Experts on the issue of comparing federal pay and benefits with those of other workers failed to reach a consensus at a House hearing, although the chair of the federal workforce subcommittee said he will continue to press for information that could be used as the basis of legislation.

The hearing focused on a recent CBO report finding that federal employees are ahead in by 3 percent in pay and 47 percent in benefits on average–for an average advantage of 17 percent in total compensation–although with those at the highest income levels behind on both scores. Also present along with the CBO witness were representatives of conservative think tanks that have reported a total compensation advantage in favor of federal workers of more than 30 percent, and a representative of the AFGE union who is a member of the Federal Salary Council, which has found federal employees underpaid by 30 percent on average.

Not surprisingly given the differences of their conclusions, the witnesses disagreed on fundamentals of how such comparisons should be made. The AFGE witness, for example, said that comparisons by educational level are irrelevant because federal salaries are set according to a set of qualifications for each job, while the think tank witnesses said the salary council’s work is unreliable because it does not compare actual job duties but rather job titles, which they said the government overstates.

There also were disagreements regarding what should be counted in comparisons of benefits, going beyond matters such as health insurance and retirement annuities to topics including availability of student loan reimbursements–as well as non-financial issues that may sway an individual’s decision to work or not work for an employer, such as flexible working schedules and job security.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., asked the CBO witness to produce an analysis of the differing comparison methods. Republicans indicated they intend to focus on making pay more reflective of performance, arguing that federal employees are frustrated by a lack of rewards for their own good performance and a lack of consequences for co-workers who perform poorly.

Democrats meanwhile argued that the current system could meet those goals if used properly and stressed that it protects employees against discrimination since salaries are set according to the job’s duties, not the individual They said that even if a consensus emerged that federal employees are at an advantage, the response should be to encourage improvements in non-federal pay and benefits rather than have the federal workforce join in what they called a “race to the bottom.”