Federal employee salaries

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Since 1969, pay for federal workers has increased 428 percent.[1] During this same time period, pay for private sector workers has increased 632 percent.[2] Since 2005, the number of federal employees earning over $150,000 has jumped from 12,399 to 171,689.[3] In December 2010, a spending freeze was placed on federal agencies, the Department of Homeland Security, and federal employee salaries.[4]

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).[5] 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.[5]

Six-figure salaries

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.[6] In December 2007, 1,868 Defense Department civilian employees earned $150,000 or more. That number had jumped to 10,100 by June 2009.[6]

Salary change during recession[6]

Sector Average salary Salary change
Federal $71,206 6.6%
State and local government $54,101 3.9%
Private sector $40,331 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.[6] 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.[5]

Federal Wage System and General Schedule

Federal government employees fall under the Federal Wage System (FWS) or General Schedule (GS).[7]

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.[7] The FWS regular pay plan covers most trade, craft and laboring employees in the executive branch.[7] The FWS does not cover Postal Service employees, legislative branch employees, or employees of private sector contracting firms.[7] Under the FWS, the government employer bases pay on what private industry is paying for comparable levels of work in that local wage area.[7]

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.[8]

Federal Wage System employment by agency[9]

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
Smithsonian Institution 881
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
Total 206,803

The GS scale applies to white-collar workers.[7] The 2010 GS Base Pay Schedule ranges from $17,803 to $129,517.[10] 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.[10] All U.S. locations receive additional pay adjustments above the base pay ranging from 14.16% to 35.15%.[10] Percentage pay adjustments by geographic locality

Location Percentage pay adjustment
Alaska 04.72%
Atlanta 19.29%
Boston 24.80%
Buffalo 16.98%
Chicago 25.10%
Cincinnati 18.55%
Cleveland 18.68%
Columbus 17.16%
Dallas 20.67%
Dayton 16.24%
Denver 22.52%
Detroit 24.09%
Hawaii 04.72%
Hartford 25.82%
Houston 28.71%
Huntsville 16.02%
Indianapolis 14.68%
Los Angeles 27.16%
Miami 20.79%
Milwaukee 18.10%
Minneapolis 20.96%
New York 28.72%
Philadelphia 21.79%
Phoenix 16.79%
Pittsburgh 16.37%
Portland 20.35%
Raleigh 17.64%
Richmond 16.47%
Sacramento 22.20%
San Diego 24.19%
San Francisco 35.15%
Seattle 21.81%
Washington, D.C. 24.22%
Rest of U.S. 14.16%

Pay increases

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.[11]

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.[12] 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.[12]