Federal Employees and Their Pay: How They Stack Up

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By on August 26, 2009 in Current Events with 0 Comments

A number of readers have been asking in their comments and email about the number of federal employees in the different pay grades or the number of federal employees in various pay ranges.

For example, one reader from the Department of Agriculture wrote:

Would like to know where these averages came from. They were not out in the field where most of federal employees work. I think that average was taken in Washington DC only.

A reader from the Department of the Army commented:

I would like to know where people come up with these figures…because i would like to make the money they say we are making!!!!!

Another Army employee from Ft. Bragg, North Carolina had this to say:

When I see the average salary $79,197 I’m blown away. That’s almost equivalent to a GS 12 Step 6. How many of us normal worker bees are GS12 Step 6? I wish that was my average salary. The top salaried people working for the Federal Government pull that average up. If they are going to throw those figures around, they should at least say how many Federal workers make that much because it doesn’t reflect where most of us are and the public gets the wrong impression.

Perhaps this information will be helpful in gaining perspective on the federal workforce, at least those under the General Schedule or similar pay system.

Here is a chart that depicts the number of federal employees in pay ranges. Each column represents a range of $10,000. So, for example, the number $20,000 includes all GS employees who make from $20,000 – $29,999.

These figures are compiled from data provided by the Office of Personnel Management. The data is from March of 2009.

For those who are wondering about the distribution of GS grades, here is a depiction of the number of federal employees in each grade level. Please remember that the federal pay system is a morass with a wide variety of varying plans in a wide variety of agencies. This chart depicts the General Schedule and related pay plans. Here is how OPM defines these terms:

General Schedule and Related Grade is derived differently for the two groups that make up the General Schedule and Related pay plan category:

  1. General Schedule and Identical Pay Plans
    The General Schedule and Related Grade is the actual grade of the pay plan.  That is because these pay plans use the General Schedule grade structure to classify jobs.
  2. Other Related Pay Plans
    The General Schedule and Related Grade will probably be something other than the actual grade of the pay plan.  That is because these pay plans do not use the General Schedule grade structure to classify jobs.  The General Schedule and Related Grade for these pay plans is derived from job analysis studies and/or algorithms that relate the grade and salary of other pay plans to the General Schedule and assign a General Schedule grade.

These figures reflect data as of March 2009. You may want to look back at these definitions when you look at the chart and are wondering about the large number of people in the N/A group. Since this is how the data is compiled by OPM, this is how we have presented it. The N/A is probably such a large group as agencies have set up their own pay systems under separate authorizing legislation or in demonstration projects so some employees do not fall within the existing GS pay and classification structure. (See, for example, Federal Employees Making More Than Members of Congress? How Can That Be?)

The pay of a federal employees varies based on the type of job and geographic location. For those who may be wondering why the average pay for a federal employee could be as high as it is, there are 857275 federal employees in grades GS9-GS15. This figure represents the entire federal workforce, not just those in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. There were 445749 federal employees in grades GS1-GS8. 

© 2020 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 onĀ federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47