The Federal Times calls it a “steel cage match” in which “two wonks enter, one wonk leaves.” Congressional hearings are never that exciting, but Wednesday’s House Oversight Committee hearing on federal pay does promise some spirited debate. At issue is how the federal government pays its civilian workers—and, more importantly, whether it pays them too much. Leaders of the Office of Personnel Management and National Treasury Employees Union will confront critics of federal pay for the first time in public. Those critics – “in the red corner” as the Federal Times puts it – are Heritage’s James Sherk and Andrew Biggs of AEI.

Defenders of the federal pay system will have a difficult task during the hearing. They must explain the following:

  • (a)    why federal workers earn 10 to 20 percent higher wages than private workers with the same skills
  • (b)   why private workers who switch into the federal government see a larger wage increase than private workers who find another private sector job
  • (c)    why federal workers earn benefits more generous than even workers in large private sector firms
  • (d)   why much greater job security in the federal sector is never part of pay comparisons
  • (e)    why federal workers quit their jobs at just one third the rate of private sector workers
  • (f)     why most federal jobs have waiting lists

With the weight of scholarly evidence bearing down on them, the smart money is not on the government or the unions in this “cage match.”