Top-heavy feds: The rise of high-level pay grades

Wednesday - 10/12/2011, 1:32pm EDT

Steve Watkins, editor, Federal Times

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By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

More federal employees are now concentrated in higher pay grade levels, based on an analysis of data from the Office of Personnel Management by Federal Times.

Since 1998, the percentage of employees in grades 12 to 15 increased from 48 percent to nearly 64 percent, according to the report. These are the four grade levels before reaching the senior executive ranks. GS-12 pays $74,872 to $97,333, while GS 15 ranges from $123,758 to $155,500.

Feds currently have their pay frozen. Promoting and hiring at higher grade levels may raise the suspicion that agencies are circumventing the freeze, said Steve Watkins, Federal Times editor, in an interview with Your Turn with Mike Causey.

But Watkins said pay creep does not mean managers are being "nefarious."

"They're just doing the best they can recruiting the talent they need," he said.

Many lower GS jobs have simply disappeared with technology. Where there were clerks before, now there are computers to do the job, Watkins said.

What's more, federal employees are retiring and managers must replace these retirees who were filling higher-level positions.

"I think the [retirement] wave is finally starting to hit," he said.

What may have also contributed to the increase of higher-grade GS feds is the transition of 226,000 civilian Defense Department employees from the National Security Personnel System to the GS system.

Watkins said grade creep hurts agency budgets "at a time they can ill afford that," as well as employee performance.

"Generally, what happens is employees start building an expectation they'll be promoted ... so long as they put in the amount of time all their colleagues have been putting in, so you have people rising in the ranks who don't necessarily have solid links to employee performance or defined expansions in their job duties," Watkins said.

The ongoing debate over federal pay has given rise to calls for an overhaul of the GS system. In March, House lawmakers hear arguments to shift to a system that reflects a government that now has a more highly educated and highly skilled workforce. And last month President Obama called for a commission as part of his deficit reduction plan that would examine ways to make federal pay "more market-sensitive and performance-focused," Federal Times reports.

In the second half of Your Turn with Mike Causey, Mike talked to David Snell of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees about cost-of-living adjustment and Medicare Part B.

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