Lots of people think that federal workers are grossly overpaid. That includes conservative think tanks, many in the news media and lots of politicians. And voters.
If you are making a six-figure salary in this economy, with this job market, you ought to be at least grateful if not downright delirious with joy. That’s especially true in the federal service where — despite a three-year pay freeze — jobs are not being eliminated or out-sourced overseas.
But thousands of big-city feds, at the top of the career GS grade ladder, do have a complaint. Many of the senior GS-15s have responsibilities — in national security, defense, medicine and costly programs — that would intimidate many higher-paid private-sector types. Yet many of the long-time GS-15s are being paid anywhere from $3,000 to almost $20,000 a year less than they should be.
Most white-collar civil servants got a modest (make that very modest) 1 percent raise in January, many of the 15,000-plus Grade 15 workers got zip. Many GS-15 employees in Los Angeles, San-Francisco, San Jose, Houston, New York and Washington didn’t get even the modest 1 percent because their pay is capped at the “Executive Level IV” amount. That cap hasn’t moved in some time.
Although the metro Washington area has the largest concentration of GS-15 workers, there are many in other places where most feds have higher salaries because of locality pay differentials.
Example: A GS-12, step 5 employee in the D.C. area earns $$85,703. But if that same employee transferred to Houston, doing the same job, he/she would be paid $88,801.
We ran the numbers past the Federal Managers Association and they said they looked good (as in accurate), but bad for the capped GS-15s.
Being capped is more than a loss in pay. Since annuities (pensions) are based in part on salary, the capped workers will get less in retirement.
So how bad and widespread is it? Here’s the analysis done by a been-there-done-that reader who also offers the solution to the problem: Move the cap! He writes:
One group has not benefited from past pay raises and will continue to come up short unless action is taken. That pay shortfall, despite universal agreement that it was just and fair to provide a needed adjustment to the GS Schedule, can be almost $20,000 for some federal workers. This inequity is caused by an antiquated pay cap that has not kept pace with inflation. The pay cap is currently linked to Level IV of the Executive Schedule and its greatest impact is on experienced managers at the mid- to upper steps of the GS-15 pay scale. It is difficult to retain seasoned managers when this provision cuts their pay in 19 of the 33 approved locality pay areas and restricts their ability to work critical overtime across all locality pay areas.
The current pay cap has not kept pace with inflation adjustments begrudgingly approved for other aspects of the GS Schedule and other pay schedules. For example, in the San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland pay area, this restriction kicks in at Step 6 and results in a $19,690 annual pay cut at the upper end of the GS-15 pay grade. In Houston and New York City, it results in respective pay cuts of as much as $11,266. and $11,278 annually.
Other pay areas where basic pay is adversely affected annually include: Portland (-$329), Dallas (-$749), Miami (-$906), Minneapolis (-$1,128), Philadelphia (-$2,214), Seattle (-$2,239), Sacramento (-$2,750), Denver (-$3,168), Detroit (-$5,222), San Diego (-$5,352), Washington DC (-$5,392), Alaska (-$6,007), Boston (-$6,151), Chicago (-$6,544), Hartford (-$7,485), and Los Angeles (-$9,238). It also has a paralyzing impact on organizations that are trying to deploy experienced managers to crisis situations (e.g., disasters, contingency contracting overseas) as it limits or prohibits them from earning premium pay and from working without compensation, an impact felt most in Grades GS-12 through GS-15.
The pay cap linkage to Level IV of the Executive Schedule needs to be adjusted or eliminated. One remedy would be to update the linkage to Level II of the Executive Schedule, another remedy would be to drop the pay cap restriction entirely for experienced managers who are often called in to work in urgent situations despite the current lack of compensation for that effort.” — Out In the Cold GS-15
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