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OPM’s John Berry skeptical of CBO study showing overpaid feds

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John Berry

Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry yesterday weighed in on the Congressional Budget Office study that found federal employees are compensated 16 percent higher than private sector employees. Long story short, Berry has his doubts and wants to see more from CBO on how they derived their figures.

Berry’s primary concern is that they may not have taken the complexity of jobs into account. For example, he said:

Let’s take a job — forklift operator. You’ve got a forklift operator in the private sector, a forklift operator in the public sector. Both have a high school diploma. Private sector forklift operator is moving furniture and boxes. Public sector forklift operator is taking nuclear-tipped torpedoes and loading them into a very tight area on a multibillion-dollar nuclear submarine, where one wrong move could have very dire implications.

Would you pay both people the same? No. So it underscores the difficulty when one looks and says, high school degree here, high school degree here, why is this one getting paid more? My answer to that would be, complexity of the work has got to be considered. [...] To me, unless you look at the complexity of the job, it becomes almost irrelevant.

Berry also said that a Veterans Affairs Department nurse may be treating much more complicated war wounds than a nurse in a private-sector hospital, which would justify higher pay.

He cautioned that OPM hasn’t had a chance to sit down with CBO and take a closer look at their methodology, and said they may have accounted for his concerns. But his gut reaction is that the human capital model CBO appears to have used “is certainly not going to help us to design a pay system.”

Berry called on Congress to form the civil service reform commission that Obama called for last September in his deficit reduction plan. But there’s been no apparent action on that front.

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  1. Jim Says:
    February 2nd, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    Maybe a little extreme with the F/L driver moving nukes all day example, but at least he gets the point. 60-70% of all government employees are WG or GS 10 or less. Those working cless people who keep the buildings, parks and roads clean. The clerks who keep the paperwork correct and computers operating. The direct line supervisors who ensure our civil servants are doing the work efficiently. The federal employees that really get the average Americans blood boiling are those mid level beauracrats. The GS-13 whose sole job is to monitor the mating habits of the barn owl. The GS-14 that supervises 2 employees and rubber stamps what they do! Nobody begrudges the working people their hard earned pay. Fire or retire 20% of those making 6 figures with the exception of medical, pilots and NRC employees and you’d hardly notice the difference within 3 months. While we are at it, fire or retire fully 50% of the generals and admirals. You’d hardly notice the difference after a week… and thats no exaggeration!.

  2. Wrassler Says:
    February 3rd, 2012 at 8:38 am

    Really- Berry not sure about the CBO numbers – and this from the guy who advocated the Administration’s insourcing program, hiring up 140,000 more Federal employees in 3 years, the elimination of full and open competition for that forklift work -oh and the same guy who insourced and continues to fail retirees on their pensions.

  3. NormfromGA Says:
    February 3rd, 2012 at 9:01 am

    I think Berry should back off on this one…

    I have a copy of the report, and (1) it specifically does not address the entire compensations package, e.g., employer contributions to pensions, insurance, etc, and (2) it MAY not include locality pay(!?)

    [Locality pay may be included in the Feds' annual earnings but it was not listed as such. ]

    But just adding in the total benefit package could easily make the comparision even more lopsided, as has been reported earlier in the media….

    Just sayin’…

  4. Wrassler Says:
    February 3rd, 2012 at 9:10 am

    I agree Berry will not want to pursue this. Comparable Federal pay is understated in the report. Very small federal sample versus a large contractor sample- skews the results. Entreprenurial (reimbursable) work was eliminated from the study. This is the most comparable work of all. No adjustment for the non-comparable corporate CEO salaries, thereby overstating the lower federal pay in the graduate education category and ultimately driving the overall differential down. Worse, the CBO makes no adjustment for overgrading from time in grade, seniority and location for comparable work – which would push the federal differential even higher.