Average Federal Salary Goes Up Despite Pay Freeze

By on January 9, 2013 in Human Resources, News, Pay & Benefits

The FedSmith site has been inundated with comments about federal pay in the past several weeks, largely in response to a series of news items about a pay raise for federal employees, legislation designed to quash the pay raise, and an article about taxes in France and a French film star leaving the country as a result of the socialist government there attempting to take a very large bite out of his income in taxes if he remains in his native country. (He has since accepted a Russian passport but, apparently, is still living in Belgium.)

The Pay Freeze

A number of the comments were along the lines of “The average federal worker only makes about $40,000 (substitute your own number here) a year” and numerous comments on the theme that federal workers make less than they would if they were to take a job in the private sector. Numerous readers also referenced the federal pay freeze that has been in effect since 2011. As most readers know, the pay freeze did not impact within-grade increases, promotions, or bonus payments but there has not been an overall salary increase for the federal workforce during the freeze.

Based on anecdotal evidence, many who think the average pay for federal employees is much lower than the actual figures indicate are using their own salary as a guide. (Typical comments are along this line: “I don’t know any federal employee who makes as much as the so-called ‘average’ federal employee.”) So, while the supposition of the overall average pay may be spot on for their organization, the overall average for the federal workforce may be higher than some readers would anticipate based on their personal experience.

What has been the impact of the pay freeze on federal employee salaries?

There is a variation among the federal agencies reporting on average federal salary figures. For this article, we used the latest figures available from the Office of Personnel Management. The figures are for the period ending in September 2012. The averages are for federal employees working under a general schedule pay system (there are variations among some agencies so the amounts for the same grade or position may vary between agencies. See, for example, Highly Paid Federal Administrative Positions: Where Are They and How Much Do They Make?). The OPM figures for the average salary are generally less than those reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (See Average Federal Salary: $83,679 and Lowest Average Pay Increase in 10 Years) In order to consider the impact of the federal pay freeze, we have used the OPM data to compare the average federal salary before and since the pay freeze has been in effect.

The Six-Figure Club: Average Federal Employee Salary in the District of Columbia Still Over $100,000

The average federal employee in Washington, DC now makes $101,263. But, while the average federal employee salary for those working in Washington, DC is still in the six-figure pay club, this figure has gone down. In September 2010, the average salary for this group of federal workers was $101,757 so the average has dropped about $500 from September 2010 – September 2012. The average figure is for salary alone and does not include the cost of the federal benefits package.

Average Federal Salary Goes Up During Pay Freeze

The average federal salary for all federal employees under the general schedule or related pay systems is now $74,558. For those employees working in the United States, the average salary is now $74,804. The chart below outlines the breakout among different agency categories and their average salaries.

Despite the pay freeze, the average federal employee salary is still going up. Back in September 2009, the average federal salary was $72,249 and in September 2010 it was $74,302. By September 2012, the average GS federal salary was up to $74,804—an increase of about $500 despite the limited pay freeze.

Presumably, this increase is because agencies are promoting people into higher graded positions for performing the same or similar duties, employees are receiving within-grade increases, and new positions are being created in agencies and these positions may be paying a higher salary.  This table displays the average salary figures for employees under the General Schedule only.

Locality/Agency Type Average Salary
Washington, DC $101,263
Cabinet Level Agencies $100,894
Large Independent Agencies (1000 or more employees) $103,004
Medium Independent Agencies (100-999 employees) $100,774
Small Independent Agencies (less than 100 employees) $100,372
United States $74,804
Cabinet Level Agencies $73,075
Large Independent Agencies (1000 or more employees) $86,937
Medium Independent Agencies (100-999 employees) $97,385
Small Independent Agencies (less than 100 employees) $94,550


More Young Employees in Agencies

Since September 2010, the number of young employees in agencies has increased which would tend to drive down the average salary as younger employees are usually hired as a lower pay grade. The Office of Personnel Management is struggling to keep up with retirement applications as the baby boomers are retiring in larger numbers which would also lead to a lower average salary. (See, for example, OPM Retirement Applications Backlog Now Below 30k and OPM Planning to Segregate ‘Healthy’ Retirement Packages to Address Backlog)

Overall, the number of employees in the federal GS pay systems increased by more than 35,000 between September 2010 and September 2012.

For example, in September 2010, the number of federal employees between 30 – 34 increased about 13%. The number of employees from 35 – 39 increased about 4%. The number in the age range of 40 – 44 increased about 2%. There was a decrease in the number of federal employees between 45 – 49.

The number of older federal employees also went up though, including those who are 65 and older (an increase of about 39% in this age group) and have elected not to retire. No doubt, the recession that has been with us during this time period had an impact on retirement decisions as employees who are eligible to retire have continued to work and we have seen data indicating the number of federal employees retiring is now increasing which will have an impact on the overall average federal salary in the future.

So, despite the pay freeze and its negative impact on federal employee dissatisfaction with their pay in recent surveys, the overall pay freeze has slowed the increase in federal salaries but has not eliminated it. (See the chart in Will Federal Employees Get a Pay Raise in 2013? for a brief history of federal employee salaries.) We will update the data when it becomes available from OPM which includes the pay rate information for all of calendar year 2012 and early 2013.

© 2016 Ralph R. Smith. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Ralph R. Smith.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources.

125 Replies

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  1. Mick Taylor says:

    Ralph claims the “traditional GS system” is being modified. Oh really, in what fantasy land is that happening. OPM is dragging it’s feet and behind the curve on pay, retirement application processing, phased retirement, and it hasn’t accomplished a measureablre thing on pay restructuring, although it has been talking about it for years. Congress sets our pay, and Congress hates our guts because we actually work for our salaries, unlike those slugs.

  2. Mick Taylor says:

    What was Ralph thinking with this one? Calculating average pay is meaningless in an environment where healthcare premiums are soaring, Medicare taxes have increased, and a large numnber of the workforce is not eligible, in any, event, for within-grade increases. No such thing as cash bonuses have been paid at the USAO for outstanding performance in over 3 years, and they take away your “time off” awards for such performance if you do not use it within a year. If you want “employee engagement”, you damn well better train your management to learn how to motivate people who are taking home less pay than they were 3 years ago, and that is the vast majority of us, period.

    • FedSmith says:

      We focus on topics that are the ones that are consistently the most popular among our readers. Salaries showing average, median or other pay computations for federal employees are among the most popular articles on the site. The most recent article on this topic was published today (5/13/14) based on OPM’s computations for the most recent salary data made available for those who are interested. In other words, while some may consider the information meaningless, many people find them worthwhile reading from year to year for any use they may have for the information.

  3. 35years says:

    They don;t take into effect the 25 hours per month mandatory overtime.

  4. Fed peon says:

    I got a whopping $7.00 for a 2 week pay period. That’s your average pay increase for front line employees. My salary is going up though, I’m decreasing the amount I put back for retirement by 5%. A person has to have somthing to live on. Also private sector doesn’t realize I pay $400.00 per month for my health insurance which doesn’t include dental or vision. Yeah! we got it sooo good!

    • Fed Peon 2 says:

      Your doing better than me. I got a whopping increase of $2.38 every 2 weeks. While everything else keeps going up but my intake. I pay out Family High so my Health runs $700.00 per month. It includes partial Vision but no Dental other than basic checkups. Yeah I have it real good too. After the pay has been frozen for almost 4 years I’m back to making just about what I started making in the Federal Government when I first started 22 years ago. I wish when these articles are written they would quit looking at the people that are the fat cats and look at the grunts that do all the work. We do not make huge pay checks usually just enough to scrape by.

  5. Worried says:

    To remain competitive in the labor market and attract the best employees technical salaries should go up – but I do NOT believe they are. All government employees and retirees need to send a message to Congress & the White House in defense of their earned benefits. There is a Bill to Dismantle FEHBP. visit http://capwiz.com/narfe/issues….

  6. rjmahoney66 says:

    Anyone who knows anything about math knows that using the average – mean – salary is misleading because it is skewed by a few high or low numbers. A more realistic view of federal salaries is obtained by using the medium salary. Using the average salary is purposefully deceptive.

    • HRGuy71 says:

      If it makes you happy to know the difference, the Washington Post reports that the median federal salary is now $74,714, up from $69,550 in 2010. The average federal salary as of Sept. 2012 was about $78,000, a difference of about $4000. Many people make the same argument as was made here. It always comes out to be pretty close, assuming you consider several thousand dollars to be , as the point of the argument would seem to be that if it was not “purposefully deceptive” there would be a major difference–presumably at least $10,000 or more of dollars of difference. Not sure why the average figure seems to be so upsetting to many; presumably the figure is not in their economic interest.

      • Mit Yerf says:

        Of course you know nothing of statistics or you wouldn’t make such an ignorant statement. “MEDIAN” salary is far different than the “MEAN” salary. The mean or average salary is not a normal curve due to outliers LIKE salaries from D.C. and California, etc. Those tend to range on the high side, so the curve is skewed that way. So as the curve is skewed to the high end, so the avg. goes up. However, using the median salary would give you the salaries that are the most numerous. THAT would be the fairest measure of what a fed worker makes. My guess, and I have no figures yet to back this up, but my guess is that the most number of salary figures fall somewhere around $45,000 dollars. Now take out the few people with higher degree then it’s even lower. But, take into account that it costs money to pay for a higher degree and thus you make less. Then finally, it costs a lot more to live in D.C. so the actual take home pay is lower. In the end, a median salary figure would be more exact in telling how much a fed worker makes. But that would be TOO FAIR, and we know that this right wing website is not interested in being “fair and balanced”. They’re just interested in making sure the fed worker get’s screwed.

        • FedSmith says:

          You can read the latest figures in the article published today by FedSmith.com on the 2013 salary data. The data are from another right wing organization, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Their analysis, again using data compiled by the federal government as were the data in this article, may be more to you liking. It shows the average federal employee salary for the 2013 fiscal year in the executive branch was $79,374 and the median salary was $73,736. You can quickly find the article using the search engine near the top of most pages on the site and you can also read in the comments why some do not like the latest data either. The OPM report is also available from within the article and you can peruse that data, which is more extensive than the article. On the other hand, if you do not like the OPM data and analysis with the latest data release any more than you liked the OPM data in this article, perhaps, as you noted, “They’re just interested in making sure the fed worker get’s (sic) screwed” in some way by compiling and releasing the data. Who really knows?

  7. CivilUnrested says:

    The fact is that there hasn’t been a comprehensive job for job analysis until they implemented pay parity in the early 90’s. There are a lot of variables these reports do not take into account. The biggest being Agencies that are full of high earners and have had very little, if any, impact of the budget cuts. VA and DHS are still hiring like crazy. Not to mention that it’s hardly generating a fair average when you have VA doctors making upwards of $350k a year being lumped in with the average federal employee. That’s more then most Agency Administrators even make and they are at the top of the GS pay scale. I don’t know about other Agencies but bonuses and cash awards haven’t been given out in years except to SES employee’s and National Office staff. The states themselves have to pay for spot awards and QSI’s out of their own Administrative expenses so that means they are a thing of the past. We are still waiting for word if we will face furloughs this year so Admin funds are scarce. I should know, my last performance evaluation I was told with my performance rating I qualified for a QSI, but I didn’t get it.

  8. RMS says:

    Let us put
    this in perspective. There is the base pay which is the same no matter where you live. Then there is Locality pay. If I took my base pay no Locality pay and moved to Mississippi, I would be living like a Queen. HOWEVER, you take it and have me live in San Francisco or DC and I am living in a scary part of town in order to afford to live. When my ex-husband and I were transferred to the Bay Area in early 80’s at the beginning of Locality pay, with our combined income and Locality pay, I thought we were going to be living in our cars. $75,000 in DC barely gets you a roof and forget food and transportation. $75,000 in Florida gets you a palace.

    • 35years says:

      thanks rents here Balto/Wash start in the 1400’s and the cost of living is a joke. However I love visiting my friends in St Louis where I feel like I do live like a king.

  9. PJFred1960 says:

    This article is a load of b.s.!!!  My pay hasn’t gone up ONE penny in three years.  Say what you will, but I can show you my paycheck!!  Also, I am no where near the average salary they show on this chart.  Maybe those in these pay grades could stand more of a pay freeze and let the GS 10’s and below have their raises!!  This chart is VERY deceiving and misleading.  The average salary MIGHT be this, but it doesn’t mean the average admin positions make anywhere near this!  Check your facts!!! 

    • Pickles says:

      I realize you wrote this a year ago and most likely will not see this, but calm down Sunshine! You are talking apples to oranges. If the article was talking about the average admin positions, you would have a point, but the article was talking about the overall average salary of Federal employees. Big difference.

  10. Meadowlarkarts says:

    Well, they sure haven’t gone up in my neck of the woods.

  11. djzacc says:

    Your joking, right?  My last increase in pay was January 2010, due to the last rating I received under the NSPS.  And even THAT was only one-third of the total; I was to have received a part in bonus and the larger part as an increase to my base pay.  I got the SMALL bonus but the majority of my reward for “good work” was denied because of the pay freeze!.  That was THE LAST raise I saw in my earnings so who are you trying to kid…the outsiders who don’t have a clue and count on this bull for information?  Because THAT’S who’s taking the garbage you’re printing and quoting it as fact when they discuss my pay raise in Congress!  Someone should be asking people like me, who learn the truth the hard way!

    You say some agencies are promoting people into higher graded positions with higher pay, and maybe that too is why the average goes up as the law denies pay raises.  Oh yeah?  ANd where does that happen; maybe I’ll apply for an inter-agency transfer!  My agency offered me a position a whole grade higher then my present one.  I accepted and asked about a raise that should go with it position and they said NO….BECAUSE OF THE PAY FREEZE!

    Your entire article gives readers the totally WRONG perception that federal employee earnings are going up.  Sure, your interpretation of the data makes it seem so; I, in the trenches, can tell you your facts are full of crap!

    • Pickles says:

      You need to supply more information because I have never heard of someone getting a promotion to a higher grade and then being denied the pay that goes with the grade. If that is the case, I’m not buying it.

  12. Michael J Sanchez says:

    Once again, Mr. Smith, I cannot fathom where these so-called “average” federal salary figures come from.  Specifically, I obviously don’t understand how these inflated numbers are calculated.  It seems to me that it would be fairer and much more accurate to compare apples with apples by simply stating salaries within specific Wage Grade and General Schedule groups.  I don’t know anyone at my facility who is not a manager who pulls in anything close to the touted median federal salary.  Nearly half of all federal workers are GS-9 and below, according to one fedsmith article which actually stood up to close scrutiny.  It is important to note that many federal positions have no similar civilian position.

    • FedSmith says:

      OPM maintains a list of federal employees and their individual salaries. Some are not included for national security reasons or other reasons, presumably related to security.

      The data in this article came directly from OPM. The information comparing specific jobs is not generally available although organizations such as Heritage and USA Today have done some of that work. 

      I did not make up the figures. The data comes directly from the federal government.

      If you want to look at individual salaries, go to fedsdatacenter.com; select the year 2012 and you can sort the salary data from highest to lowest (you may have to click on the column twice to have the highest data come out on top). You will see that there are about 10,000 or so federal employees making close to or more than $200,000 per year. Part of the reason is that the traditional GS system is being modified in agencies so that many salaries are higher than what is normally published.

  13. Denise Neicy Holley says:

    Where are they getting their data?  Who defines adverage?  With everything else going up around us why should or pay stay stable?  As a fed, I have seen my check decrease in the last few years.  People need to leave fed salaries along.

  14. dholley68 says:

    I need to know where they are getting there info from.  I am a Fed and my check hasn’t gone up, it’s been going down.  Really people.  Too much incorrect information is messing up Fed Salaries. 

  15. Marbles says:

    Okay. You can let go of our legs now.

  16. Aaron Davis says:

    HRGuy- all I can say is I wish I worked at your facility.  I and most of those I know, make only about half of what you say is the median or average salary of a federal employee.   

    My issue with all this salary business is that we are all treated the same – as if we all made the higher salary.  It’s very hard on those of us who do not make a high salary in the federal government.  We, like the retiree’s are literally going backwards in money coming in vs money going out.

  17. John says:

    I seriously doubt the average pay is over $100,000—that likely would be the big checks out to the 
    top federal employees, plus would Congress, the President cabinet etc raise that up.

    A majority of workers are likely under $100,000 per year, especially those below G-11.

    • HRGuy71 says:

      The average total employee compensation package is about $127,000. The average salary is closer to $80,000 (or $75,000 depending on which agency you want to believe).

  18. bbf says:

    I think Jamvancampwas just being facetious….and I don’t blame him.  While there is an… on and on discussion about what is or in not the average salary or what is or is not the correct way to calculate it…the question should be what effect has this yearly pay freeze promoted by the Obama administration and the Dems has on the federal workforce and federal retirees…and is it fair.  This pay freeze has been established by persons who make over $125,000 (we don’t have to do any averaging here) with a few million added to pay their staff and for other expenses.

  19. bbf says:

    OK..so you write that the average salary for federal workers still is going up.  That DOES NOT apply to federal retirees.  The only things that are going up for us is the cost of healthcare and insurance and everything else you buy to put in your grocery cart (plus gasoline, water, electricity and gas, also sales taxes). Are you forgetting..or don’t care that the federal retiree is under the same pay freeze as federal workers?  There are no within-grade pay increases for us.  Because of the increase in insurance costs..my monthly annuity is actually a lot less that it was last year.

  20. Burgerwars says:

    I wish you would use median salaries.  Average always skews things higher.  There also needs to be an apples-to-apples comparison.  A doctor, nurse, accountant, IT specialist etc. when compared to salaries elsewhere.  Anything else is using statistics to lie.

  21. oee says:

    Federal employees have the salary rates of Jan 2010 in Jan 2013. That makes it 3 years without a COLA. that means with the latest release by the BLS of the CPI of January 2013, Fed employees are 6.2 % below where they need to be if they have received COLA’s to match price increases. The annual step increases only apply to employees in the 1 to 4 steps, and you will only receive it only if you make a “meet expectations” in your annual review. Also, emplyees in the 5-6 bands get increases every 2 years and when you reach 7-9 you get step increases get a step increase every 3 years, and if you make it to 10 step you would you would only get an salary increase if there a COLA. Thus, several thousands Fed employees have not been getting any salary increases at all and are losing money in real terms. Shame on you for not pointing thist out!

  22. Justin_25 says:

    There is a huge problem here, yes if you look at figures,
    and figures alone wages are for the average federal employee are high… But
    there is an old saying “to many chiefs not enough Indians” that is
    all the Gov’t is these days, is administrative people who sit in an office and
    push paperwork around for legality and red tape. They get paid alot, at the
    upper ends of the GS scale, and to accomodate those positions, they have to
    eliminate 2 or 3 of the field workers at the lower end of the GS scale.. therefore
    you have 5 admin individuals to the 2 actual hands on field workers, and when
    dealing with statistics and averages the average can be highly skewed because
    of the governments dumb ass way of hiring individuals and well as running an
    organization.. such as congress themselves, 100 seats over 200K, highly skews
    the federal average wage when they employee themselves but cut wages for other
    branches, which cut at the ground level, not the top down…  I mean some people are bitching about this
    wage increase possible for feds, of .5%… for the field worker as a GS 5 or GS
    6 which is only 20% of the federal workforce, which is the portion that needs a
    wage increase the most, is only 3 to 4 cents and hour more, what is that going
    to do for anyone… SS is going up by 2%, health care premiums are up, state
    taxes are up, so net for the past 3 yrs now the federal employee has been
    losing 5% of there wage to inflation, and there has been inflation.. the only
    employee this hurts are the low end, not these A-holes in congress making 300K
    a yr…


  23. claude cauffman says:


    • Paticat7 says:

      I used to do Hr work for Letterkenny, and while your average pay estimate sounds right, I had forgotten how you all like to scream in CAPS! Flashback!

  24. Not rich by a long shot says:

    I have no clue where you work for the average Federal Salary to be 74K.  Where I work 74K would be considered upper class.  If this is the case across the US then they seriously need to relook my installation and start giving out the pay increases.

  25. Ptrcva says:

    When the general public hear in the news the average fed makes over $100,000 a year, they immediately think everyone is in the income bracket.  If you try to explain to them how it really is they accuse you of trying to hide your salary.  They won’t have it that not everyone is making $100,000 or that most don’t even come close to that.  This is why taxpayers hate federal employees.  They think we are overpaid and they are stuck footing the bill.

  26. 6789 says:

    lets not forget those not in the GS scale , the revolutionary Pay Banding where there are no steps try not getting a raise for ten years, sure the small 1-2% helped but that stopped 4 years ago friends

  27. SeattleAD says:

    The important point of Jason_Marcus’ comment to me is:  Those low salaried people should NOT be treated the same as those making much much more – one size does NOT fit all.  When you freeze the salary of someone making 30k and everything else goes up, that person loses more than someone making 100k would.