Wage Gap Cured with Locality Pay

Article excerpt

When the savings and loan scandal erupted in the 1980s, the media and the public immediately began to scream: "Why didn't the government prevent this? Why should we the people have to pay for billions of losses from these financial institutions?"

The rational question should have been: "Who are these crooks and incompetents who looted our S&L by investing in worthless properties and indulging in high living with my savings and retirement funds?"

When David Koresh's followers in Waco, Texas, killed and wounded federal agents attempting to end the cult's arms stockpiling and child abuse, the public asked: "Who was responsible in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for this disaster? Why couldn't this have been prevented? Who is the idiot in government to blame for this mess?"

The questions should have been: "Who is this cult leader who had his followers murder federal agents? Where did this group get all these weapons and explosives? Who tipped off Koresh about the raid?

When drugs come into the city and are sold in our schools, we yell: "Why hasn't the Drug Enforcement Administration stopped this? Why hasn't the U.S. Customs Service been able to shut down the borders? Where are all those bureaucrats when we need them?"

Instead, the question should be: "Who are the people in our community who are smuggling drugs and selling them to our children?"

Then, when the locality pay raises were announced in December for all white-collar federal workers - who run one of the most productive, efficient, admired, honest and effective governments in the world every day, we say: "Well, we don't need good bureaucrats - why would we want to pay decent salaries to these people? After all, they didn't stop the S&L crisis, they couldn't keep Koresh and his followers under control and they aren't stopping drug sales in the schools."

Citizens of this nation want it both ways. We want good service, but we don't want to pay career managers and employees decent salaries comparable to the private sector.

We complain that federal employees are lazy and ineffective until we get a tax audit by the Internal Revenue Service, a workplace safety audit by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or a notice of violation for polluting from the Environmental Protection Agency. Then we accuse officials of those agencies of being over-zealous and authoritarian, and say they ought to be out enforcing the laws against the real violators and criminals - not us!

Public employees are the butt of jokes - often to their faces. Some career federal officials leave after a few years because of the public's lack of respect. This and low pay are the two biggest reasons given for early departure, according to a 1988 General Accounting Office report. An example was the departure of Dr. Marc Lippman in 1988. He left the National Institutes of Health to become director of Georgetown University's Lombardi Cancer Center and took as many as 30 top NIH scientists with him.

Why aren't career federal managers able to operate the way corporate managers can? Could it be because they have to answer to a new political boss every couple of years, because of media scrutiny or because of a lack of trust by the public? When the public was asked by the Roper Organization in 1981 whether the government was "efficient and well run," 74 percent said no. In a 1986 Market Opinion Research survey, 69 percent had only some or hardly any confidence in the federal government.

Yet, most career public officials are outstanding at what they do - and they are not paid nearly enough for it. White-collar entry positions range from a $12,406 annual salary for the simplest office work to $69,427 for highly qualified administrators.

Since 1949, federal white-collar pay has been administered under a uniform salary schedule. Adjustments to that schedule were to be governed by the principle that federal and private sector salaries should be comparable. …