,000 more than secretaries in the private sector, it just doesn't work. The private sector would have to be paying their employees $15,000 just to work there. That's simply not happening. I think a lot of it is hogwash."

Chaffetz long has been concerned about federal pay rates. In 2009, he expressed shock about the number of federal employees making more than $150,000 a year.

He said at the time that the "federal government is padding its pocket. This is totally in appropriate and unacceptable."

Lynch said to get a true picture of federal pay and benefits, you have to look at the wide range of jobs that employees do, and compare those jobs with their private sector counterparts, especially in many professional fields.

"If you look at what some folks on the federal side, engineers, scientists, especially our higher skilled folks, they are at a deficit," he said. "When you compare some of these folks who have degrees, you know, MBAs who are doing oversight on financial services legislation, those people are grossly underpaid."

Lynch said that right now, federal employees are a convenient target for Republicans. He added, "they think their solution to our problem is to make people earn less. I think that's just a destructive policy to take."

With the entire House, and several members of the Senate up for re-election this year, Lynch acknowledged that some of the negative publicity federal workers are receiving on the campaign trail could translate into legislation depending on whether the leadership of the next Congress changes hands.

"I think if those folks who are making these outlandish statements become chairmen of these committees, and gain control of Congress, anything is possible," he said. "They may be symbolic in some respects, but the real impact will be on workers and their families."

Lynch also is concerned about the effect of all the negative feedback about federal workers on the effort by President Obama and his staff to improve the federal workforce in general.

"We're trying to get the best employees in here to work for the federal government," he said. "We need smart folks. Regulation is always trying to catch up with the private sector, because of all the resources that they have. We in government who are trying to do the oversight of these industries - whether it's the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or the Securities and Exchange Commission - we're at a severe disadvantage in terms of manpower and technology at getting the brightest minds in here to do government work at less than the money they could be earning in the private sector, So, I'm trying to get the best people in, and by hammering away at the salaries that are really modest when you compare what they are in the private sector, you're lowering our ability to attract people."

Lynch had parting words for those who vilify government employees as part of the discussion--"When you're attacking government, and saying this is a dishonest or disreputable practice or profession to be in government, you're really beating down the desire of young people to come in to public service, and that hurts us all in the end."

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