Too Many Within-Grade Steps

January 16, 2011 1:02 PM , Updated October 17, 2016 1:10 PM
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As we all know, the two-year salary freeze has a loophole. Step increases will still be granted. This suggests another way to achieve savings, a way that will be permanent, and will ultimately save lots more money.

If the freeze included step increases, then a GM-14 step 8 (in Washington, D.C.) would not see his salary increase, from $129,758 to $133,264. Also, his GM-15 step 7 boss would stay at $148,510, instead of rising to $152,635.

How many of us would feel much sympathy in the above two cases? However, at the lower level, it’s different. A lost step increase for a GS-7 employee is far more likely to affect his standard of living.

Consider this: a GS-13, step 1 employee is paid $89,033, while a GS-13, step 10 in the same office doing the same work gets $115,742. They are the same grade, ostensibly doing equivalent work. Is the work of the second fellow really worth $26,709 (+30%) more than the first? More, yes, but not (in my opinion) THAT much more.

No, I am not proposing to freeze step increases.

Federal employees are going to be clobbered – we all know it. The only questions have to do with how and when. I propose a way that might be more acceptable than others: Change the pay system so there are fewer step increases at the higher grades.

It could work like this:

Grade Steps
13 and up 1-6 (abolish steps 7,8,9, and 10
9-12 1-8 (abolish steps 9 and 10)
1-7 1-10 (no change)

This change would be prospective, of course. I’m not advocating reductions in current salary! Also, employees at grade 7 and below would not be affected.

The fiscal crisis is large and grave. In order to fix it, there will need to be drastic cuts throughout the system, cuts that will in one way or another affect nearly everybody. The pain is going to last a long time.

They used to simply put a “cap” on pay – nobody gets more than, say, $160,000. This was crude. With each passing year, the cap became progressively questionable. The current proposal is similar but more nuanced and not time-sensitive. I believe it has great potential.

As long as there must be cuts, how about this one? Could the higher grade employees somehow survive? I think so. Would they get angry and resign? Perhaps, but others would (gladly) take their places.

To the extent this one saves money, it might avert other, less palatable changes. What do you think?

© 2020 Robert F. Benson. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Robert F. Benson.


About the Author

Robert Benson served 35 years in various Federal agencies, as both a management analyst and IT specialist. He is a graduate of Northwestern University.