Fedweek

Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, speaks during a news conference in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, D.C.

The White House budget proposal drops reference to a study on federal pay that the Trump administration had cited for holding down annual increases, and it also dropped references to employee views on co-worker performance that the Trump administration had said justified tying pay more closely to performance.

The Trump administration had argued for a pay system that is “sensitive to labor market dynamics,” with its budget proposals after 2017 referring to a CBO study of that finding that pay is about comparable on average and that federal employee benefits on average are superior.

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However, those proposals did not go into further detail, including that with both pay and benefits the average CBO found consisted of a range by educational level, with a more substantial advantage for federal employees with a high school diploma or less, ranging to a substantial disadvantage for federal employees with the most education.

It also had argued that the salary structure “rewards longevity over performance,” citing annual Feral Employee Viewpoint Survey findings showing that “both managers and nonsupervisory workers report that the awards structure does not adequately provide an incentive to perform or reward the best employee.”

In contrast, the new Biden budget proposal contains no direct discussion of pay comparability or pay for performance issues. Nor does it contain a Trump administration proposal to combine sick leave and annual leave into one category and reduce the total available on grounds that those benefits are superior to those of the private sector.

However, it does continue information underscoring that large percentages of federal employees are concentrated in higher-paying occupations. That information was first presented in the Obama administration as a counter to arguments that federal employees are overpaid that are based on their average salary being above that of the nationwide average (it was continued through the Trump administration despite its differing view on pay).

Those figures show, for example, that 60 percent of federal employees are in the highest-paid third of private sector occupations compared with 38 percent, and that only 4 percent are in the lowest-paid third, compared with 12 percent.

The budget similarly shows that nearly a third of federal employees have masters degree or higher levels of education, double the private sector rate, and that only 12 precent have a high school education or less, a third of the private sector rate.

It also shows that the average age of a federal employee is higher, about 47 vs. 42, also associated with a higher salary. Fourteen percent of federal employees are age 60 and above.

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