Federal employee salaries
Since 1969, pay for federal workers has increased 428 percent. During this same time period, pay for private sector workers has increased 632 percent.  Since 2005, the number of federal employees earning over $150,000 has jumped from 12,399 to 171,689. In December 2010, a spending freeze was placed on federal agencies, the Department of Homeland Security, and federal employee salaries.
Data Universe provides a database of federal government employee salaries, searchabe by name, agency, job title, or location. The results show the adjusted base salary and any merit award. Employees involved in security work, the FBI, CIA, Defense Department, nuclear materials, IRS, and jobs essential to national security are excluded. The list contains most executive branch employees but does not cover the White House, Congress, the Postal Service, and independent agencies and commissions.
Federal employee salaries
In 2008, the average wage for 1.9 million federal civilian workers was $79,197, which compared to an average $50,028 for the nation’s 108 million private sector workers (measured in full-time equivalents). When benefits are included, compensation for federal workers averaged $119,982 in 2008, which was more than double the private sector average of $59,909.
The percentage of federal employees making salaries of $100,000 or more jumped from 14% to 19% of civil servants during the recession's first 18 months (not taking into account overtime pay and bonuses. In December 2007, 1,868 Defense Department civilian employees earned $150,000 or more. That number had jumped to 10,100 by June 2009.
Salary change during recession
|Sector||Average salary||Salary change|
|State and local government||$54,101||3.9%|
When the recession started, the Transportation Department had only one person earning a salary of $170,000 or more. Eighteen months later, 1,690 employees had salaries above $170,000. An examination of data by the Cato Institute in January 2010 showed that the average quit rate in the state and local workforce in 2009 was just 1/3 that of the private sector, and found that outcome to suggest that state and local pay was more than necessary to attract and retain qualified workers.
Federal Wage System and General Schedule
Federal government employees fall under the Federal Wage System (FWS) or General Schedule (GS).
The FWS was established by Congress in 1972 and was developed to make the pay of federal blue-collar workers comparable to prevailing private sector rates in each local wage area. The FWS regular pay plan covers most trade, craft and laboring employees in the executive branch. The FWS does not cover Postal Service employees, legislative branch employees, or employees of private sector contracting firms. Under the FWS, the government employer bases pay on what private industry is paying for comparable levels of work in that local wage area.
These procedures are continually updated based on the advice of the Federal Prevailing Rate Advisory Committee (FPRAC), the statutory labor-management committee that advises the Director of OPM on the prevailing rate determination process. OPM defines the boundaries of wage areas, prescribes the required industries to be surveyed, the required job coverage for surveys and designates a lead agency for each wage area. OPM has designated the Department of Defense as the lead agency for all FWS wage areas to improve the administration of the FWS and achieve economies of scale.
A total of 206,803 workers were employed under the Federal Wage System as of September 2001.
Federal Wage System employment by agency
|Agency||Number of employees|
|Department of Defense|
|Department of the Air Force||48,639|
|Department of the Army||48,486|
|Department of the Navy||38,797|
|Other Defense Agencies||13,274|
|Department of Veterans Affairs||27,698|
|Department of the Interior||9,679|
|Department of Justice||5,444|
|Department of Agriculture||3,505|
|Department of Health and Human Services||2,432|
|Department of the Treasury||2,088|
|Department of Transportation||1,760|
|General Services Administration||1,690|
|Department of Commerce||544|
|Department of Energy||491|
|Social Security Administration||378|
|Armed Forces Retirement Home||221|
|Federal Emergency Management Agency||154|
|Broadcasting Board of Governors||129|
|International Boundary & Water Commission: U.S. and Mexico||103|
|Department of State||61|
|National Aeronautics and Space Administration||61|
|Executive Residence at the White House||36|
|Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation||30|
|Office of Personnel Management||28|
|Government Printing Office||24|
|Department of Labor||17|
|National Archives and Records Administration||17|
|U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum||16|
|Environmental Protection Agency||15|
|Securities and Exchange Commission||12|
|Railroad Retirement Board||10|
|Federal Communications Commission||9|
|Executive Office of the President, Office of Administration||9|
|Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation||9|
|Federal Trade Commission||8|
|Department of Education||7|
|Nuclear Regulatory Commission||7|
|International Boundary Commission: U.S. and Canada||5|
|National Labor Relations Board||5|
|Department of Housing and Urban Development||4|
|Small Business Administration||4|
|U.S. Tax Court||3|
|Office of Management and Budget||1|
|Overseas Private Investment Corporation||1|
|Selective Service System||1|
The GS scale applies to white-collar workers. The 2010 GS Base Pay Schedule ranges from $17,803 to $129,517. Salaries for employees who qualify as Senior Executive Service (SES), Senior Level (SL) and Scientific & Professional (ST) positions range from $119,554 to $179,700. All U.S. locations receive additional pay adjustments above the base pay ranging from 14.16% to 35.15%. Percentage pay adjustments by geographic locality
|Location||Percentage pay adjustment|
|Rest of U.S.||14.16%|
Each January, the law provides for GS employees to receive a general across-the-board increase based on the 12-month increase (if any) in the Employment Cost Index (less 0.5 percentage points), plus an increase, if warranted, based on the local cost of labor for white-collar occupations in each of the 32 GS locality pay areas.
Postal Service controversy
As the Postal Service was expected to have to fix a $230 billion, 10-year budget gap, a 2010 audit revealed that the agency was awarding no-bid contracts to past employees. The Postal Service approved more than 2,700 contracts to past employees since 1991, including ones to past executives who were asking for six-figure salaries. One executive was awarded a $260,000 no-bid deal in 2009 to train his successor two months after he had retired.
- Federal News Radio, Federal pay up over 400 percent since 1969, Oct. 20, 2010
- [http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/94-971_20100120.pdf "Federal Employees: Pay and Pension Increases Since 1969"
- New Mexico Watchdog, Looking for a high-paying job? Move to DC, Nov. 10, 2010
- St. Louis Today, Stopgap spending measure clears Congress, Dec. 21, 2010
- Federal Pay Continues Rapid Ascent
- USA Today Federal Pay Salaries Dec. 10, 2009
- Federal Wage System Facts
- Federal Wage System Employment by Agency
- Federal Wage System Employment by Agency
- 2010 General Schedule Pay Scale
- Department of Defense Civilian Personnel Management Service
- Washington Post, Audit: Ex-Postal Service workers return as private contractors, make more money, Sept. 26, 2010