A recent article on the cost of gas and the mileage reimbursement rate included a sentence about the average salary of federal employees. The article noted that the average salary for federal employees is $60,517.
Several readers wondered where this figure came from and questioned its accuracy. For example, one reader from the Forest Service submitted a comment that "[S]omeone is feeding somebody a lot of bull. In the office that I work in, the average federal employee makes a little over $30,000 a year…."
I don’t doubt the person submitting the comment is correct about the average for his or her office but that does not mean the salary figures for the "average" federal employee are incorrect.
The figures on the average federal salary are compiled by the Office of Personnel Management. OPM says that "Overall, the average salary for full time federal employees is $60,517."
Most Americans would probably be surprised at this figure as well. The average household income in the United States, according to the Census Bureau, was $44,389. Keep in mind that the average compiled by OPM is the average for full time federal employees–it is not compiled by household.
There are considerable differences between geographic regions for several reasons including locality pay and higher grade structure. For example, the Washington, DC area has an average salary of $78,593. This figure is much higher than other areas and the DC area also has the largest number of federal employees in the country.
Kentucky and South Dakota, for example, have an average salary of over $49,000 and a much smaller number of employees (see the OPM chart).
Keep in mind that these figures are as of March 2004 so the averages will be higher when OPM releases the 2005 pay figures.
As one would expect, there is also considerable difference between occupations in the federal government and the salaries received. For example, in 2003, geologists made $76389, oceanographers made $79023. The average human resources specialist in the federal government made $66886 in 2003. Labor relations specialists made an average of $72915 while employee relations specialists made $63345.
For more information on the salaries of federal employees by region and grade (and historical information), check out the FedSmith.com pay tables.