The battle between federal workers and government contractors still wages – who really has it best and who truly makes the most?

A new report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) calls into question the widely held assumption that government employees make far less than their contractor counterparts. The CBO study looked at compensation between 2005 and 2010 and compared workers with similar backgrounds, occupations and education levels.

The surprising part may be this factoid – government workers with no more than a high school education earn significantly more than their private sector counterparts – to the tune of 21 percent more, on average. Worker’s with a bachelor’s degree earned roughly the same working for the federal government as they would in the private sector. Add-in benefits however and federal government workers with a bachelor’s degree received approximately 15 percent more total compensation in the form of benefits.

Where the private sector finally begins to trump federal government salaries is for workers with professional degrees or doctorates – these workers typically earned more in the private sector.

What does this mean for workers? It’s a debate we’ve long been discussing here at ClearanceJobs and it still boils down to one thing – preference. Most individuals will cite a preference for one form of employment versus another. As budget cycles and government spending comes and goes, some individuals will transition between government and private sector work multiple times in a career. At the end of the day, however, money is typically not the main motivating factor – a motivated employee can carve out a great earning with better-than-private sector benefits in the government. That same employee can find a great career in the private sector doing enjoyable work with perhaps more flexibility or base salary.

So, what do you have to say? Does the CBO study hold with your personal experience? What is your preference – government or private sector?

Lindy Kyzer is the editor of She loves cybersecurity, social media, and the U.S. military. She’s worked in the private sector and for the government, but her office in the Pentagon used to pay her in bottle caps so it’s hard to compare salaries. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email

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Lindy Kyzer is the director of content at Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email Interested in writing for Learn more here.. @LindyKyzer