Problems With the Federal Wage System Schedule - FederalPay.org
Federal employees are paid according to a complex pay scale called the General Schedule (GS). The General Schedule is a systematic pay scale system that assigns a grade between GS-1 and GS-15 to each specific job. Grades are assigned based on the job itself, experience, and education level. Veterans who apply for federal positions after their military careers are completed may find the GS system similar in rigidity to the pay scale system for service members. However, applicants who are leaving the civilian world often find the GS system overly rigid and outdated.
The GS Pay Scale is Overly Complex
The Federal Government is a giant bureaucracy, and it is known for being slow and inefficient. It is not surprising that the government also complicates how the government pays its employees. Federal government salary and wage scales are public information, but that information can be difficult to find and understand. It is scattered across the internet and once located, it is difficult to parse.
The federal government uses many different pay scales. Blue-collar jobs like those in the craft, trade, and manual labor industries are paid using the Federal Wage System Schedule (FWS). Unlike other salary-based scales, the FWS is wage-based, meaning employees are paid hourly. The FWS system is confusing and convoluted, even by the federal government’s standards. FWS is the second most widely used pay scale within the federal government. It is used to calculate the pay of over 10 million Americans every year.
The federal pay scales are designed to ensure that federal blue-collar workers are paid a fair wage that is equivalent to what workers make in the private sector. The government conducts regular surveys to determine fair wages based on the geographic area and the type of work performed. However, this system is considered by many to be outdated and overly complex. Many FWS jobs are paid too much or not enough. The FWS location boundaries were drawn in the 1970s and can no longer be used to fairly determine the pay of all FWS workers today.
GS Salaries are Behind Comparable Private-Sector Jobs
The wage surveys are used to determine fair wages for the different types of blue-collar jobs within the federal government’s labor force. When these jobs common ones like include plumbers and electricians, there is plenty of private sector information to survey. However, when the federal government is the only major employer within a certain area or field, gathering comparable information becomes increasingly difficult.
Due to issues like these, President Obama signed an executive order mandating a $10.10 minimum wage for all federal employees and contractors. While efforts like this do help, they are not always enough. Similarly, the Federal Employee Pay Comparability Act did provide some flexibility regarding pay scales. These reforms are essentially band-aids that do not address or change the main problems with the GS system.
Government Starting Salaries are Not Competitive
The federal government has sought to increase the performance levels of federal employees. While pay is not the most important issue for every job applicant, it is a factor. Many private-sector companies pay above-market salaries as a way to attract and hire qualified talent. Salaries that are below market-based salaries often deter applicants. Low pay is one of the employees’ most common complaints, especially when working for the federal government. To address staffing, retention, and performance problems, the federal government should increase starting salaries for many federal jobs.
The simple truth remains that the starting salaries for federal positions for high-demand occupations are not competitive enough. The below-market starting salaries make it difficult for agencies to staff positions. Every year, salaries are adjusted, but these adjustments are generally automatic. Therapy is necessary for retaining talent and hiring new graduates. The market comparisons are complicated and not always accurate because of the process the Bureau of Labor Statistics is required to use.
The Step System is Not Enough
The government payscale does provide employees raises when they obtain an automatic step increase. However, these increases are not tied to the employee’s performance. In private sector companies, employers can pay to attract and reward high performers through performance bonuses. The government cannot give employees bonuses based on performance. Many high-demand federal positions are hard to fill for various reasons, including the location of the job. If the job is in an undesirable place to live with a high local cost of living and communing nightmares, the position will be extremely hard to change.
The GS System Needs Comprehensive Change
The FWS system has been modified so often that it is extremely difficult for an average American citizen to understand its patchwork of complexities. Because wage information is so hard to find and comprehend across a number of websites, many prospective federal employees may not know what their wages will be until after they commit to a job.
Blue-collar employees are some of the most vulnerable employees in the federal government. They deserve a more modern pay system. Blue-collar workers should be paid fairly and predictably, and the Federal Wage System Schedule in its current form cannot effectively meet these needs.
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