Monday, October 20th, 2014

Readers take us task on the pay and benefits of federal workers

"I'd like to think politicians are being more honest with you looking over their shoulders," one reader told us.
"I'd like to think politicians are being more honest with you looking over their shoulders," one reader told us.

We respect federal employees.

We call them all the time for our fact checks.

We have friends and relatives who work for Uncle Sam.

But a number of readers say we were unfair to federal employees last week in a Truth-O-Meter on House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s claim that benefits and wages of federal workers "far outstrip the market rates of the private sector."

We rated the statement True. We cited a widely-referenced investigation by USA Today based on 2009 data -- still the most current available -- from the Federal Bureau of Economic Analysis.

It showed average total compensation for federal employees was $123,049 -- $81,258 in salary and $41,791 in benefits. Average total compensation for private workers was $61,051 -- $50,462 in pay and $10,589 in benefits.

We noted that many think the comparison is unfair, saying the gap reflects the increasingly high level of education and expertise required for most federal jobs and that the government is contracting out many lower-paying jobs to the private sector.

Our fact check cited another USA Today investigation that compared the 2008 pay for 40 occupations in both the federal and private sectors. Federal employees earned an average salary of $67,691 while private workers, in the same mix of jobs, were paid an average $60,046.

Here’s some of the reaction from readers:

*"I really think your assessment of (Cantor’s) statement is just bad journalism … Long ago the federal government outsourced jobs at the lower end of pay and benefit scales, so guess what -- averages for that work now mean that average federal government workers are highly concentrated in technical and professional work and less so in support services. I am very disappointed in your ignorance."

"Once again, you take a biased and evidently unresearched stance on an Eric Cantor quote concerning federal benefits and wages being much higher than the private sector. I urge you to take a look at a Federal Computer Week article dated Nov. 1, 2010... I am really concerned about how often I see this kind of thing happen in your publication. This is very misleading to the public. If this was Canada it would be illegal."

*"You gave Cantor a full truth vote. Really??? You admit yourself, that you could not compare apples to apples, yet you give him a full true. You drained the swamps and twisted the facts enough to justify your vote, at least in your mind. Let’s compare right to work states vs. union states. Let's compare management level and CEO pay of the private sector vs. public sector. Let's compare states where Republicans haven't shut down unions and people still have a say in their work rights...The Republicans’ feeble attempt at trying to pit private sector workers against public sector workers to further their agenda of lower taxes and more profits for the rich won't work, even with the help of Politifact Virginia."

*"Your response was correct so far as it went. Where you missed the boat is in overlooking that Cantor is an employer of a number of Federal employees. You should have asked what the average salaries of his staff and the staffs of the Congressional Committees are. If they are above average private salaries, is he going to cut their pay?"

*"According to your rating descriptions, `True’ means `The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.’ So how would comparing apples to oranges without any caveats whatsoever a completely `True’ statement? The rating `Half True’ seems to fit Cantor's statement." (We define Half True as: The statement is accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context).  "Surely the fact that Cantor may be comparing apples to oranges is an important detail that he left out."

*"Earlier today you claimed to make an "apples-to-apples" comparison of federal vs private salaries. To do so you factored out the skill level by comparing only like jobs (accountants to accountants for instance). But you did not factor in location. For instance I know, as a senior level software developer I get about $85,000 in Richmond but would get around $120,000 in the D.C. area. Since you did not research location, your analysis was seriously flawed. I would suggest you recheck."

*"Not sure if you're trying to slant conservative or if your mission is to take the words hyper-literally when assessing veracity, but either way it's ridiculous. Government employees are largely professionals; nongovernmental workers are largely fry chefs at McDonald's. Yes, call me a snob but that's the reality."