The February brouhaha over the pay bill is now history. The current bloodletting in the House may have run its course with Jim Wright and Tony Coelho. The good work done by the Commission on Executive, Legislative and Judicial Salaries has gone for naught, mainly because its recommendation was so misunderstood by the public--and Congress wouldn't face up to the issue.
We now see many examples in the Bush Administration where qualified candidates will not take or can not keep appointments and where existing officials are leaving prematurely to escape onerous employment conditions. Just last week, H. Robert Heller, a Federal Reserve governor, announced that he would resign, saying he would have been able to stay had Congress approved a pay raise for top government officials.
Pay, of course, is not the entire problem or answer. Many non-financial factors are involved: challenge, sense of duty and service, the excitement and tremendous satisfaction of participating in a policy position in government, the knowledge and contacts gained--these are but a few of the rewards.
Unless we want top federal officials coming just from the wealthier classes of our society, we'd better face up to some real problems. Correcting the salary scale for senior executive service would be an excellent starter. Right now a huge financial sacrifice is involved in going to Washington, one of America's most costly places to live. I know because I've done it. A respectable salary level should be determined, one that at least doesn't involve outright financial losses. There probably always will be, and maybe should be, a differential between public and private pay scales, due to the other beneficial factors already mentioned. But the gross discrepancies existing at present only exacerbate ethical and other temptations.