Spotlight on Federal Pay: New House Leadership Calls for Federal Pay Freeze


As the opening of the 112th Congress grows nearer, calls to cut federal spending and slash the deficit have reached a fevered pitch. With the budget deficit looming large, lawmakers from both chambers have called for belt-tightening measures, many of which unapologetically target federal workers.

In the next session the federal workforce will undoubtedly see attempts to freeze or cut salaries that already fall 24 percent behind those of private sector employees. Just days after the mid-term elections, incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said in a news conference:

“There ought to be a freeze on the hiring of new federal employees, and frankly, we ought to freeze the pay.” He goes on further to assert, “The average federal employee makes twice as much as the average private sector worker.”

Federal pay detractors, like Boehner, are quick to cite this misleading figure to justify their demands to freeze or lower the wages of federal workers. This logic is deeply flawed, because to compare the two sectors is like comparing apples to oranges. The federal workforce, due to decades of aggressive outsourcing of blue-collar federal jobs, is a thoroughly white collar workforce. The private sector, on the other hand, has a large of lower-paying service sector jobs that don’t exist in the federal sector. The fact is that, on average, federal jobs require more education, skills, and experience than many private sector jobs, making any comparison between the two sectors as a whole profoundly misleading. The truth is, when you compare the pay of a Justice Department lawyer to a private lawyer, or a VA doctor to a private doctor (comparing apples to apples), federal employees make an average of 24 percent less.

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Eric Cantor (R-VA), the second-ranking Republican in the House, agrees with Boehner’s statements:

“Americans are fed up with public employee pay scales far exceeding that in the private sector.”

Federal employees are fed up too. Not only do many make considerably less than their private sector counterparts, they are presently facing some of the most significant threats to their livelihoods in decades. Federal workers now fear that even the modest 1.4 percent pay adjustment proposed by President Obama could be eliminated in the coming months. Some worry that this attempt to freeze pay will be just the first of many additional attacks on the federal workforce.

To begin confronting our burgeoning federal deficit, we must work together to cut back where necessary. We cannot, however, place the burden of our debt squarely on the shoulders of federal employees. The work they do for America every day is crucial, and it is the commitment to their jobs that keeps our country running.