Federal pay

The controversy over public-sector pay and benefits is raging across the country as local governments and states find themselves struggling to meet their obligations. But the issue has now become a hot topic in our nation's capital.

On Monday, the Congressional Budget Office reported that the average federal worker makes about 2 percent more than his counterpart in the private sector -- and that number jumps to 16 percent when pension and health benefits enter the equation. The divide is most stark in low-skilled jobs. Federal workers with a high school diploma or less earn almost $4 more per hour than they would working in a comparable private-sector job.

The CBO found that highly skilled federal workers -- doctors, engineers, attorneys and the like -- make less than they likely would in the private sector, but they also enjoy significantly better benefits and job security.

The report concluded that the average benefits package for federal workers -- which number about 2.3 million, not counting the military -- is worth 48 percent more than what private-sector workers receive for comparable jobs.

Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who chairs the House Budget Committee, weighed in with a statement: "While millions of Americans continue to struggle with stagnant wages and high unemployment, government bureaucrats in Washington continue to enjoy significant advantages over those whose tax dollars finance their compensation."

The CBO's findings come as the House considers extending a current pay freeze for another year and asking federal employees to pay more of their own health insurance costs.

This should be a no-brainer -- but it doesn't go far enough. By all means keep wages flat and reduce the taxpayer subsidies for health insurance. But if Republicans hope to get a handle on federal personnel costs, they must introduce legislation to direct all new hires into defined-contribution retirement accounts rather than the more expensive defined-benefit plans that are virtually no longer available in the private sector. It's the least Washington can do for those private-sector drones who pay for this whole operation.