Salary Squabble

Federal employees have become the envy of the private sector.

It's not every day that labor unions get a new opportunity to organize tens of thousands of employees at a federal agency. But as Alyssa Rosenberg reports this month, that's what's happening at the Transportation Security Administration. The American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union are locked in a battle to win the support of TSA officers.

Of course, the union that prevails won't have the full range of powers that private sector unions do. It won't, for example, be able to bargain on behalf of its members over pay. But that doesn't mean the union will have no influence over employee compensation. AFGE and NTEU already are pushing for Transportation Security employees to be shifted out of their pay-for-performance system and into the standard General Schedule federal pay structure.

Unions, and many federal workers, like the GS system for the stability it provides and the near-guarantee of annual pay increases. That, in turn, has made them the envy of employees in private companies still reeling from the effects of a recession-and facing a future in which raises and even the prospect of long-term employment seem increasingly elusive.

As Alex M. Parker reports in this issue, the long-simmering debate over federal vs. private sector pay erupted earlier this year. Not only did a newly minted U.S. senator, Scott Brown, R-Mass., call for a federal salary freeze, but several media outlets got into the act-painting federal workers as at least generously compensated, if not overpaid. On, columnists Brian S. Wesbury and Robert Stein argued that not only should civilian federal workers forgo a pay increase this year, they should take a 10 percent across-the-board reduction in salary.

Office of Management and Budget Director Peter R. Orszag felt compelled to enter the debate, saying a USA Today job-by-job analysis that concluded federal employees in certain job categories made more than their private counterparts was "misleading." Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry publicly ripped a Washington Times editorial that asked readers to "consider how much money a bureaucrat can make for successfully sitting at his desk for a year."

"When I heard that and I read that-it just steams me," Berry said on Federal News Radio in Washington. "Do they think that the researchers at [the National Institutes of Health] who are developing cures for cancer today are bureaucrats sitting at their desks? Do they think the TSA employees who are screening people who are sitting next to you on the airplane today-are they just sitting at their desks?"

In this day and age, federal employment at a desk, in a laboratory, or at a security checkpoint looks like a pretty attractive proposition.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.