Trump Political Appointees Seek to Politicize Federal Employees' Pay. Unions Say Not So Fast.

Categories: The Insider

What happens when people try to undermine our confidence in science or objective data to serve a political agenda? 

President Trump’s political appointees on the Federal Salary Council are following that script by trying to sow doubt about the accuracy of the government’s measurement of the pay gap between federal and private sector salaries.  

BLS data show federal salaries lag behind those paid by employers in the private, state, and local government sectors by a nationwide average of more than 30%. By law, that gap was supposed to have been closed 16 years ago.  But opponents of paying federal employees market rates always cite budget and other issues as reasons not to close the gap.   

So now with an administration at war with its own workforce, the three Trump appointees on the council are pushing to change the way the pay gap is measured as a way of preparing the ground for a wholesale replacement of the locality pay system. 

Ultimately, they want to reinstate an NSPS-style pay system that gives managers broad power to set each worker’s pay and play favorites. Most important, they want to reallocate the payroll so that pay freezes for GS-12 and below can be used to fund big raises for those at the top of the scale.      

In a formal dissent from the Chairman’s report, AFGE and the other unions on the Federal Salary Council wrote that we strongly objected to the effort to misuse the Council to promote the Administration’s policy agenda of redefining “pay disparities” in a way that would undermine the integrity of the pay comparability system by questioning the way pay gaps have been calculated. 

“This year’s Workgroup Report is a clear attempt to politicize what has been for the last 26 years a technical, apolitical report that has followed the law’s instructions regarding measurement of pay disparities and boundaries of pay localities,” said the employee group, which includes AFGE, the National Treasury Employees Union, the National Federation of Federal Employees, and the Fraternal Order of Police.  

“Under this Administration, ridicule of science may be in vogue, but the employee organizations represented on the Federal Salary Council respect science, scientific methods and objective truth, and we will not allow the data interpretation work performed scientifically by experts at BLS and the Office of Personnel Management to be dismissed so easily,” the group added. 

Here’s why we oppose the “recommendation”: 

The administration doesn’t have the authority to change the way pay gaps are calculated  

The law does not give the FSC authority to include non-salary benefits such as pensions or health insurance when it measures federal vs. private sector pay disparities. Nowhere in the law is there any mention of the FSC studying, measuring, or recommending pay disparities by any factor other than locality. There is no instruction in the law to measure pay disparities by race, gender, educational attainment, age or any factor other than locality.  There is simply a straightforward charge to measure pay disparities by local labor market standards. 

The administration is attacking science and discrediting the BLS 

The Workgroup Report repeatedly uses the term “estimate” derisively, implying BLS’s regression results, called “estimates,” are no more than guesses. That is simply not true. 

Statistical modeling just is how data are interpreted, and the statistical models used by the professional economists at BLS in support of the federal pay comparability system are of extremely high quality. BLS economists even attended Workgroup meetings on several occasions and patiently explained to the members exactly how the models have been created and improved over the years. They explained how they perform under rigorous testing protocols, how the raw, observed data are collected, what assumptions underlie the models and why, what degree of certainty the results of the regression analysis provide, and so on.  

This is the administration’s political move to cut our members’ pay and benefits

The administration is pushing its false narrative that some feds are overpaid and others are underpaid so that it can shift payroll from the bottom to the top.   

Besides proposing using non-salary data for salary comparisons, they also proposed assembling a council, most likely corporate officials, to recommend changes in all elements of federal employee compensation every few years.

The FSC is expected to send all recommendations and opinions of council members to the President’s Pay Agent by the end of this year. The pay agent consists of Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, acting Office of Personnel Management Director Margaret Weichert, and Labor Secretary Alex Acosta.


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