Sweet Tea and Southern Bar-B-Que or California Wine and Sushi?

Who changed the pay tables and how will the changes affect our readers?

Most readers are certainly happy, or perhaps just relieved, to know that the 2006 federal pay raise has been approved and is now finalized.

To respond to requests from a large number of readers who asked why we had not put the 2006 pay tables up (before the pay raise had been finalized), the FedSmith.com webmaster was ready to incorporate the new data into a complex database on our website as soon as possible. And, to his credit, the new tables were up very quickly after the new pay rates were actually approved by President Bush.

But for some readers, the pay tables were revealing–perhaps even shocking.

We received comments or complaints from readers along these lines:

“You left out my region in the pay tables. Please go back and incorporate my geographic area as well as the others.”“Where is Kansas City in the 2006 pay tables? I think you made a mistake and need to take a second look.”

“Why did you eliminate my location from the pay tables? Don’t you think we deserve a raise in St. Louis?”

“Thank you for including Raleigh in the 2006 pay charts.”

There were other variations on these comments but you get the idea.

We hate to break this news but here it is: FedSmith.com doesn’t have any authority to make decisions on federal employee pay. Moreover, we have enough combined federal government experience within our company to know that we never want to have authority to make decisions on federal employee pay.

That is a roundabout way of saying “It isn’t our fault.” Or, stated differently, “We can’t take any credit for including your city in this year’s pay tables.”

Having said that, it was news to some readers that there are changes in the locality pay locations this year and that the changes would have a personal impact (their paycheck).

But it wasn’t a secret. Last summer, the Office of Personnel Management published information on the new pay tables and we dutifully reported it in FedSmith.com news items at that time. No doubt, the implications of the changes may have whizzed by some who saw the headline and decided not to bother reading the article.

The real test for just about everyone is what happens to their paycheck as a result of bureaucratic decisions that are made and then applied months later.

So, for those readers who missed it, you are no longer in a separate locality pay area this year if you are in St. Louis, Kansas City or Orlando. Those cities have been merged with the “Rest of the U.S.” category as far as locality pay is concerned.

On the other hand, if you are in Buffalo, Raleigh, or Phoenix, you now have your own locality pay area.

Some readers wanted answers to questions such as: “The cost of living in our area has increased just as much as the rest of the country. Why are federal employees in (pick your favorite geographic area) being singled out to receive a smaller pay increase than we are entitled to receive?”

Here is the answer from the Office of Personnel Management as published in the Federal Register:

Living costs are not directly considered in setting locality pay or defining locality pay areas. Locality pay is set by comparing GS and non-Federal pay for the same levels of work to allow the Government to recruit and retain an adequate workforce. Locality pay is not designed to equalize living standards for GS employees across the country. Since living costs are just one of many factors that affect the supply and demand for labor, they are not considered separately.

The new locality pay areas arguably treat everyone fairly. But locality pay does not equalize the purchasing power for all federal employees. You may make more money in San Francisco than a federal employee in a similar grade will make in Huntsville. But anyone who has ever bought real estate and paid taxes in both locations will know that your money goes a lot further in Huntsville, Alabama. The result is that a federal employee living in Huntsville is going to have greater purchasing power than one living in San Francisco.

The solution? Get a federal job in Huntsville. Or, while it isn’t likely to do any good in the near term, you can complain to OPM that you are not being treated fairly and you should get a lot more money because of the higher cost of living in San Francisco.

So, you can move to Huntsville and experience the joy of Southern bar-b-que and sweet tea (and have more money left over after paying the bill) or enjoy the superior sushi and Napa Valley wines common to the the Bay Area (and not have money left after the bill has been paid ).

Welcome to the realities of the federal pay system.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47