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Gap between Federal Workers and Private Sector Workers is a whopping $38,548 

By Dennis Cauchon

Federal employees earn higher average salaries than private-sector workers in more than eight out of 10 occupations, a USA TODAY analysis of federal data finds.

Accountants, nurses, chemists, surveyors, cooks, clerks and janitors are among the wide range of jobs that get paid more on average in the federal government than in the private sector.

Overall, federal workers earned an average salary of $67,691 in 2008 for occupations that exist both in government and the private sector, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The average pay for the same mix of jobs in the private sector was $60,046 in 2008, some $7,645 below the average pay for federal workers.

However, these salary figures do not include the value of health, pension and other benefits, which averaged $40,785 per federal worker vs. $9,882 per private worker, a difference of $30,903 per worker in 2008, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

"The data flip the conventional wisdom on its head," says Cato Institute budget analyst Chris Edwards, a critic of federal pay policy. "Federal workers make substantially more than private workers, not less, in addition to having a large advantage in benefits."

Federal pay has become a hot political issue in recent months because of concerns over the federal budget deficit and recession-battered wages in the private sector.

US Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., made federal pay an issue in his successful campaign to fill Edward Kennedy's seat, and is fighting for a federal pay freeze.

USA TODAY used Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data to compare salaries in every federal job that had a private-sector equivalent. For example, the federal government's 57,000 registered nurses working for Veterans Affairs and elsewhere, were paid an average of $74,460 a year, $10,680 more than the average for private-sector nurses.

The BLS reports that 216 occupations covering 1.1 million federal workers exist in both the federal government and the private sector. An additional 124 federal occupations covering 750,000 employees (air-traffic controllers, tax collectors and others) did not have direct equivalents, according to the BLS.