Uncle Sam's privates shrinking?

Wednesday - 10/12/2011, 2:00am EDT

Are federal agencies using promotions to keep employees warm and happy during the current pay freeze?

Are agencies bringing new employees in at higher grade levels as a recruiting and retention tool?

Do officers outnumber enlisted personnel in the federal civil service?

Is the government suffering from Grade Creep giving Uncle Sam a bulging belly, or is the trend toward higher grades the result of the increasingly professional/technical/scientific (as opposed to clerical) nature of the federal service?

The short answer is nobody knows. But lots of people have an opinion.

The Federal Times reported this week that "federal employees are being increasingly concentrated into higher paygrades without taking on greater responsiblity." Staff writer Stephen Losey said an analysis of federal data shows that the percentage of white collar workers who are in Grades 12 through 15 has increased from 48 percent in 1998 to nearly 64 percent today.

In the Washington metro area, which has the largest concentration of high-level GS employees and SES level workers, GS 12 pays $74,872 to $97,333. GS 15 ranges from $123,758 to $155,500 which is capped. Employees in those grades in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and Houston are paid more. All of the workers are now under a White House-ordered pay freeze about to enter its second year. Both the White House and Congress have indicated that freeze may have to be extended as part of the deficit-reduction effort.

The so-called Grade Creep argument has been around for years. Democrats and Republicans have attacked it, sporadically, to show that the inmates (that would be you) are running the asylum (that would be your office or federal agency). They claimed that federal managers and agencies were using promotions to make up for low across-the-board raises.

John Palguta, a retired career civil servant now with the Partnership for Public Service says grade creep is alive and well. He told the Times that there's something going on: "In these tough budget times, this suggests we could do better."

Henry Romero, a retired OPM official, said a growing number of feds seem to see rapid promotions as an entitlement. He told the Times that some (employees) see grade promotions as a reward for doing a good job — not a recognition that their job has changed. As a result, the government is paying higher salaries for life — and resetting employees' (within grade) step increase schedules so they'll get future raises faster — for essentially the same work.

The State Department's Foreign Service operates on a rank-in-person system, modeled after the U.S. Navy's officer corps. Rank is not linked to numbers of people supervised and FSO officers work in an up-or-out, promotion-or-perish system

The coming civil service reform effort by the Obama administration may propose major changes in the pay and promotion system, and in how employees are ranked.

This morning (10am EDT) on our Your Turn radio show, we'll talk about the numbers with Federal Times editor Steve Watkins.

Then at 10:30 a.m., we'll discuss retiree COLAs and Medicare coverage. Federal and military retirees and people who get Social Security are in line for a cost of living adjustment in January. Depending on September inflation data the raise will be in the 3 to 4 percent range. We'll know next Tuesday. Some feds plan to retire at the end of the year to get the COLA. But that's impossible. How come? David Snell, of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees, isan expert on the COLA, and how it works. He'll also talk about whether retirees should take Medicare Part B to supplement their FEHBP health plan.

Listen if you can (1500 AM or online), and if you have questions email them to me at mcausey@federalnewsradio.com or call in during the show at (202) 465-3080. The show will be archived here.

To reach me, mcausey@federalnewsradio.com


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

PCmag.com reports that in the wake of Apple CEO Steve Jobs' death, sales of his trademark black turtleneck (made by Minnesota boutique men's shop St. Croix; retail price: $175) have skyrocketed. In fact, the clothing store, which initially donated $20 to the American Cancer Society for each shirt sold, actually sold out of the shirts.


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