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Government Makes Another Move to Eliminate Gender Pay Gap

Job applicants’ current salary should only be one factor in setting pay for new employees, says OPM.

Agencies should not allow job applicants’ current salary to carry too much weight when determining their pay as new federal employees, said the acting director of the Office of Personnel Management.

The move marks another step in the government’s effort to eliminate the gender pay gap at federal agencies. “In our study of the gender pay gap in the federal workforce, we found that some agencies require the use of a job candidate’s existing salary or that existing salary must be considered when setting pay of a new General Schedule employee,” said acting OPM Director Beth Cobert in July 30 memorandum to agency human resources directors. “Reliance on existing salary to set pay could potentially adversely affect a candidate who is returning to the workplace after having taken extended time off from his or her career, or for whom an existing rate of pay is not reflective of the candidate’s current qualifications or existing labor market conditions.”

Cobert said agencies should consider existing salary as “only one factor” in setting pay for new employees, and OPM has updated its fact sheet on “General Schedule Superior Qualifications and Special Needs Pay-Setting Authority” to reflect that.

Federally Employed Women, a non-profit advocacy group for women in government, said they support any efforts to close the gender pay gap in government, but also urged OPM to make sure agencies are held accountable.

“In reading the OPM memorandum, we see good approaches that OPM is recommending to agencies in developing analysis, but we were a little disappointed that these are only ‘recommendations’ and not ‘requirements,’ ” said Janet Kopenhaver, FEW’s Washington representative, by email. “We also would request that this analysis be made available to the public in a true transparency effort,” she added. “Agencies will not improve their respective gaps, if no one is aware of which agencies actually have the biggest gaps.”

An April 2014 OPM study showed that women’s starting salaries in government tended to lag behind men’s by 10 percent on average. “Women are overrepresented in occupations with lower maximum salaries and underrepresented in higher-paying occupations, including STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)-related fields,” the study found. Even so, the study found that the federal government has narrowed the gender pay gap by 17 cents on the dollar among its employees over the past two decades, with women earning 87 cents for every dollar a man earned in 2012. The gender pay disparity is even smaller among federal managers and senior executives, and among younger federal workers.

President Obama in May 2013 asked OPM to conduct the study looking at differences in pay among the genders as part of an effort to make the federal government a model of pay equity for the rest of the American workforce.

Cobert also recommended that other agencies conduct their own gender data analysis of pay to reduce any possible disparities. The acting OPM director touted the agency’s accomplishments over the last year in shrinking the pay gap, including providing guidance on GS classification practices, leave and workplace flexibilities for new parents, and promoting salary transparency by coordinating with agencies to post their independent pay data.