Federal Compensation Is More Than Just Salary: Check out the Awards, Promotions and WIG’s

How much does the average federal employee make? How about the average federal professional employee? Does anyone get promoted in government? Does anyone get awards and how much are the awards worth?

Articles on the salary and benefits of federal employees often draw comments along the lines of "Who made up these figures? I don’t get a salary that is anywhere near that." (See the article entitled Underpaid Feds?)

There is little doubt that many readers believe that federal employees receive considerably less than those in the private sector. That is no doubt true in many cases. But one feature of federal employment that is sometimes not considered is that, in addition to the average salary increase that is reported every year, federal employees also have a number of other features in the federal human resources program that also add to their average pay. For example, check out the statistics below about the number of federal employees who receive cash awards, time off awards, or promotions or within-grade step increases during the year.

The result of this human resources activity is an occasional report describing the federal workforce along the lines of an "Elite Island" with high pay, high benefits and employment security that is unique in the American workforce. The report noted in the previous sentence also cites the "pay gap" between federal workers and the rest of the economy as one that is getting wider. "Since 1990, average compensation has increased 115 percent in the government and 69 percent in the private sector, while average wages have increased 104 percent in the government and 65 percent in the private sector."

While you ponder that statement, here are a few statistics from a new report issued by the Congressional Budget Office on the pay of the federal workforce. The CBO examined the 1.4 million or so civilian, federal employees, excluding those who work for the Postal Service, who fill full-time permanent positions in the executive branch. As might be expected in a document of this nature, the report is largely statistical and the narrative is written in a dry, bland style.

Here are some statistics you can use to compare your situation with the "average" federal employee from 2005.

  • The executive branch workforce represents a little more than one-half of all civilian government employees.
  • The average full-time civilian federal employee is 47 years old and has about 16 years of federal service.
  • The average federal employee retires at age 59.
  • In December 2005, the average federal employee salary was $63,431.
  • The average federal professional employee on the GS pay scale makes $79,802.
  • The average clerical employee on the GS pay scale makes $35,405.
  • The average senior executive makes $146,848
  • In 2005, agencies awarded about 49,000 quality step increases that, on average, raised an employee’s basic pay by about $1,800.
  • in 2005, there were about 178,000 promotions among full-time permanent federal civilian employees. The average pay increase as a result of a promotion was about $4000.
  • About 56 percent of the federal workforce received a cash award averaging $1300 in 2005.
  • 195,000 federal employees received time off awards during the year. The average time off: 26 hours
  • About 111,000 employees in 2005 received cash awards (of about $700 each, on average) for exceptional performance as part of a group.
  • About 400 federal employees were denied a within-grade increase in 2005.
  • A substantial portion of a federal employee’s compensation package is the benefits provided. Depending on factors such as an employee’s age, length of service and retirement system, the federal benefits package amounts to between 26% and 50% of an employee’s salary.

Feel free to offer your thoughts on the subject in the comments section.

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. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47