Salary weighs on mind of feds execs, poll finds

Salary weighs on mind of feds execs, poll finds

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

Government executives believe that competitive salaries are critical to recruiting and retaining key managers, but few think the government will provide salaries comparable to the private sector, a new survey has found.

In the survey of senior federal executives by PricewaterhouseCoopers Inc., 72 percent of respondents said that offering comparable salaries would help agencies recruit and keep career government leaders. Yet only 5 percent said they expect the government to do so.

In a report on the survey, Results of the Government Leadership Survey: A 1999 Survey of Federal Executives, PricewaterhouseCoopers' Endowment for the Business of Government in Arlington, Va., said that career executives stayed in the public sector because of the interesting and challenging work, the ability to make a difference, and their commitment to public service.

'However, four out of five career executives said they have thought, at one time or another, about leaving the government. The most-often-mentioned reason for thinking about leaving the public service is salary,' the survey said.

Most senior executives think the government will invest more in leadership training and improving recruiting and marketing strategies, the report said.

But they do not consider these activities as helpful as raising pay or creating more flexible pay systems, the survey found.

There has been a debate about whether there are two separate job markets: the private sector and the public sector, said Mark A. Abramson, the endowment's executive director. The survey shows that there is one job market, he said.

Government does not need to match private-sector pay, Abramson said. 'When government isn't quite there, it can still compete. But if the gap is too wide, government is at a severe disadvantage,' he said.

'We're getting a closer overlap in public and private sectors,' Abramson said. That is especially evident in the qualities that senior executives said were critical to success. 'There is no longer a difference in the qualities of leadership needed,' he said.

All executives need to have qualities such as adaptability, flexibility and vision, respondents reported.

The survey follows the Chief Information Officers Council's release last month of a report on the government's information technology work force. In its final version, the council dropped a proposal calling for the creation of a separate pay scale for federal systems employees [GCN, July 5, Page 1]. The report by the CIO Council's Education and Training Committee listed 13 priorities for attracting new workers and keeping current workers.

The separate salary schedule for IT workers may be an option, Abramson said, but there still needs to be some broad review of the current system. He called the government's existing pay schedules a piecemeal system that works against itself.

In a statement, Office of Personnel Management Director Janice R. Lachance said OPM will consider the survey's findings when it reviews the Senior Executive Service. As part of that review, OPM plans to take a close look at salaries.

'Although senior executives enjoy their positions and have adopted a new vision of leadership, two clouds are on the horizon,' the report said. In addition to the concerns about pay, senior executives worry that increased public and political scrutiny, and the cumbersome appointment process will make it even more difficult to recruit future political appointees.

Why they stay

Overwhelmingly, the government's senior executives said one reason for working in the public sector is that the work is interesting, exciting and challenging. Executives also ranked public service highly.

The findings are based on responses from a random sample of 347 of the 6,800 SES members. The endowment conducted its survey between November 1998 and January 1999. The participants represent 43 agencies and average 25 years in government service and eight years in SES. Of the respondents, 55 percent said they have worked in the private sector, too.

The report is posted on the Web at


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