Obama tasks OPM with tackling equal pay in government

President Barack Obama wants to make sure federal employees are getting an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work — regardless of gender.

In a May 10 memo sent to the heads of departments and agencies, Obama tasked the Office of Personnel Management with studying whether agency practices contribute to pay inequalities between men and women and with formulating a governmentwide strategy to tackle the gender pay gap.

Equal pay for equal work in the government has been the law since John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963.

Nevertheless, a wage gap between men and women working in the federal government has persisted.

In 2007, women in the federal government earned 11 cents less for every dollar earned by men, according to a 2009 report from the Government Accountability Office. Of that 11-cent gap, 7 cents could not be explained by differences in education, years of service or any other non-discriminatory factor, GAO said.

OPM has six months to conduct its analysis and submit a strategy, according to Obama’s memo. The strategy should include:

  • An analysis of whether the General Schedule pay scale system contributes to the gender pay gap and how to change it
  • Guidance to agencies for making starting salaries more transparent
  • Recommendations for additional White House or congressional actions that could help narrow the gap

Within 90 days, agencies are required to provide to OPM their current policies for setting starting salaries for new employees. Agencies also must hand over their current policies addressing salaries for employees who return to the workplace after taking extended time off — including to raise children — and promotion policies for employees who work part-time schedules.

The federal wage gap has declined significantly over the past few decades. In 1987, women employed by the federal government earned 28 cents less for every dollar earned by men, according to GAO.

Women working in the private sector today are paid an average of 77 cents for every dollar paid to men, according to the National Equal Pay Task Force.

Janet Kopenhaver, the Washington representative of the group Federally Employed Women, said she believes equal pay in government merits attention.

“We do still think this 11-cent gap needs to be addressed especially considering how the federal pay scales and grades work (all pay grades being equal),” Kopenhaver wrote in an email to Federal News Radio. “There truly is no reason for an unexplained salary gap based on gender.”


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