Releasing Names and Federal Employee Salaries (Since 1816)

As many readers know, we provide a searchable database of individual federal employee salaries at FedsDataCenter.com. There is also a similar database of Postal Service salaries available on the website and a much smaller database of salaries for some officials of unions that represent at least some federal employees.

The article and the information led to comments by some  that were surprised names and salaries of individual federal employees were public information. Based on the nature of the comments, some of these readers were unaware the information has traditionally been considered public information.

Here is how the release of the names and salaries of many federal employees has evolved based on press reports and lawsuits on the issue.

The current policy of releasing names and salary information started in 2005. In that year, the Bush administration started to withhold this information for about 900,000 federal civilian employees “breaking a tradition of openness that began in 1816” according to a lawsuit filed by a group at Syracuse University under the Freedom of Information Act. The group argued that “Citizens have a right to know who is working for the government” and the new policy changed that policy.

The federal government began publicly naming its employees, their job category, salary and workplace in 1816. The first entry in the 1816 version of the Federal Register was James Madison. He was identified as president of the United States at a salary of $25,000 and that his birthplace was in Virginia. The second entry was Secretary of State James Monroe and noted his salary of $5,000.

It wasn’t just political leaders who were listed. According to an article in the Washington Post, Treasury Department messenger John Connell was from Maryland and worked in Washington for the federal government at a salary of $410 a year, and another Marylander, Richard H. Briscoe, worked for the Comptroller’s Office clerk for $1,000 a year.

Since 1989, the Syracuse group, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse or TRAC, had been posting an Internet database with the names, work locations, salaries and job categories of the several million federal civilian workers except those in some law enforcement agencies. The data were used by reporters and government watchdog groups to monitor government policies and to try to detect waste or abuse in the federal system. TRAC provided the information to the public for those who paid a subscription fee.

OPM broke the precedent of this long standing policy when it stopped providing the complete list of data in 2003. Since 2003, OPM withheld all records of civilian employees of the Defense Department as well as the name and duty locations of another 150,000 other civilian workers according to the lawsuit that was filed.  The other federal employees worked in 650 occupations at 250 different agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission, the National Park Service and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

OPM argued in court that employees in specific occupations were “more vulnerable and likely to be exposed to harassment and unwarranted attention as a direct result of their work, whether it be to further criminal purposes or merely to vent misplaced frustrations.” OPM also concluded that employees in specific occupations were “more vulnerable and likely to be exposed to harassment and unwarranted attention as a direct result of their work, whether it be to further criminal purposes or merely to vent misplaced frustrations.”

In 2007, a federal court judge ruled the federal government could legally withhold the names, salaries and positions of more than 900,000 federal employees based on national security concerns and concerns about the privacy rights of the employees whose information had been redacted. The reaction of TRAC  at that time was, “They waved the terrorism flag and the judge bought it.”

But, in effect, while OPM was free to withhold data on a number of federal employees, the information is still available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act for the remaining federal employees. A similar decision was issued by the  Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in 2012.

So, for those who were wondering why individual salary information is available, it is not a new policy and actually much more restricted than it was for most of the past two centuries. The information posted on FedsDataCenter.com is the information released by OPM and other agencies but does not include the information redacted by these agencies based on the decision of the federal courts.

© 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.

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  1. JohnJ says:

    I mean you have postal employees up there? Come on man, that is messed up!

  2. freakydeaky says:

    The salaries should be public information because it’s taxpayer $$$. Of course, the database omits FBI, CIA, etc. which is understandable……………

  3. Danmax says:

    If you know an employees name & grade you have a good idea of their salary. I imagine if these data bases are used –it will be fellow employees comparing bonus and such. Its just nonsense to allow data bases of individual information accessible by just anyone to snoop through. How about information on private contractor personnel that work for the government? I envision a future that the Government will have a cloud of data for each person to include DNA, fingerprints, medical records, face recognition, voice recognition, any and all known data will be available for the asking by the “right people”. It will be as records kept on high bred cattle and horses. Surely some sub lines could include voting history, and sex preference. Its all about control and i’ts “1984” only delayed because the technology is just now available to accomplish what Orwell envisioned.

  4. maynardogle says:

    The information you have on your website related to the “bonuses” for employees of the Federal Communications Commission Federal employees is grossly in error. My data is incorrect for all three of the years (2010, 2011 & 2012) and I have checked with several colleges and they report similar errors. I have no problem whatsoever with accurate data being made public, but inasmuch as this data is in error, I would like to know your source so that I can pursue corrective action. In the past I have reviewed similar information as found on the website hosted by the Asbury Park Press – Data Universe website. They are reporting inaccurate data as well. I would love to see a real investigation as to why this data, which is apparently released every year to you and others from the Office of Personnel Management is always inaccurate.

  5. PA says:

    I do not think names, salaries, benefits, phone numbers or any private information should be posted for any employee. —including federal, state, city, county, township, teachers, or any person working in private industry. Dead or alive!

  6. fedupfed says:

    In an article from FedSmith entitled “Government Should Level WIth Public About Social Security Trust Fund”, Allen W. Smith describes how there was a tax hike to add surplus to the SSA fund to finance the retirement of the baby boomers. From 1985 until 2009, this surplus was deposited into the general fund instead of into the SSA fund. This money was then used to finance wars, etc. Some congressmen spoke out agains the misuse of funds, but got very little coverage. The money is gone, and it has been replaced with IOU’s, which are not required to be paid back. What happened to the philosohy of transparency and accountability?

  7. besote4u says:

    Does anyone know if you can have your name removed from this list? Like others in this thread I am concerned about identity theft. I’m not ashamed of what I make, but I sure don’t want someone taking over my identity.

    • HRGuy71 says:

      I would think you would have to have your agency remove you from their list of reported employees by arguing that you are involved in national security work. OPM apparently provides this list of employees to different organizations so your goal would, presumably, to be out of all databases of government employees that are available to the public. I think that the Gannett chain publishes the same or very similar list in at least some of its papers around the country.

    • AppleFanboy78 says:

      Everybody is at risk from identity theft, and risks will be much greater from other things, many of which are beyond your control such as government databases getting hacked, than a salary listing such as this one will create for you. That having been said, if you are worried about identity theft, you should purchase identity theft protection insurance from one of the many companies that offer it such as Zander Insurance or LifeLock.

    • mandinka says:

      Sure Quit

  8. bureetoe says:

    They are listed for state employees as well, in my state. I just don’t agree with putting some on there and not others in some agencies are not listed due to a lawsuit? It should be all or none period!

  9. Rambo1957 says:

    For those concerned about identity theft, I have done many NCIC checks and you’d be amazed how many people had more than one person attached to a social security number. You can check with the SS Administration to make sure no one is on but you. Your account could be royally screwed up.

    • grannybunny says:

      I had someone in South Carolina working under my Social Security Number once — I’ve never even passed through that State — and only discovered it when IRS contacted me because I had not reported that income on my tax return. I wasn’t a Government employee at the time; I think they just randomly made up a number, and it happened to match mine.

  10. Steve Neal says:

    Tradition! That’s why this is done? I just assumed it was so I could compare my salary to peers in my office and those at potential PCS or ERR locations. Also, when I look up my boss’s salary, it reminds me why I really should complete my management degree and seek promotion.

  11. Tim Spofford says:

    Retired now but I also think every federal employee’s phone number and email address should be readily available on agency web sites. (Mine was; DIRECT phone number)

  12. tweety says:

    WHAT IS THE BD DEAL, IF YOU OWN A HOME, IT IS ADVERSTISED PUBLICLY WHAT YOU PAID FOR IT, YEARLY PROPERTY TAXES ARE POSTED, SO WHAT IS THE BID DEAL YOUR SALARY BEING PUBLIC. FACE OUR ;LIFE IS AN OPEN BOOK. LIFE IS NOT PRIVATE

    • LVRichardson says:

      (Yelling? Really?) Actually, life is not an open book. Property purchases are public to protect the public from scams, such as someone selling a property that isn’t theirs, or selling the same parcel to multiple people. Also, sales are public so the public knows what the real estate “market” is. The public needs to know the value of properties in order to buy and sell. The public also needs to know what is going on with properties around the ones they already own, or are thinking of owning. Keeping property transfers in the public eye has benefits for society. Ownership can be made anonymous by running title through a trust or LLC or other legal means.

      • Rambo1957 says:

        Salaries are paid by the public so they have the right to see what these jobs are costing them. The public needs to know these salaries to compare with what is paid similarly in the public sector. Keeping salaries for public knowledge maintains some transparency to which society is entitled. I, for one, never had a problem having my salary made available. For those that this really bothers, one can move to the public sector and feel better. Btw, if someone wants to type in capital letters, they can. Yelling is through sound, not some silly assumption.

        • Pat Fucile says:

          That doesn’t mean they have to give the names of the people earning them. Can’t they post the position, the salary and whether that position is filled or vacant? Why open up the federal employees to identity theft?

          • Rambo1957 says:

            How exactly will your salary information cause identity theft Pat? Not all position are the same salary. Some staff receive bonuses. If you are a GS 9 in Kentucky you have a different salary then the same grade for the same position in San Francisco. Law enforcement on the GS scale receive a different salary as well.

          • Pat Fucile says:

            Well lets see, they have our names, the state we work in, and our salary. With that information, they can use various online directories to find out our home addresses. It only takes one loose thread to be able to start unraveling the whole cloth.

          • mandinka says:

            The public should have access to you govt provide phone number and email address

          • Pat Fucile says:

            So they should have my home address and email address? Really? Let’s hear what kind of twisted logic you have for that.

          • LVRichardson says:

            mandinka doesn’t have any logic–twisted or otherwise. Troll comes to mind. Don’t keep feeding it, as someone else said.

          • mandinka says:

            YOu WORK for the taxpayers and if they are providing you with a phone and email address then it should be published

          • Pat Fucile says:

            Not my home one, and if they know where I live, it’s easy to find that info. I was able to find it in less that two minutes on somebody is a state thousands of miles away by using that list.

          • JohnJ says:

            A postal clerk is not paid by your taxes

          • Pat Fucile says:

            Yep, real easy. I just took one off the first page and was able to find out she lives on Bison Dr. Took less than a minute.

          • mandinka says:

            Are you ashamed??

          • Pat Fucile says:

            Nope, not ashamed. Just don’t need anybody attempting to rip anybody else off. If you think it’s ok, I hope you’re the first person hit. Oh wait, that’s right you couldn’t even get a federal job.

          • Pat Fucile says:

            By the way, are you ashamed of what you post? Why hide behind fake monikers? Why change it so often?

          • Rambo1957 says:

            Ignore it Pat. Don’t feed it.

        • LVRichardson says:

          NO, IT’S YELLING, ACCORDING TO CUSTOMARY USAGE. But, you are right about the need for transparency in the public sector.

        • PA says:

          Then the public has the right to know Social Security, welfare payments etc.
          Any and all $$.
          Plus—-I pay taxes on my salary. Time to concentrate on the under-the-table — and others not paying a cent. Especially the guy who takes his family on cruises – to dump the cash-every year.

  13. LVRichardson says:

    Maybe it would be a better idea to list every available government position, filled or unfilled, without a name attached, and the salary or salary range that goes with that position. The public would get a nice overview of the size and scope of our government without specific identifying information for a particular person.

  14. InvitingIdentityTheft says:

    Ripe for identity theft/fraud. Would not be surprised to see a lawsuit arise as a result of an identity theft/fraud crime.

    • grannybunny says:

      How can someone commit identity theft based merely on ones name, position, work address and salary?

      • InvitingIdentityTheft says:

        Apparently, you are totally unaware of how easily folks are able to commit these types of identity related crimes with minimal information to work with. This personal and private financial information information combined with just minimal additional information available from numerous other internet sources is pretty much an open invitation for even novice criminals to have an easy go at identity theft/fraud crime. Don’t think there are too many folks possibly that naive regarding identity theft. Just talk to a few folks who work with identity fraud related crimes on a daily basis. It takes even less information than this in many cases.

      • ConfusedFed says:

        That is only the published data in one database. Considering the number of federal personnel databases that have been hacked, it just adds additional info to the identiy thief’s pool of information. Nonsensitive info can quickly become sensitive when compiled.

        • Pat Fucile says:

          And think about it. I was easily able to find the address of an employee using that list. How hard would it be for me to put in change of address card on her and start getting her mail which could include credit card statements, banking statements, etc. Now I have an address, I can also run credit reports on her by posing as a something like say a landlord. If you live close to the person, you can raid their mail box if is one of those roadside ones, go through their trash looking for data, etc.

          • grannybunny says:

            When a change-of-address is submitted, notices are sent to both the old and new addresses, so the potential victim can put a stop to it before any mail is actually diverted. Very little identity theft is accomplished by improperly accessing someone else’s mail; the last figure I saw was very low, something like 2%. Anyone we serve has our name and the city in which we work, if they want to try to hunt down our home addresses. The disclosure of my salary information has never made me feel at heightened risk for identity theft, only embarassed at the paltry amount! 🙂

          • Pat Fucile says:

            You are incorrect. Putting in a change of address card is one of the
            top ten ways to commit identity theft. And I know for a fact that
            notices are NOT sent to the old address. My first hubby, 10 years
            after I divorced him, put in a change of address at my home address,
            which was an address he had never lived at. He put it in for the last
            name. While I had changed my last name, my kids obviously had not.
            Suddenly, we weren’t getting their mail. They didn’t get their
            birthday cards with money in it from their grandparents, notices from
            the school sent to the parents of…. and their report cards stopped
            showing up, etc. And I can guarantee you, there was no notice sent to
            the “old” address which was my address.

          • grannybunny says:

            Obviously, I cannot speak to your individual situation, but change of address notices are still being sent out to both addresses.

          • Pat Fucile says:

            Perhaps you can speak to the various stations across the country who never sent out a notification about the change of
            address request having been submitted any time we got transferred.

          • grannybunny says:

            The notices are sent out nationwide from Memphis, Tennessee.

          • Pat Fucile says:

            So how if I bring in the change of address form to my location station (which is what I’ve always done) would then then send it to Memphis and mail out a notice from Memphis?

          • grannybunny says:

            Memphis is notified of the change electronically, then generates and sends out the hardcopy notices.

          • Pat Fucile says:

            Well then Memphis doesn’t send them out because I never got one any time I moved. Sounds like USPS needs to read the book “We Don’t Make Widgets”.

          • mandinka says:

            and?? You found the address and that’s were it ended

          • Pat Fucile says:

            No, I could have found more, IF I had the desire. I was merely showing just how easy it is to start the process with the information given on the list.

      • sumo says:

        Identity theives can use this list as a reference for who to target. Surely Grannybunny you can understand the concept that an identiy thief would rather spend time hacking the account of someone who makes $150 a year (and thus will be approved for higher credit/borrowing limits when the thief opens a fake account) then hack the account of a cashier at the local supermarket who makes $20K per year. To think this infromation can’t assist in identity theft is absurd…..

      • Rambo1957 says:

        Pleasr Granny, don’t apply common sense here.

      • Pat Fucile says:

        Well lets see, they have your name, how much you make, the state you live in. Then how hard is it to use something like whitepages.com and get your home address (provided you aren’t unlisted) All it takes is that loose thread and somebody with the desire can unravel it.

      • Pat Fucile says:

        That’s easy. Giving the person the name and salary of an individual, along with the state the reside it and anybody with the desire can then use one of the online directories to find out a person’s home address.

        • Rambo1957 says:

          And? So now you have my name, address and salary. Yet people give out their credit card number through Internet and telephonic transactions. Taxpayers have the right to know what our salaries are. They know Congressional salaries. They do not give out you SSAN. If someone wanted to steal your identity, they don’t need your salary or address.

          • Pat Fucile says:

            The salary and address help. NIST Special Publication 800-122 defines PII as “any information about an individual maintained by an
            agency, including (1) any information that can be used to distinguish or
            trace an individual‘s identity, such as name, social security number,
            date and place of birth, mother‘s maiden name, or biometric records; and
            (2) any other information that is linked or linkable to an individual,
            such as medical, educational, FINANCIAL AND EMPLOYMENT INFORMATON.”
            So, for example, a user’s IP address as used in a communication exchange
            is classed as PII regardless of whether it may or may not on its own be
            able to uniquely identify a person. Why give identity thieves help?

          • grannybunny says:

            Unless potential identity thieves are planning to try to illegally divert your mail — and there are safeguards in place to prevent that — they still won’t have the information to steal your identity.

          • Pat Fucile says:

            That’s not true. Anybody can put a change of address in, and the experts all list a change of address is one of the top ten ways to commit identity theft.

          • grannybunny says:

            While it’s true than anyone can submit a change of address, notices of the submitted change are sent to both the old and new addresses, so that — if it is not authorized — it can be stopped before any mail is delivered to the new address. I haven’t seen any claims that changes of address are among the top ten ways to commit identity theft, but only around 2% of identity theft cases involve abuse of the mails, including actual theft of delivered mail out of mailboxes.

          • Pat Fucile says:

            And I know for a fact that doesn’t happen. Not only because as I mentioned in a post below that I didn’t get that notification at the “old” address, having been military for many years, I don’t remember ever getting the notification about the change of address request having been submitted any time we got transferred.

          • grannybunny says:

            I was always amazed at the number of people who brought the notices into the Post Office because they did not realize what they were, even though the notices are relatively straightforward.

          • Pat Fucile says:

            Your station must be one of the few that sends them out……….I’ve never gotten one.

          • mandinka says:

            yep and the key words are SS number mothers maiden name

          • Pat Fucile says:

            Not necessarily.

    • grannybunny says:

      How can someone commit identity theft using the limited information available?

    • mandinka says:

      another look look we can’t do something because it maybe illegal. Pretty much sums up federal speak when ever they are asked to do something

    • JG4 says:

      Considering that this practice has been in existence for over a hundred years…. all federal salaries are public record…your hyperbole is just that.

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