The CBO has said there is no reliable way to quantify a factor often mentioned in the context of comparisons between federal employee and private sector compensation, the comparative level of job security in the two sectors.

An assertion commonly raised against the government’s own calculations that federal employees are underpaid by about 34 percent on average is that job security is so much higher in the federal sector that it compensates for the difference. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee asked CBO about that factor in light of its recent report that overall compensation is about equal–although with federal employees with the lowest levels of education at a substantial advantage and those with the highest levels at a substantial disadvantage.

CBO responded that “compared with the private sector, the government may be able to attract and retain highly qualified employees at lower levels of pay because federal jobs offer greater job security.” However, it added that that factor might be balanced against the design of the federal benefits package, in which “employees’ total compensation includes a greater share of retirement benefits, which workers might find less valuable than an equiv¬alent amount of cash received today.”

“Quantifying the extent to which such factors affect the amount of compensation the government needs to provide to workers was beyond the scope of CBO’s analysis, and the agency is not aware of data sets that could be used to accurately quantify such effects,” it said.

CBO added that its comparison of the value of benefits–in which it found an overall advantage for federal employees but also with a similar variance by educational level–focused on retirement income, health insurance and paid leave because they are most important drivers of the cost to the government of its employees. CBO said it excluded the value of stock options–which some private employers offer to some employees–because it was measuring the cost of compensation to the employer; while stock options might turn out to be valuable to the employee, the employer does not incur an equivalent cost in providing them, it said.

The CBO noted that it also excluded the “above-market rate of return the federal government offers its employees” through the TSP’s G fund.