View of Federal Employees: Are Feds Paid Fairly? Should There Be a PFP System?

Should there be a pay for performance system for federal employees? Are federal employees compensated fairly? Should the GS system be changed? Readers cut through the rhetoric and give their opinion on financial topics directly impacting the federal community.

Federal pay and benefits (including retirement benefits) have been the topic if numerous national news stories and political debates in the past year. That is unusual. Normally, these topics are confined to articles in the media such as–not on the editorial pages of small town newspapers or written up in the Associated Press.

But, as the pay and benefits of federal employees are determined by the political structure, the sudden attention is not too surprising since the government is deeply in debt and under pressure to fix the problem. The competing arguments are also not too surprising. Perhaps federal employees get pay and benefits that are 30% – 40% more than they would get in the private sector. Or, perhaps, the pay is 24% less than they would get in the private sector. It seems to depend on which data set is being used and the economic interests of those compiling the data.

What do federal employees think? Are federal employees paid too much, too little or is the pay and benefits package about right?

Should federal employees have a pay for performance system so that the best performing employees get more pay than those that routinely come to work but don’t do that much when they get there?

If the general schedule pay system is changed, would this result in a change in the federal pay levels?

We asked our readers to tell us what they think. As usual, many did so. We have found on previous surveys that readers often have views that are different than what other may expect. They tend to dismiss press releases from interest groups or the views espoused by the unions that represent them and harbor (and express) their own opinions. Some will conclude that is what has happened here.

Here are the results:

1. Do you favor changing the existing federal general schedule salary system? 

  • Yes: 40.5%
  • No:  59.5%

2. Do you think federal employees are fairly compensated when including salary and benefits? 

    Federal pay and benefits are generally too high: 4.3%

    Federal pay and benefits are generally too low: 35.0%

    Federal pay and benefits are generally about right: 60.7% 

3. Do you think a reform of the GS system would change existing salary levels?

  • Yes: 55.2%
  • No: 22.7%
  • Undecided: 22.1% 

4. Would you favor a pay for performance system for government pay?

  • Yes: 49.5%
  • No: 50.5%

Readers were quick to express their opinion on these topics and about 600 sent in their opinion in addition to voting in the survey. Here is a sampling of these comments that give a better understanding of the rationale for the opinions in this survey. Almost all of the comments sent in addressed pay for performance and that is reflected in these responses.

  • There are some employees that receive too much money for not doing their job. That is why I believe in pay for performance.
  • Performance is the key. Those who perform and bring benefit to their position should be recognized with higher pay. Those who basically show up and little less, should not be allowed to keep thier jobs, much less get a raise!
  • I’m in pay for performance and I have no schedule to go to to see if I’m being paid correctly. With the GS system at least you know where you stand and where you are headed. It’s a system meant to save the gov’t money by cutting costs. Nobody in Army likes it and rather than saying it’s a lousy system they say well it’s a good system but the implementation is flawed.  
  • Pay for performance, which I favor, is highly susceptible to favoritism and cronyism. Developing truly objective standards is a necessity before initiating a pay for performance system.
  • Federal work is not like private sector jobs, many times it is hard to quantify our work.We do not produce a product, or sell a produce, so it is very hard to fairly compare employees. A performance system would create even further inequities in pay, due to the nature of government work.
  • Some people at my activity are already under a pay for performance system. I think that most if not all people under this system get pay points whether they are good or bad performers. It also seems that some managers favor technical over non-technical workers. Thus, there is a bias based on job type rather than performance.
  • As a federal employee, I would love to see a performance based system. We need to trim the dead weight.
  • Should reform of the GS system be passed, existing salary levels would drop dramatically.
    A Pay for Performance system is also not the answer. The old saying, “if it’s not broke,
    don’t fix it” goes without saying.
  • Manager’s pay banding needs to be addressed. When the employees working
    under you make more money than you do…how is that fair?
  • I would not mind pay for performance within the GS structure, I also
    would like to see improvements in the removal process within the GS pay
    scale. I was in NSPS and it was a corrupt pay system.
  • Performance pay is ludicrous within government; As the majority of
    performance awards, as well as promotions, are now given to employees
    PERSONALLY liked by those selecting and not necessary due to
    performance. The thought that pay could be determined in a similar
    fashion would only add insult to injury. If pay was based on
    performance that is monitored by supervisors who may not like you, it
    would be a travesty and no way to address it.
  • Some agencies like mine are already under a performance based system. I
    would guess that most would say it’s treated them better than the GS
    system would have. Oddly enough, the one’s complaining and that don’t
    like it are the one’s that don’t seem to be pulling their weight.
  • I am a Federal employee now and I know for a fact that people are not
    treated equally. All managers that I have run into (in 18 yrs.) have
    favorites, those are the one that will get the up grades and higher
    salaries. I know how everyone talks the politically correct garbage, but
    its what on paper that speaks the loudest.
  • The way things are now, at least at the agency I work, the majority of
    work is done by some dedicated employees, while others just do the
    absolute minimum. A performance level should be the most important
    element in deciding the salary.
  • My concern is that changing the “pay system” is easier than improving
    the pay system. Developing and maintaining a system that would be
    viewed as equitable compared to other employers, fair to those
    compensated under the system, and where those outside and inside the
    system view it as contributing to the effectiveness of personnel in
    performing the organization’s mission requires a very high degree of
    success in dealing with human nature.
  • In a day and age where the budget deficit is $14T, I am against raising
    federal salaries. We all must do our part to bring this God-forsaken
    debt out of the red.
  • Management has abandoned the proper application of the classification
    standards. Grades have been creeping up because the standards have been
    ignored. More emphasis should be placed in training classification
    specialist in good classification actions and position management.
    Classification functions should be positioned to report to the
    instillation director instead of some lower level where they are subject
    to political pressure.
  • Monitoring performance has always been a part of the current GS system.
    The problem has been that personnel regulations on taking action
    against poor performers has been cumbersome and difficult, so
    supervisors are unlikely to undertake the required action to fix the
  • The problem isn’t the pay system. Instead of creating an entirely new
    system, the existing system could be tweaked. Make it easier to
    withhold WGI’s for poor performers, or to accelerate steps for top
    performers. Give agencies more flexibility in classifying positions and
    determining GS level required for the task at hand. There is no point
    in getting rid of the system when the problem is the ability to make
    decisions within the system.
  • The Federal government is a model of decent treatment of its workers.
    Pay for performance sounds wonderful, but whenever it is applied (my
    experience was with NSPS), it gets totally warped out of recognition. I
    am still from the old school of civil service employment: try to make
    it fair, avoid political intervention, and remember that customer
    service in the government setting doesn’t always please the customer,
    due to the myriad rules imposed on us by Congress.
  • There are too many workers who are paid to sit, talk and eat and not
    know much about the position they are in. This pertain to many
    secretary or clerical positions.
    Air traffic controllers are being paid way to high for what little they
    do. Yes the job is stressful but how many hours are actually worked.
    People know what is involved when applying for a job so they should not
    complain about what they must do or how much they are paid!
  • A pay for performance system is the only logical choice for any skilled
    positions. Employees should work the jobs they are most qualified for,
    and be rewarded when performing above their current level. In every
    other successful business or corporation, the best/most qualified
    employees are rewarded. Employee experience may be a key, but
    experience is different than tenure. From professional sports to most
    other professions, the ones rewarded with promotions and pay are the
    ones most qualified.
  • Overall, federal employees are fairly compensated. However, in general,
    I think administrative employees are probably overpaid compared to
    their private sector counterparts. After all, how many HR specialists
    in the private sector are paid GS-12 or GS-13 equivalent pay? The same
    could be said for many other administrative support positions.
  • We don’t make enough
  • Professional and executive pay is too low. Clerical and administrative
    pay is generally too high. Care should be taken on changing though,
    since there will be strong efforts to simply cut all pay and benefits in
    this atmosphere.

Our thanks to the approximately 1400 readers who took the time to vote in this survey and a special thanks to those who sent in their written comments.