A year ago, the annual report showing local pay trends and published by the President’s Pay Agent, a Washington, DC agency led by government officials, showed that federal workers in the San Diego area made 54 percent less in wages than their private counterparts.
Since President Obama’s announcement last month that the pay of federal workers would be frozen, the San Diego Union-Tribune has been gathering data to determine if federal workers are, in fact, paid substantially less than in the private sector.
The data used was from two government agencies- the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau. Instead of being paid less, data showed that in nearly every industry, including construction, manufacturing, financial professional and business services, federal workers were far more highly compensated than private sector employees. The only industry that didn’t follow the trend was in the information sector.
According to the data, federal employees earned $55,300 compared to private employees’ annual salary of $42,100, according to the Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community survey. The same local data showed that federal wages rose by 14 percent between 2005 and 2009, compared to an anemic 4 percent increase for private workers.
The data didn’t include U.S. military employees, but included civilians working in the military sector.
Chris Edwards, director of tax policy at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington said that the President’s pay report is a “black box” with no published methodology.
Larry Mishel, a labor expert and president of the liberal Economic Policy Institute in Washington had a different take on the data. He claimed that the Pay Agent information relies on a complex model that compares public jobs to private ones and factors in so-called “job knowledge.”
The Union-Tribune contacted Office of Personnel Management several times in the last two weeks by phone and email for an explanation of how the Pay Agent report comes up with its figures showing federal employees earning so much less than private employees. Both the phone calls and emails were not returned.
The Pay Agent report is prepared annually to help the government understand pay trends and gaps in disparity between federal and private workers in local markets throughout the country, so the government can provide locality pay adjustments to its employees.
The U.S. federal government has about 46,000 employees in San Diego County.