Report Compares Military and Civilian Pay


A January 20, 2011 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office indicates that military personnel are paid more than most federal civilian employees. The CBO report, which was requested by Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), attempts to compare regular military compensation (base pay, basic allowance for subsistence, and basic allowance for housing) with the federal cash compensation (salary and overtime).

Several news sources and blogs have picked up the fact that the CBO report indicates that a typical servicemember is paid more than 75 percent of “comparable federal civilian” workers. Some are using the CBO report to support the arguement that the military is paid too much.

Specifically, the report states that the “median for enlisted personnel in 2010 exceeded cash compensation for most federal civilian employees with a high school degree and perhaps some college education.” In addition, the report’s author writes, “median cash compensation for enlisted personnel was at least as high as the 75th percentile of earnings for federal workers with comparable work experience.” The findings were similar for military officers when compared to their counterparts.

But is the comparison fair?
Many federal civilian workers may correctly argue that they serve in harms way alongside active duty members and have comparable circumstances. However, the CBO appears to see it otherwise. In fact, the final section of the report lists the factors which make comparing the two compensation systems difficult. Not the least of which are what the report refers to as the “intangibles.” These intangibles include frequent relocations, deployments, greater responsibility at earlier career points, and hazardous working conditions, not to mention the unlimited work hours (24/7 on call). The report’s author states that quantifying those intangible elements among military and federal civilians is “extremely difficult.”

Note: The report also mentions the combat factor, but combat related compensation was not included in the direct cash comparison.

Why the report and why now?
Some speculate that the request for the report may be related to Rep. Hoyer’s call late last year to freeze military pay  along with federal civilian pay. Hoyer has declined to indicate where he may head next; according to a spokesperson from Hoyer’s office, the congressman is not ready to make any judgment yet.

Read more about Hoyer’s original call to freeze military pay.

Read the full CBO report:
Analysis of Federal Civilian and Military Compensation.

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