Military pay, benefits top federal civilian compensation

Military personnel receive higher salaries and better benefits than most federal civilian employees, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

In a Jan. 20 study requested by Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., CBO found the average enlisted service member receives higher cash compensation -- made up of basic pay, housing and food allowances, and tax benefits -- than 75 percent of civilian workers with comparable education.

In addition, officers with at least two years of experience are paid more than three-quarters of federal employees with four-year college degrees. The disparity between officer and civilian cash compensation increases with years of experience and is greater than the disparity for enlisted personnel, according to the report.

CBO also found benefits for service members are more generous than those available to federal employees. While military members receive benefits roughly equal in value to their cash compensation, effectively doubling their overall compensation, civilians receive only half as much, or an additional 55 percent.

"[Federal civilians] generally pay more for health insurance than military personnel do," the report said. "For people who stay for a full career, the military retirement system is more generous than the federal civilian system.… In addition, noncash benefits like subsidized housing and groceries are not available to most federal civilian workers."

The report also noted several challenges in comparing military and civilian pay. Occupations are different across both workforces, and pay analyses cannot account for intangible benefits, such as working conditions or career responsibilities, or on-the-job training and education. Government-provided training for military personnel would increase compensation even further over that of civilian employees, according to CBO.

When President Obama in November 2010 announced a two-year freeze on federal civilian salaries, Hoyer said government could achieve additional savings, as well as pay parity, if the freeze applied to both civilian and military employees.

"While I appreciate that the president reduced the length of his proposed pay freeze from three to two years, it would have produced significantly more savings had that sacrifice been shared between federal civilian and military personnel -- with a strong exception for the members of our military and civilian employees risking their lives on our behalf in Afghanistan, Iraq and anywhere else they are serving in harm's way," Hoyer said.

According to spokeswoman Maureen Beach, Hoyer has not made any judgments on the CBO report's findings at this point.

"We appreciate that the CBO put together this report, which is part of Congressman Hoyer's larger effort to assemble information on the state of federal and military pay," Beach said.

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