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Federal workers make 35 percent less

Federal workers make 35 percent less

The pay gap between public and private-sector employees is widest in Washington-Baltimore, San Francisco

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WASHINGTON — Salaries of federal employees continue to lag behind those of similar private-sector jobs by 35 percent on average, an advisory committee has said in presenting what amounts to the latest data point in a long-running debate over how the two sectors compare.

The 34.92 percent "pay gap" reported this month essentially duplicates the 35.37 and 35.28 percent numbers reported the past two years by the Federal Salary Council and is close to those of other recent years.

The council, consisting of federal employee union representatives and outside compensation experts, oversees the General Schedule pay system for the 1.5 million white-collar employees below senior levels. In the so-called GS system, rates vary by locality, with separate schedules for both Alaska and Hawaii, for designated metropolitan zones, and for elsewhere, a catchall "rest of the U.S."

Within the overall average, the largest indicated pay disparities are in the areas of Washington-Baltimore, at 51 percent, and San Francisco and San Diego, at 49 percent. The smallest is in the catchall locality, 14 percent. Rates are paid according to where employees work, not where they live.

Under a 1990 law, the numbers are supposed to be used to virtually close the measured differences with private-sector pay. However, no administration or Congress since then has supported providing the funds to do that.

In practice, the federal raise is worked out in the annual budget process and a locality component, when one is paid, is divided according to the local gaps. The result is that pay for a GS job in the San Francisco locality, the highest paid, exceeds the pay for one of the same grade level in the catchall locality, the lowest paid, by 18 percent.

Pay tables for the new year typically are set in late December by an executive order, which this year will include 13 new city zones, while 21 of the 31 existing ones will expand. That includes the already massive Washington-Baltimore zone, which will pull in three more counties in Maryland and one more each in Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Those changes will trigger a special pay boost for more than 100,000 employees who will move from the catchall area into a city zone.

"It's a step in the right direction, and it's certainly an improvement for those employees, but it's time for reasonable raises for all federal employees," said J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees and a council member.

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