July 15 2013
The Next General in the War on Men’s Pay
Carrie L. Lukas
Having skewered Republicans in 2012 with accusations of a conservative “War on Women,” President Obama is marching ahead to expand government’s reach, particularly in the name of protecting women and promoting “gender pay equity.”
Meet Obama’s new General in this effort: Ms. Katherine Archuleta, his nominee to lead the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
OPM is the government’s chief human resource agency, and as such, can be a powerful weapon in laying the groundwork for greater government oversight over compensation practices. Men struggling economically should take note: They may be among the collateral damage of government’s campaign to build a more “equitable” economy.
If you are a man who is struggling economically take note: you may be among the collateral damage of government’s campaign to build a more “equitable” economy.
The OPM’s primary responsibility is to oversee the compensation system for the 2.7 million member federal civilian workforce. Currently, however, the OPM is also developing a government-wide strategy for advancing “pay equity,” a task Archuleta will take over if confirmed.
These marching orders were issued in May in a presidential memorandum. OPM must analyze agencies’ compensation practices to identify factors that contribute to differences in average pay between men and women, develop guidance for creating greater transparency about salary determinations, and recommend additional actions—studies or legislation—for narrowing any gender pay gap.
This is part of the OPM’s mission to “make the Federal government America’s model employer for the 21st century.” Sadly, the administration’s plan of attack rests of some shoddy reconnaissance work. The presidential memo mischaracterizes the enemy, lamenting that, “women are paid 77 cents for every dollar paid to men,” and that these “unjust pay disparities are a detriment to women, families, and our economy.”
Yet study after study has shown that the statistical gap between men and women’s earnings can’t simply be blamed on discrimination.
In fact, the different choices that men and women make—such as about what subject to study, profession to enter, specialty to pursue, and the number of hours to devote to their jobs—are the primary drivers of the differences in men and women’s average earnings.
For example, when looking specifically at the federal workforce, the Government Accountability Office found that in 2007 all but seven cents of the wage gap between men and women could be explained by occupation, experience, and levels of education. Note that this does not mean that seven percent is entirely a product of discrimination, only that it could not be explained by these factors.
Ms. Archuleta who was the chief of staff at the Department of Labor from 2009-11 should be familiar with this type of analysis, and the studies that show that, at a minimum, the 77-cents-on-the-dollar is a gross exaggeration of sexism’s role in impacting women’s earnings.
She seems, however, unencumbered with this inconvenient knowledge, and in her most recent post—as the National Political Director for the president's re-election organization, Obama for America—she proved herself an ideal soldier to advance the administration’s position.
Archuleta fired off tweets such as “@BarackObama is fighting for equal pay for women. All Mitt Romney has is a #SketchyDeal OFA.BO/upnZdR .” which is likely a depressingly accurate preview of the kind of deep analysis we can expect as the OPM develops its equal pay strategy under Archuleta.
Men can glean all they need to from the telling phrasing in the presidential memo, that the goal is to “narrow any gender pay gap.”
This isn’t about rooting out discrimination. No, the purpose is simply to make the statistics work so that the average working women earns the same as the average working man, regardless of whether differences in pay were based on legitimate factors.
Salary decisions, such as to pay more for positions that require certain expertise or that include exposure to danger or grueling conditions, may be found out-of-bounds if men disproportionately take advantage of these high-earning options.
The OPM’s new strategy will first influence the federal workforce, but that should be little comfort to the private sector.
It’s easy to imagine how this “guidance” will quickly spill into the broader economy, first as a condition to be eligible for any government contract and then as outright regulations and mandates.
The end result won’t simply be higher pay for women and lower pay for men. The real outcome will be a less flexible, less dynamic workplace as government moves further into regimenting the compensation practices of American employers.
President Obama believes Ms. Archutela is the right person to lead government’s new charge into employment contracts. Americans should ask themselves: Is this campaign really in our national interest?
Carrie Lukas is the managing director of the Independent Women’s Forum.