December 15, 2009

NTEU’s Kelley Sharply Criticizes Media Attack on Federal Pay
Washington, D.C.—The leader of the nation’s largest independent union of federal employees has sharply criticized a media report implying that federal workers are substantially overpaid compared to their private sector counterparts.

“The only meaningful way to measure public and private sector pay against each other is to compare salaries for similar jobs,” said President Colleen M. Kelley of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU). “The superficial and cursory look at federal pay in last week’s USA Today story fails completely to do that.”

She added: “Surveys by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, confirmed by the Federal Salary Council, show definitively that when comparing similar jobs, the public-private pay gap is, on average, 26 percent in favor of the private sector.”

The USA Today article, which appeared on Dec. 11, used growth in the number of federal jobs paying six figures to imply that such pay is widespread throughout the federal government and that federal employees are thus overpaid.

“That people continue to make these nonsensical arguments truly is disappointing and tiresome,” the NTEU leader said. “Instead, we ought to be grateful for the continuing contributions of those who choose public service.”

She noted, as she and others have in the past, that the federal workforce is increasingly comprised of professional jobs, including large numbers of doctors and nurses, scientists in virtually every discipline, attorneys, accountants, bank examiners, engineers, information technology specialists and many others—nearly all of whom are paid less as civil servants than their counterparts in the private sector.

“The federal workforce is the most highly-educated in our nation,” Kelley said, “with an extraordinary number of employees holding both undergraduate and advanced college degrees.”

This is a demographic significantly different than the private sector workforce, which increasingly is made up of non-professional and lower-paying positions.

At the same time, Kelley said it is likely that any increase in the number of six-figure jobs in the federal sector is largely accounted for by the growth, over the years, in the number of political appointees, as well as increases in the number of senior-level managers.

“I can assure you,” she said, “the vast majority of federal workers earn nothing close to the figure put forward by USA Today.” She offered as an example Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) in the Transportation Security Administration, whose starting salary is about $24,000, adding that TSOs cover their shifts 24 hours a day, seven days a week as their contribution to keeping the nation safe.

“It is well past time that we began focusing on the excellent work federal employees do for our country and their dedication to duty, rather than using them as scapegoats for problems not of their making,” Kelley said.

As the largest independent federal union, NTEU represents 150,000 employees in 31 agencies and departments.