- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2007

Here is a quiz to test your knowledge of Uncle Sam’s white-collar pay system. If money was your goal and you worked for the Defense Department, the Interior Department or the Internal Revenue Service, where would you earn the most: Naperville, Ill.; Baytown, Texas; Huntsville, Texas; Cary, N.C.; or Washington, D.C.?

If you picked Washington, you are wrong.

Here are the top paying cities in rank order: Baytown; Bridgeport, Conn.; Naperville; Washington; Cary; and Olympia, Wash.

Misprint? No. That’s because of the government’s exotic and interesting locality pay system. For federal pay purposes, Naperville is in the Chicago district, Baytown is in the Houston loop, Cary is part of the Raleigh-Durham community, and Bridgeport is in the New York City metro area.

For most of the history of the civil service system, feds were paid the same regardless of where they worked. A GS 9 was a GS 9 on the General Schedule wherever the job. Although the $44,856 to $53,318 annual pay is barely a living wage in the Washington area, it is considered big bucks in Tupelo, Miss.

After a while, people in power noticed major disparities between federal and private-sector pay for the same jobs in many places. The first President Bush tried to help flatten some of that difference by giving special pay status to feds in New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

In 1990, a Republican White House and a Democratic Congress implemented the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act (FEPCA). It promised a dozen years of federal pay raises, with a locality component, designed to close the government versus industry gap as measured by the government.

When President Clinton took office, he didn’t like what he saw. He proposed a zero pay raise in 1993, arguing that straight salary comparisons were meaningless. He proposed a total compensation matchup with the value of federal fringe benefits, which are generally superior, to be included in pay comparisons with the private sector.

Mr. Clinton and the second President Bush recommended federal pay raises that were lower than the figures under the FEPCA formula. The American Federation of Government Employees, the National Treasury Employees Union and other federal unions now say the pay gap is wider than ever.

Whether you agree or not, the locality increases accompanying the regular January federal pay raises have favored some cities over others.

The federal pay raise this year was 2.2 percent, but feds in Washington-Baltimore got a total of 2.64 percent, New York City got 3.03 percent and Chicago got 2.24 percent. Houston and Baytown feds got 1.93 percent.

The cost of living in various cities has little or nothing to do with pay raises. They are figured under a complex formula using wage data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is why Houston, with an abundance of oil and engineers, pays its feds more than their counterparts in the District, even though people who have lived in both spots say it costs more to live here.

Go figure.

• Mike Causey, senior editor at Federal News Radio AM 1050, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or mcausey@federalnewsradio.com.

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