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Testimony: 

Before the Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce and Agency 
Organization, Committee on Government Reform, U.S. House of 
Representatives: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 

GAO: 

For Release on Delivery Expected at 2:00 p.m. EDT: 

Wednesday, September 20, 2006: 

Human Capital: 

Trends in Executive and Judicial Pay Suggest a Reexamination of the 
Total Compensation Package: 

Statement of David M. Walker Comptroller General of the United States: 

GAO-06-1116T: 

GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-06-1116T, a testimony before the Chairman, 
Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce and Agency Organization, 
Committee on Government Reform, U.S. House of Representatives 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

People are critical to the success of the federal government’s overall 
transformation effort. Yet the government has not transformed, in many 
cases for decades, how it classifies, compensates, develops, and 
motivates its employees to achieve maximum results with available 
resources and existing authorities. This is especially the case with 
the federal government’s top leadership and federal justices and 
judges. 

Leading organizations understand that they must often change their 
culture to successfully transform themselves, and that such a change 
starts with top leadership. Most importantly, senior leaders who are 
drivers of continuous improvement are needed to stimulate and support 
efforts to facilitate change and achieve related transformation efforts 
for the federal government. 

At the Chairman’s request, we recently reported on executive and 
judicial pay—Human Capital: Trends in Executive and Judicial Pay (GAO-
06-708). This testimony highlights information from that report. 

What GAO Found: 

The pay rates for selected executive-level positions have not kept pace 
with the growth of wages from 1970 to 2006, as measured by the National 
Income and Product Accounts wage index for private industries. As shown 
below, for example, wages grew at nearly double the rate of basic pay 
for Executive Schedule level I positions, such as cabinet secretaries, 
and the Chief Justice. 

Figure: Cumulative Growth of Selected Executive-Level Pay Rates 
Compared to Prices and Wages: 

[See PDF for Image] 

Source: GAO-06-708. 

[End of Figure] 

To remain competitive in the market, organizations, including the 
federal government, may need to be flexible in the balance between cash 
and benefits that comprise the total compensation offered to employees. 
Total compensation includes elements such as cash—basic pay, locality 
pay, cash awards/bonuses; noncash benefits—annual and sick leave, 
health insurance; and deferred benefits—retirement (i.e., pension and 
health), life insurance. Any restructuring of executive and judicial 
pay should consider basic pay received as one part of the total 
compensation package. 

While the types of experiences, responsibilities, required knowledge 
and skills, type of appointment, and length of service vary both within 
and across executive-level positions, moving forward, a commission may 
be an option for reexamining executive and judicial pay and 
compensation to ensure that the federal government’s total compensation 
is both reasonable and competitive in order for the government to 
obtain and retain the top talent it needs to address current and 
emerging 21st century challenges in a responsible and sustainable 
manner. 

[Hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-06-1116T]. 

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
the link above. For more information, contact Lisa Shames at (202) 512-
6806 or shamesl@gao.gov. 

[End of Section] 

Chairman Porter, Representative Davis, and Members of the Subcommittee: 

I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to discuss our recent 
report on long-term trends in executive and judicial pay that we 
prepared at your request, Chairman Porter.[Footnote 1] As I have stated 
frequently, people are critical to the success of the federal 
government's overall transformation effort. While progress has been 
made in addressing human capital challenges in the last few years, 
significant opportunities exist to improve strategic human capital 
management to respond to current and emerging 21st century challenges. 
For example, the government has not transformed, in many cases for 
decades, how it classifies, compensates, develops, and motivates its 
employees to achieve maximum results within available resources and 
existing authorities[Footnote 2]. This is especially the case with the 
federal government's top leadership and federal justices and judges. 
Leading organizations understand that they must often change their 
culture to successfully transform themselves, and that such a change 
starts with top leadership. Most importantly, senior leaders who are 
drivers of continuous improvement are needed to stimulate and support 
efforts to facilitate change and achieve related transformation efforts 
for the federal government. 

In our report on executive and judicial pay, we found that generally 
the salaries for the federal government's senior leaders, including 
political appointees and federal justices and judges, have not been 
keeping pace with inflation or the growth of wages over the past 30 
years. Our work is consistent with the National Commission on the 
Public Service's findings that the salaries for top-level government 
officials have not been keeping pace with inflation or maintaining 
reasonable relationships to the market. In 2003, the Commission 
recommended that top-level officials in the executive, legislative, and 
judicial branches receive significant increases in their salaries to 
ensure a reasonable relationship to relevant professional positions, 
such as leaders in not-for-profit and educational organizations or 
state and local governments.[Footnote 3] The Commission also 
recommended that Congress break the statutory link, which has been in 
place since 1989, between the salaries of Members of Congress and those 
of federal justices and judges and senior political appointees. The 
Commission noted that this contributes to the salaries of executive- 
level positions falling substantially behind cost-of-living increases 
and trends in the market's compensation. 

Today, I will focus on three key points. Specifically, I will discuss 
(1) how trends in executive and judicial pay have generally not kept 
pace with inflation or the growth of wages, (2) how basic pay should be 
considered along with other benefits when examining the value of total 
compensation in order to remain competitive to the market for executive 
and judicial positions, and (3) what principles should guide any 
possible restructuring of executive and judicial pay in order to 
attract the talent needed to address 21st century challenges. We have 
also identified illustrative issues that deserve further 
reconsideration in moving forward with any executive and judicial pay 
restructuring. My statement is based on published GAO products that 
were conducted in accordance with generally accepted government 
auditing standards. 

Trends in Executive and Judicial Pay: 

A key trend we reported is that executive-level pay rates generally 
have not kept pace with inflation since 1970, regardless of the 
inflation index used. In our recent report, we adjusted the basic pay 
rates from 1970 for selected executive-level positions to calendar year 
2006 dollars using the Bureau of Economic Analysis's Gross Domestic 
Product (GDP) price deflator and the Bureau of Labor Statistics's 
Consumer Price Index (CPI). From 1970 to 2006, the CPI has increased at 
an average annual rate of 4.7 percent, whereas the GDP price deflator 
has increased at an average annual rate of 4.0 percent. While each 
index has its strengths and weaknesses in measuring inflation, 
historically inflation as measured by the CPI has tended to outpace 
inflation as measured by the GDP price deflator.[Footnote 4] For 
detailed information on the executive-level positions within the 
selected pay plans and the differences in their nominal and inflation- 
adjusted basic pay rates, see appendix I. 

Using the GDP price deflator to adjust for inflation, the basic pay for 
selected Executive Schedule positions and federal justices and judges 
has declined from 1970 to 2006, as shown in figure 1. For example, in 
1970, 

* cabinet secretaries (paid at Executive Schedule level I) were paid 
$250,204 (in 2006 dollars) compared to $183,500 in 2006--a decline of 
about 27 percent; 

* deputy secretaries (paid at Executive Schedule level II) were paid 
$177,228 (in 2006 dollars) compared to $165,200 in 2006--a decline of 
about 7 percent; 

* the Chief Justice was paid $260,629 (in 2006 dollars) compared to 
$212,100 in 2006--a decline of about 19 percent; and: 

* district judges were paid $166,802 (in 2006 dollars) compared to 
$165,200 in 2006--a decrease of about 1 percent. 

Figure 1: Basic Pay Rates for Selected Executive-Level Positions 
Adjusted for Inflation Using the Gross Domestic Product Price Deflator 
(in 2006 Dollars): 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO-06-708. 

[End of figure] 

Similarly, the value of the basic pay for selected Executive Schedule 
positions and federal justices and judges has declined when adjusted 
for inflation using the CPI. Specifically, as shown in figure 2, in 
1970, 

* cabinet secretaries (paid at Executive Schedule level I) were paid 
$309,049 (in 2006 dollars) compared to $183,500 in 2006--a decline of 
about 41 percent; 

* deputy secretaries (paid at Executive Schedule level II) were paid 
$218,910 (in 2006 dollars) compared to $165,200 in 2006--a decline of 
about 25 percent; 

* the Chief Justice was paid $321,926 (in 2006 dollars) compared to 
$212,100 in 2006--a decline of about 34 percent; and: 

* district judges were paid $206,033 (in 2006 dollars) compared to 
$165,200 in 2006--a decrease of about 20 percent. 

Figure 2: Basic Pay Rates for Selected Executive-Level Positions 
Adjusted for Inflation Using the Consumer Price Index (in 2006 
Dollars): 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO-06-708. 

[End of figure] 

As I previously mentioned, the CPI has tended to outpace inflation as 
measured by the GDP price deflator. Thus, the differences in inflation-
adjusted basic pay rates from 1970 to 2006 are greater when using the 
CPI than the GDP price deflator. 

Another trend we reported is that selected executive-level pay rates 
have not kept pace with the growth of wages from 1970 to 2006. To 
measure the growth of wages, we used the Bureau of Economic Analysis's 
National Income and Product Accounts wage index for private 
industries.[Footnote 5] As shown in figure 3, wages have grown at a 
greater rate from 1970 to 2006 compared to the basic pay for selected 
executive-level positions. Specifically, wages grew at nearly double 
the rate of basic pay for Executive Schedule level I positions, such as 
cabinet secretaries, and the Chief Justice. 

Figure 3: Cumulative Growth of Selected Executive-Level Pay Rates 
Compared to Prices and Wages: 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO-06-708. 

Notes: Cumulative growth when normalized to 1970 values (1970=1). Price 
growth is based on the GDP price deflator and the CPI. Wage growth is 
based on the Bureau of Economic Analysis's National Income and Product 
Accounts wage index for private industries. 

[End of figure] 

The Value of Total Compensation for Executive and Judicial Positions: 

While executive and judicial pay overall has declined in value when 
adjusted for inflation, any restructuring of executive and judicial pay 
should consider basic pay received as one part of the total 
compensation package. We have reported that a competitive compensation 
system that provides individuals a mix of base pay plus other 
incentives can help organizations attract, motivate, and retain a 
quality workforce.[Footnote 6] Total compensation includes elements 
such as cash--basic pay, locality pay, cash awards/bonuses; noncash 
benefits--annual and sick leave, health insurance; and deferred 
benefits--retirement (i.e., pension and health), life insurance. 

It is important to note that the value of the total compensation will 
differ given an individual's choice (e.g., to use child care facilities 
or purchase life insurance), each agency's program decision (e.g., to 
participate in the student loan repayment program), and the types of 
compensation elements that are offered to different positions. In 
particular, we found that the cash, noncash, and deferred benefits vary 
within and across the different executive-level positions. For example, 
at present, selected Executive Schedule positions, administrative law 
judges (ALJs), inspectors general (IGs), and federal justices and 
judges do not receive cash awards/bonuses due to the nature of their 
positions, while career senior executives may receive them. All of the 
executive-level positions may receive noncash benefits, such as health 
and life insurance and retirement. However, there are differences in 
retirement, such as larger benefits, for federal justices and judges 
compared to other executive-level positions. 

Organizations, including the federal government, may need to be 
flexible in the balance between cash and benefits that comprise the 
total compensation offered to employee groups in order to remain 
competitive in the market. For example, we recently reported for 
military personnel that the current mix of compensation is highly 
inefficient for meeting near-term recruiting and retention 
needs.[Footnote 7] We reported that pay received today is generally 
accepted as a far more efficient tool than future cash or benefits for 
recruitment and retention of military personnel, especially given the 
fact that the active duty workforce is mainly comprised of people in 
their twenties. The vast majority of that workforce preferred a lump- 
sum cash payment versus deferred compensation in the form of an annuity 
when given the choice. More generally, in discussing what incentives 
attract individuals to public service, the Merit Systems Protection 
Board has reported that people come to work for and stay with the 
federal government for a variety of reasons besides base pay. Among 
these reasons, obviously, is the desire to make a contribution and the 
personal pride or satisfaction in their work as well as the variety of 
benefits provided to employees.[Footnote 8] 

Thus, the federal government may need to shift the balance of total 
compensation between pay and benefits in its pay plans in order to 
recruit and retain the needed talent. While we did not determine in our 
recent report the balance of total compensation between pay and 
benefits within and across executive-level positions, overall federal 
civilian employees receive, in broad terms, most of their compensation-
-about 67 percent--in salary and wages and about 33 percent in the form 
of benefits or deferred compensation.[Footnote 9] For workers in 
private industries, we recently reported that their salary and wages 
made up 71 percent of total compensation, while benefits accounted for 
29 percent.[Footnote 10] However, additional analysis would be needed 
to determine if these ratios correspond to executive and judicial 
positions. For example, unlike other federal employees, federal 
justices and judges are permitted to retire with full pay and benefits 
when the sum of the judge's age and number of years on the bench is 80. 

Principles for Restructuring Executive and Judicial Pay: 

The federal government needs to attract and retain the quality and 
quantity of executive leadership necessary to address 21st century 
challenges. To help the government remain competitive with the relevant 
markets, any restructuring of executive and judicial pay should be 
guided by a set of principles. Executive and judicial pay plans should 
be: 

* sensitive to hiring and retention trends--actual trends, such as 
demographic, workforce, and economic trends and their effects on the 
federal government's ability to hire and retain high-quality persons 
for these positions are considered; 

* reflective of responsibilities, knowledge and skills, tenure, and 
contributions--the positions are appropriately compensated to reflect 
these differences both within and across executive-level pay plans; 

* transparent--Congress, leadership, and the public can easily 
understand the value of the compensation and contributions; 

* market-sensitive--the compensation of the relevant markets (e.g., 
private or nonprofit sectors) is appropriately considered; 

* flexible to economic change--changes in the nation's economy, such as 
extraordinary economic circumstances or severe budgetary constraints, 
can be accommodated; 

* sustainable--over the longer term, given known cost trends and risks 
and future fiscal imbalances, executive-level pay plans are financially 
sustainable; and: 

* competitive--reasonable total compensation and other elements 
necessary to attract and retain leadership can help ensure the optimum 
use of taxpayers' dollars and make the most efficient allocation 
between cash and noncash benefits. 

Issues for Reconsideration in Executive and Judicial Pay: 

While the types of experiences, responsibilities, and required 
knowledge and skills vary both within and across executive-level 
positions, as well as the type of appointment and length of service, 
there are several illustrative issues that deserve further 
reconsideration in possibly restructuring executive and judicial pay. 

* Maintaining a reasonable relationship across executive-level 
positions. In 1970, there was no overlap in the pay for the Executive 
Schedule and the other executive-level positions, such as career senior 
executives. Specifically, the lowest pay level of the Executive 
Schedule (level V) covering positions such as commissioners or general 
counsels of smaller agencies was greater than the maximum basic pay for 
career senior executives. By 1990, these pay plans began to overlap so 
that the lowest paid political appointees under the Executive Schedule 
were making less than the highest paid career senior executives. By 
2006, the pay for Executive Schedule level II covering positions such 
as deputy secretaries of cabinet departments equaled the maximum basic 
pay for career senior executives not including cash awards/bonuses. 

A commission may be an option for reexamining executive and judicial 
pay and compensation and exploring ways to maintain a reasonable 
relationship across these executive-level positions and to the relevant 
markets, such as nonprofit and educational organizations or state and 
local governments. This would help ensure that the federal government's 
total compensation is reasonable and competitive in order for the 
government to obtain and retain the top talent it needs. In 1967, 
Congress established the Commission on Executive, Legislative, and 
Judicial Salaries (known as the Quadrennial Commission) to study 
salaries of political appointees, Members of Congress, federal justices 
and judges, and other top-level government officials every 4 years and 
report to the President on its recommendations for salary increases. 
The Commission--composed of nine individuals appointed from the private 
sector--was to recommend salary increases for these positions in order 
to maintain a reasonable relationship between these positions and with 
private sector salaries. The President accepted the recommended salary 
increases for these positions, which went into effect in 1969. For 
example, the salary for cabinet secretaries increased from $35,000 in 
1968 to $60,000 in 1969. In 1989, Congress abolished the Quadrennial 
Commission, transferring its authority and responsibilities to the 
Citizens' Commission on Public Service and Compensation. However, this 
Commission, which was to be appointed during fiscal year 1993 and then 
every fourth fiscal year, has never been appointed. Commission members 
were to be appointed from private life by the President, Congressional 
leadership, and the Chief Justice, among others. 

* Recognizing equity issues. At our recent panel on the authorities and 
responsibilities of IGs, the majority of panel participants stated that 
the pay structure for IGs needed to be addressed given the importance 
of providing reasonable and competitive compensation.[Footnote 11] 
Currently, there are differences in the basic pay rates for IGs based 
on the level of appointment, even though the powers and duties extended 
to IGs in either appointment are essentially the same. Most IGs for 
cabinet departments and major agencies are appointed by the President 
subject to Senate confirmation (paid at Executive Schedule level IV). 
However, IGs for some agencies, such as the National Science Foundation 
and the Securities and Exchange Commission, are appointed by the agency 
head and paid at varying amounts including General Schedule grade 15 or 
Senior Executive Service (SES) pay rates. Such equity issues should be 
examined in any restructuring of executive-level pay. 

* Considering performance-based bonuses. There are executive-level 
positions that are not eligible to receive bonuses (or awards) due to 
the nature of the positions. For example, selected Executive Schedule 
positions that are appointed by the President subject to Senate 
confirmation (including selected IGs), ALJs, and federal justices and 
judges do not. Bonuses awarded within a system that incorporates 
appropriate safeguards may be an option for rewarding individuals in 
these positions for their contributions. Appropriate safeguards, 
including reasonable transparency and appropriate accountability 
mechanisms, can help ensure fairness and prevent abuse. Any bonuses 
must be performance-based with a mechanism for assessing individuals' 
performance from multiple sources of input. In addition, checks and 
balances to help ensure that the positions' independence is not 
compromised are especially important for IGs, federal justices and 
judges, and selected other positions. 

* Recognizing anomalies between comparable pay plans. There are 
anomalies between comparable pay plans, such as for the career SES and 
senior level/scientific or professional (SL/ST) positions. For example, 
as of January 2004, the aggregate pay cap (basic pay plus awards/ 
bonuses) for SES and SL/ST positions is higher for individuals whose 
agencies have performance management systems certified by the Office of 
Personnel Management with concurrence from the Office of Management and 
Budget. However, the higher basic pay cap only applies to SES members 
under certified performance management systems, not SL/ST positions. 

Conclusions: 

As I have discussed, leading organizations understand that they must 
often change their culture to successfully transform themselves, and 
that such a change starts with top leadership. To help attract this 
talent, restructuring of executive and judicial pay--guided by a set of 
principles--may be necessary to help the government remain competitive 
with the relevant markets. However, any restructuring of executive and 
judicial pay should consider basic pay received by executive-level 
positions as one part of the total compensation package. Further, the 
federal government may need to shift the mix of total compensation 
between pay and benefits in order to recruit and retain the needed 
executive-level talent. Moving forward, a commission may be an option 
for reexamining executive and judicial pay and compensation to ensure 
that the federal government's total compensation is both reasonable and 
competitive in order for the government to obtain and retain the top 
talent it needs to address current and emerging 21st century challenges 
in a responsible and sustainable manner. 

Chairman Porter, Representative Davis, and Members of the Subcommittee, 
this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to respond to any 
questions that you may have. 

Contact and Acknowledgments: 

For further information regarding this statement, please contact Lisa 
Shames, Acting Director, at (202) 512-6806 or shamesl@gao.gov. Janice 
Latimer made key contributions to this statement. 

[End of section] 

Appendix I: Percentage Differences in Nominal and Inflation-Adjusted 
Basic Pay Rates for Executive-Level Positions from 1970 to 2006: 

[See PDF for Image] 

Source: GAO. 

Notes: We provided the maximum basic pay rates for the Senior Executive 
Service, senior-level/scientific or professional, administrative law 
judge, and Board of Contract Appeals positions and included locality 
pay for the Washington, D.C./Baltimore area in the basic pay rates for 
the senior-level/scientific or professional, administrative law judge, 
Board of Contract Appeals, and General Schedule grade 15, step 10, 
positions in 2006. 

[End of Figure] 

FOOTNOTES 

[1] GAO, Human Capital: Trends in Executive and Judicial Pay, GAO-06-
708 (Washington, D.C.: June 21, 2006). 

[2] GAO, 21st Century Challenges: Reexamining the Base of the Federal 
Government, GAO-05-325SP (Washington, D.C.: February 2005). 

[3] The National Commission on the Public Service, Urgent Business for 
America: Revitalizing the Federal Government for the 21st Century 
(Washington, D.C.: January 2003). 

[4] For more information on these inflation indexes, see the full 
report on trends in executive and judicial pay, GAO-06-708. 

[5] This wage index provided a continuous series of wage data from 1970 
to 2006. Wage and salary data pertaining to a more narrowly defined 
sector of the nonfederal workforce (e.g., white collar workers) was not 
available during this time period. 

[6] GAO, Human Capital: Symposium on Designing and Managing Market- 
Based and More Performance-Oriented Pay Systems, GAO-05-832SP 
(Washington, D.C.: July 27, 2005). 

[7] GAO, Military Personnel: DOD Needs to Improve the Transparency and 
Reassess the Reasonableness, Appropriateness, Affordability, and 
Sustainability of Its Military Compensation System, GAO-05-798 
(Washington, D.C.: July 19, 2005). 

[8] U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, The Federal Workforce for the 
21st Century: Results of the Merit Principles Survey 2000 (Washington, 
D.C.: September 2003). 

[9] GAO-05-798. 

[10] GAO, Employee Compensation: Employer Spending on Benefits Has 
Grown Faster Than Wages Due Largely to Rising Costs for Health 
Insurance and Retirement Benefits, GAO-06-285 (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 
24, 2006). 

[11] GAO, Highlights of the Comptroller General's Panel on Federal 
Oversight and the Inspectors General, GAO-06-931SP (Washington, D.C.: 
Sept. 11, 2006). 

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