Study shows feds paid more than Hill staffers

Federal employees may be paid less than their counterparts in the private sector, but they make more than staffers in congressional offices, according to a new report. The study, conducted every two years by the Congressional Management Foundation, examines the factors affecting pay for congressional staffers. The foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that helps congressional offices improve their management practices. In 2000, the average salary for federal workers, $51,000, was 20 percent more than the average congressional staff salary of $42,314. Ten years ago, federal workers only took home 7 percent more than legislative staffers. For congressional staffers based in the Washington area, the difference is even more pronounced at 39 percent. Legislative staffers in Washington take home on average $46,598 annually, while federal workers in the area earn an average annual salary of $64,615. "[Congressional staffers] are basically at the bottom of the federal pay totem pole," said Rick Shapiro, executive director of the foundation. A spokesperson for the Office of Personnel Management said comparing the salaries of legislative staffers and federal workers would be hard to do because there is no formal congressional pay scale like the General Schedule that governs federal employees. "We were not comparing positions by title, we were comparing people on the basis of educational backgrounds, and basically looking at the overall work description," Shapiro said. Legislative salaries are set at the discretion of members of Congress, who are given flat annual budgets and are limited in the number of people they can have on staff. "That doesn't mean that a member of Congress can't say 'I'm not going to buy that new computer system' and give it out in salaries," Shapiro said. "The only good option they have for paying their people better is to hire fewer people and use some of the money from the positions that they downsize from. It's not an easy decision to say we can do without one more legislative assistant." Age and experience are factors in the divide as well, Shapiro said. Congressional staffers tend to be more educated and executive branch employees are generally more experienced. "But those personal demographics have not changed. What has changed is salaries," Shapiro said. "People are not getting more and more experienced in the executive branch and less experienced in the congressional offices." The key, said Shapiro, is that federal employees' salaries are at least in theory supposed to be tied to the growth of salaries in the private sector, whereas legislative salaries are often simply pegged to inflation rates. "What [members of Congress] have tended to do is say 'Let's look at the rate of inflation, and if it's 2.3 percent, let's pass on 2.3 percent,'" Shapiro said. The table below shows the pay disparity between congressional staffers and federal workers.
Year
Congressional staffers Federal workers Percent gap
2000 $42,314 $51,000 20%
1998 $39,132 $46,056 18%
1996 $36,728 $42,610 16%
1994 $35,510 $39,590 12%
1992 $33,388 $35,772 7%
1990 $29,542 $31,565 7%
Source: Congressional Management Foundation

The table below shows the pay disparity between Washington, D.C.-based congressional staffers and federal workers.

Year
Congressional staffers (DC) Federal workers (DC) Percent gap
2000 $46,598 $64,615 39%
1998 $42,558 $58,170 37%
1996 $40,112 $53,539 33%
1994 $38,807 $49,243 27%
1992 $36,618 $44,758 22%
1990 $32,297 $39,472 22%
Source: Congressional Management Foundation
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