Fed pay: Measure twice, cut once

Wednesday - 2/15/2012, 2:00am EST

In 1999, a $300 million-plus Mars Climate Orbiter failed to hook up with the red planet. After a very close encounter, it spun off into space because of a tiny glitch: Engineers called it a "unit system struggle." It could happen to anyone.

To us real folks, the "struggle" means that the NASA team, correctly, did their engineerings in metrics while the private-sector team used the good old inch, foot, yard system. It's more complicated than that, but that's basically what happened. The orbiter reached Mars, came in too low, then took off and was never seen again.

Meantime, here on good old Earth, in Washington, D.C., something similar may be happening. Two expert groups are tackling the same project, trying to get the truth. But they are yards, meters, newtons, pounds apart. How could two expert groups look at federal salaries and one conclude civil servants are overpaid 16 percent compared to their private sector counterparts while the other team said feds are underpaid 26.3 percent?

That was the subject of Monday's column and it brought some interesting responses from people who are somewhere in the federal vs. industry pay gap:

"Mike, the main reason we continue to struggle over the issue of the pay gap is because of the approach that's been taken. With all due respect, I doubt anyone in the CBO, or on the FSC holds a certification in compensation and its standards of practice. By the way, I think you were referring to the Federal Salary Council (FSC) when you mentioned the Federal Pay Council.

"Jacque Simon of the AFGE was correct in her comments about the warped perspective achieved using the CBO's methodology. I'm a Certified Compensation Professional (CCP) that follows the federal and private sector and can tell you the CBO's approach had me scratching my head.

"If you want to settle the pay gap debate you do what any CCP would do. You first make sure your own jobs are classified properly (the basis for market comparison) then you conduct a market based comparison on a job-to-job comparison. The CBO's approach was fundamentally flawed from the outset.

"The FSCs approach also has its own shortcomings, but at least it doesn't begin with a flawed approach.

"The fact of the matter is this. The GS in many cases is the cause of the problem. It tends to cause lower level commodity jobs to be over paid and highly specialized jobs to be underpaid. The FSCs President's Pay Agent then only exacerbates lower level over compensation with locality pay adjustments. SES jobs suffer from pay compression which flies in the face of executive compensation practices and standards.

"Until federal base pay and executive pay fundamentals are addressed, this dog will be chasing its tail forever and good civil servants will continue to be demoralized.

"What is that old saying? That insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results! " Paul Rowson

Yet another take...
" I shared your article with a colleague, and he reminded me of a discovery we recently made: although most of us here in this Philadelphia office of the "Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services" within the Dept. of Health and Human Services have college educations, and some of us have graduate degrees, many of us have been listed as having "high school" educations only in our personnel records. We're not sure how widespread this misinformation has been, or how long our records have been incorrect , but if it involved a large portion of DHHS's employees it could certainly account for a report showing everyone with a high school education only having unusually high wages, couldn't it?" Philly


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

href="http://www.improbable.com/2012/02/15/the-development-of-the-square-egg/" target="_blank">Improbable Research reports on a device called an "egg cuber," which reshapes a hard-boiled egg into a cube shape. The patent for the device, which was received in 1978 — said the square shape allows the egg to be "widely utilized in cuisine."


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