Report: Cabinet pay falls compared to senior executives

Senior federal executives have seen their inflation-adjusted pay rise slightly in the past 36 years, but compensation for Cabinet secretaries has fallen dramatically, government auditors have concluded in a new report.

Cabinet secretaries made $250,204 in 1970 -- using the Gross Domestic Product price deflator -- compared with $183,500 in 2006. During that same period, the highest possible compensation for members of the Senior Executive Service went from an inflation-adjusted $148,058 to $165,200, according to a Government Accountability Office report (GAO-06-708). The Cabinet officers' compensation fell 27 percent while the SES increased 12 percent.

In real dollars, Cabinet secretaries earned $60,000 in 1970 and high-level government executives earned $35,505.

Administrative law judges and employees in senior level scientific or professional jobs who were not in the SES went from an inflation-adjusted $148,058 to $152,000.

The GDP deflator measures changes over time to broad spending categories, including net exports of goods and services and government consumption.

But the auditors also adjusted pay using the Consumer Price Index, which measures the change in price paid by consumers for a more narrow set of goods and services. Using the CPI, the pay for both the SES and Cabinet secretaries decreased, although it fell considerably more for the secretaries.

Using the CPI, members of the SES made $182,880 in 1970 compared with today's $165,200, while Cabinet secretaries earned $309,049 compared with the current $183,500. That represented a 10 percent dip for the SES and a 41 percent fall for the secretaries.

Within the five levels of the Executive Schedule, which encompasses Cabinet secretaries down to associate directors and commissioners, the drop in inflation-adjusted salaries was much less dramatic for jobs below the secretary level.

For example, in Level II of the Executive Schedule, which includes pay for members of Congress and deputy secretaries, the GDP-adjusted 1970 compensation was $177,228, which is just 7 percent higher than today's $165,200. The CPI-adjusted 1970 earnings were $218,910, which is 25 percent higher than in 2006.

GAO, which prepared the report at the request of Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., suggested creating a commission to maintain a "reasonable relationship across executive-level positions" for compensation and in relation to the private sector market's pay. Auditors also suggested that Congress consider changing the rules so that people filling Senate-confirmed positions on the executive-level can receive bonuses like their SES counterparts.

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