CBO: Highly Educated Feds Earn Less Than Those in Industry

Federal employees with professional or doctorate degrees earn about 23 percent less than those with the same degrees in the private sector, according to a new report by the Congressional Budget Office.

The report, released Monday, found that overall, federal employees are paid an average of 16 percent more in pay and benefits than their private sector counterparts. Federal employees with a high school diploma, for example, earned 21 percent more than private sector employees with similar education levels, while federal workers with a bachelors degree earned about the same as those in the private sector. Federal workers in those two groups also enjoyed better benefits than those in the private sector, with benefits 72 percent higher for federal employees with a high school diploma and 46 percent higher for federal employees with a bachelor's degree.

But federal workers with professional, masters or doctorate-level degrees earned an average of about 23 percent less than their private sector counterparts, the study found. Average benefits for professional and doctorate-level employees were about the same in the two sectors.

CBO used data for 2005 through 2010 reported by a sample of households and employers to estimate differences between the cost of wages and benefits for federal employees and the cost of wages and benefits for similar private-sector employees.

CBO's study also noted that studies of federal pay like one by the American Enterprise Institute, which claimed that federal workers earn 61 percent more in pay, benefits and extra job security than their private counterparts, "overstates the differences between the cost of employing federal workers and similar private sector workers because the dispersion of wages (the range from low to high wages) differs between those two groups."

Meanwhile, the most common occupations within the Defense Department and the government at large were information technology workers as well as program analysts, program administrators and criminal investigators.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, agreed with the conclusion that highly-educated workers earn significantly less than their private counterparts, but cautioned against accepting other segments of the CBO report. "CBO is clearly the expert on Congressional budget scoring, but pay comparisons are not its principal expertise; that is the expertise of the Bureau of Labor Statistics," she said, noting that BLS data have shown a consistent pay gap of 26 percent in favor of the private sector when comparing similar public and private sector jobs.

Kelley also questioned the other segments of the study, and whether Congress would want to cut the salaries of the lowest paid workers by the amounts the report claims are overpaid. "That would mean cutting the salary of a clerk earning $20,000 a year by 20 percent down to $16,000 while increasing the salary of a highly-paid manager making $200,000 by 20 percent to $240,000," she said.

What are your thoughts on the study, as it compares to other studies on federal pay, including BLS data and the report by the American Enterprise Institute?