Federal workers have been awarded bigger average pay and benefit increases than private employees for nine years in a row. The compensation gap between federal and private workers has doubled in the past decade.
Federal civil servants earned average pay and benefits of $123,049 in 2009 while private workers made $61,051 in total compensation, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The data are the latest available.
The federal compensation advantage has grown from $30,415 in 2000 to $61,998 last year.
Public employee unions say the compensation gap reflects the increasingly high level of skill and education required for most federal jobs and the government contracting out lower-paid jobs to the private sector in recent years.
"The data are not useful for a direct public-private pay comparison," says Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union .
Chris Edwards, a budget analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute , thinks otherwise. "Can't we now all agree that federal workers are overpaid and do something about it?" he asks.
Last week, President Obama ordered a freeze on bonuses for 2,900 political appointees. For the rest of the 2-million-person federal workforce, Obama asked for a 1.4% across-the-board pay hike in 2011, the smallest in more than a decade. Federal workers also would qualify for seniority pay hikes.
Congressional Republican s want to cancel the across-the-board increase in 2011, which would save $2.2 billion.
"Americans are fed up with public employee pay scales far exceeding that in the private sector," says Rep. Eric Cantor , R-Va., the second-ranking Republican in the House.
Sen. Ted Kaufman, D-Del., says a pay freeze would unfairly scapegoat federal workers without addressing real budget problems.
What the data show:
•Benefits. Federal workers received average benefits worth $41,791 in 2009. Most of this was the government's contribution to pensions. Employees contributed an additional $10,569.
•Pay. The average federal salary has grown 33% faster than inflation since 2000. USA TODAY reported in March that the federal government pays an average of 20% more than private firms for comparable occupations. The analysis did not consider differences in experience and education.
•Total compensation. Federal compensation has grown 36.9% since 2000 after adjusting for inflation, compared with 8.8% for private workers.