Overpaid feds bite back

Friday - 7/27/2012, 2:00am EDT

Determining whether federal workers are overpaid or underpaid is becoming a cottage industry. There are people on both sides who, using different charts, graphs, measurements, data and assumptions, can prove it either way. As yesterday's column noted, one group can prove that feds earn 58 percent more than private-sector workers. Another has proof that feds are underpaid an average of 28 percent.

I hope neither side had a hand in building the Metro subway tunnel that runs under the Potomac River.

The problem of overpaid vs. underpaid feds is two-fold. First, it depends on whose rules and whose ruler is used. And it depends, a lot, on preconceived notions. A "conservative" think tank and a "progressive" union have very different ideas of what constitutes a level playing field.

Since the experts will never agree, or even come close, forget about them. How do feds (and nonfeds who know them) feel about the great pay debate? Check these out:

  • "When are people going to stop wasting money doing these comparisons? I guess they will stop when politicians want to stop making federal employees the scapegoat for their impotence. Working for the federal government or the private sector is still a choice I believe? For those who complain that they do not make enough in the private sector, why didn't they choose to work for the fed? That is because, when you start at the fed, you don't make enough money for food and rent at the same time, and you usually need a second job. It is not until years later that you make what could be called a living wage. Most of the people they are comparing to the private sector have been with the fed for 25 years, and they are being compared to what most make in the private sector after only a few years.

    "If you want instant money, big bucks, a great car and house right away, choose the private sector. If you want a modest living for years and years and somewhat of a retirement, choose the fed. The bottom line is choice. Politicians and think tanks who are paid for nothing are the only ones that care and they incite the public into a lather to keep their eyes off of the real screwing they are giving them behind closed doors. If you are working for the fed and whining all day, go to the private sector and take your chance with job security. If you are in the private sector and whining about how much those feds make, then come on down, we have a nice grade 5 position for you and you can make what you used to make in the private sector in about 20 years. You still have a right to choose."
    —Signed, Under the Bus

  • " My brother, who works for the federal government here in St. Louis, showed me your column about the public vs. private pay debate. We are close in age. Both have bachelor's in the same field. For a time, we had similar jobs. I made slightly more than he did, partially because of his deductions which were higher than mine.

    "We each have 401(k) plans. He gets a total 5 percent match from his employer, the federal government. I get nothing. He gets more vacation time than I do. And more holidays. One difference people never point out is job security. I haven't heard of any big federal government layoffs or furloughs. I was furloughed, then laid off. It seems to me that federal workers take their benefits for granted and focus entirely on the pay packet. Trust me, job security is no big deal as long as you have a job. When you get laid off it is all important." — Tim in St. Louis

  • "Enjoyed the column on the pay gap. How about a specific example? When I was a GS-0301-14 Program Manager in 2007, I was paid roughly $97K per year. My private-sector "Program Manager" counterpart, who worked for a predecessor of Accenture (Bearing Point), was paid roughly $250K per year.

    "Was there a difference? A significant one; however, when the team brought the program to Full Operational Capability, I moved to another job (albeit with a downgrade). I believe my private-sector counterpart continued to work at Bearing Point, he very well could have been laid off at the conclusion of the specific contract. And therein lies the difference.