Federal Times Blogs

Is the federal pay gap real?

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According to the Pay Agent — a top-level interagency council that advises the president on federal pay policy matters — federal employees earn anywhere between 27% and 69%  less than their non-federal counterparts, depending on where they work. Each year, these pay gap figures, which are derived from Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys, are used to calculate the locality pay increases given to federal employees.

But other studies indicate those pay gap figures are off the mark and that any pay gap is in favor of feds.

This week, compensation expert Howard Risher writes in Federal Times that, in fact, feds do earn salaries that are highly competitive with their non-federal counterparts in many areas and less in other areas. One problem, he argues, is that the method used to determine pay gaps is not effective:

It may be surprising, but under current law, there is no requirement that the Office of Personnel Management or any agency develop job-specific comparative salary data. OPM did have the data at one time. For years, the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics developed comparative survey data for a series of benchmark jobs — those that are defined in the same way by employers. That data was provided to OPM and the Pay Agent — a top-level interagency panel that advises the president on federal pay policy — for use in adjusting the General Schedule. But BLS discontinued its survey in 1996. Now the adjustments are based on the percentage increase in the Employment Cost Index (ECI) — which says nothing about salary levels.

Do you think the official estimate of a federal pay gap is reliable? In which areas do you think federal pay is and is not competitive with the private sector?

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Making a new building even greener

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The General Services Administration is out to show that even a relatively new building can become more energy efficient.

GSA is seeking a contractor to make a number of energy-savings improvements to the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, which opened in 1997. GSA plans to install high-performance heating and air conditioning systems, tune up building system controls such as motors and sensors, and install more energy-efficient lighting.

The GSA-owned facility already adheres to green building practices such as using sustainable landscaping, recycling, giving procurement preference to green products and encouraging employees to commute to work using public transportation or carpools.  

But there’s always room for improvement, especially for a 3.1 million square foot complex that’s the largest in Washington.

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GSA names acting acquisition chief

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Last week, Jim Williams announced his plans to retire as head of the General Services Administration’s Federal Acquisition Service on April 3. Today GSA Administrator Martha Johnson  named his temporary replacement.

Steve Kempf, the current deputy commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service, will step into the leadership role in an acting capacity once Williams retires, Federal Times has learned.

Kempf is an 18-year veteran of the Federal Acquisition Service, joining GSA in 1992. Before becoming deputy commissioner, Kempf was assistant commissioner for acquisition management and deputy assistant commissioner for integrated technology services.


Colbert: Census is Uncle Sam’s OCD

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Stephen Colbert has some fun with Census paranoia:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
United States Census 2010
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorHealth Care reform

This year’s Census strikes me as an odd — and as far as federal inquiries go, relatively benign – place to draw a line in the sand against the government. Census paranoia is nothing new, of course, but this decennial survey has the bad luck of falling in a year of lingering unemployment, economic troubles and widespread distrust of the government. At risk of playing amateur psychologist, it seems like a lot of people are displacing their anger onto something that’s really not that big of a deal.

DHS’ Elaine Duke to retire April 1

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It’s no April Fool’s Joke — Homeland Security Department’s undersecretary for management, Elaine Duke, will celebrate her last day at the agency April 1.

Duke told the Federal Times that she has plenty of hobbies and interests to explore after devoting much of the past decade to DHS. She has served as undersecretary of management since August 2008 and has worked for the federal government for 28 years, much of it in contracting.

I started with TSA in 2002, and work has really driven my time and energy. I’m looking forward to doing some discretionary things now.”

Duke said she had no comment as to who may take over as acting undersecretary for management.

President Obama nominated Rafael Borras to be undersecretary for management in June, but his nomination stalled after Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, placed a hold late last year on Borras’ nomination.

Borras’ confirmation hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee didn’t go well. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and George Voinovich, R-Ohio, both questioned Borras’ selection and experience.

Borras is vice president of construction services for URS Corp.’s Mid-Atlantic region, where he oversees about 100 employees. He is also a former director of the General Services Administration’s Mid-Atlantic regional office.

At an October committee vote on Borras’ nomination, Voinovich said Borras has no experience as a chief financial officer or with managing multibillion-dollar contracts.

We require the undersecretary have extensive executive-level management. I’ve looked at his background, and I don’t believe his experience in the private and public sector are comparable to the challenges he’ll face at the department.”

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The politics of potties

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Federal employees are all too aware of the importance of pay parity. But Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., has set his sights on ending a different inequality: Potty parity.

Towns on March 17 introduced the Restroom Gender Parity in Federal Buildings Act — or as he called it, the Potty Parity Act — which seeks to ensure men and women have equal access to toilets in federal buildings. Towns’ bill, HR 4869, would require any newly constructed, purchased or renovated federal building to have at least a one-to-one ratio of toilets in women’s and men’s restrooms. It would allow buildings to have more women’s toilets than men’s toilets.

The bill counts urinals as toilets too, so a building can’t get away with installing a token toilet bowl in each gender’s restroom and then adding a slew of urinals for the guys.

Read the rest of this entry »

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NYT solicits Postal Service ideas

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The New York Times posted a series of letters to the editor today offering suggestions as to how to solve the Postal Service’s financial crisis. The Postal Service wants to close some branches and end Saturday service, ideas that most members of Congress are reluctant to support.

One reader, Jonathan Gyory of Winchester, Mass., suggested an intriguing solution:

Rather than eliminate Saturday delivery, why not bite the bullet and reduce mail delivery to three days a week? Half of the postal routes would receive mail on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the other half on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Each letter carrier would be responsible for two routes instead of one, coinciding with the expected 50 percent rate of attrition forecast for postal workers over the next 10 years.

Mail carriers would complain that this arrangement would saddle them with twice as much junk mail, and they would be right. The answer is to end the bulk-rate subsidy currently provided to deliver supermarket circulars, clothing catalogs and credit card offers. This would save trees and fuel, and reduce the burden on our landfills.”

What say you, readers? Does this idea have merit? What parts of Gyory’s suggestion do you agree or disagree with? The Postal Service needs to make changes, so where do you think they should cut?

Quote of the day

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perkinson jpgIt’s very rare that you get to live your dream. I lived my dream. I was the president of the Federal Managers Association.

- Outgoing — and choked up — FMA President Darryl Perkinson this evening.

Yes, you have to fill out your Census form

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This is a 2010 Census form. When you get yours, fill it out. It's the law.

This is a 2010 Census form. When you get yours, fill it out. It's the law.

If you’ve watched the Super Bowl or “American Idol,” you’ve seen ads touting the 2010 Census. Fill out your form, the ads say. It’s cool. It will get your state money and representation.

What they need to say: You must fill out your Census form. It’s the law.

A new Rasmussen Reports poll shows only 13 percent of Americans realize it’s illegal not to fill out your Census form. Census forms will start arriving at homes this week, but the Rasmussen poll, released Monday, shows not everyone understands how the Census works.

  • 57 percent said it is not against the law to not answer your Census questions.
  • 30 percent aren’t sure if Census participation is mandatory.
  • 25 percent of Americans don’t know what the Census is.

And feds, you scored only slightly better:

  • 21 percent of government employees said it is illegal not to complete your Census form.
  • 10 percent of private-sector employees said it’s illegal not to participate.


The IRS really wants its 4 cents’ worth

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The IRS wants Harv's Metro Car Wash in California to pay these. Oh, and $202.31 in penalties and interest.

The IRS wants Harv's Metro Car Wash in California to pay these. Oh, and $202.31 in penalties and interest.

If two IRS agents personally delivered a tax-due notice to your business, you’d assume you’d made a serious clerical error and owed thousands of dollars, right?

Try 4 cents.

That’s how much IRS agents told a manager last week at Harv’s Metro Car Wash in Sacramento, Calif., that the company owned in back taxes. Since the 4 cents dated back to 2006, interest and penalties owed totaled $202.31.

All for 4 cents.

The car wash’s owner, Aaron Zeff, told The Sacramento Bee that the IRS sent him a letter on Oct. 22, 2009, stating that his company “has filed all required returns and addressed any balances due.”

Reading that, one would gather that he or she owned no taxes. But apparently that’s not the case, and that has Zeff both confused and annoyed.

It’s hilarious that two people hopped in a car and came down here for just 4 cents. I think [the IRS] may have a problem with priorities.”

UPDATE: The Sacramento Bee just posted another story saying Zeff has cut the IRS a check for $202.35. Zeff said the car wash was late several years ago on a quarterly payroll tax filing, and penalties and interest were assessed on the late filing.

The car wash made the late payment, which covered all but 4 cents of the payroll obligation, leaving the penalties and interest in place, Zeff told the Bee.

Zeff said he wonders why he was never told about the balance before last week’s surprising IRS drop in.

What’s still a mystery is why Zeff was never informed about the tardy payment (and resulting fees) before last week’s visit by agents.