Among the more controversial ideas considered—but ultimately not voted on—at the recent meeting of the Federal Salary Council was expanding the annual pay comparison study to include the value of benefits, as well.

A “working group” document said that while “benefits cannot be used to set federal pay law some working group members”—not the ones from unions presumably, because they opposed the concept during a discussion—“are concerned that decisions regarding adjustments in basic pay have been made over the years without considering how federal and non-federal total compensation levels compare. Results of comparisons between federal benefits and non-federal benefits would help address such concerns.”


Such a comparison likely would decrease the indicated gap, possibly substantially; the CBO last year said that federal benefits are 47 percent superior on average, larger for with the lowest levels of education and about the same for those most educated. Union members on the council opposed even considering such a change, seeing it as a pretense to attack benefits—particularly retirement, which CBO said is the main factor in the difference.

However, even the CBO did not take all benefits into consideration and the working group document did not suggest how such a study be conducted. It said, though, that conducting the study “could help show how federal and non-federal compensation compare and show the potential impact of both pay and benefit changes on federal recruitment and retention.”

It also listed potential disadvantages, including the cost of conducting such studies, and that it “would still result in an approach that lacks credibility, as current best practices in human resources management rely on a total rewards philosophy.”