To Make More Money in Government, Work for a Small Federal Agency

Do employees in your agency have an average salary as high as other agencies? There is a wide range of “average” salaries between large and small agencies. See how you compare to these averages and which cabinet level agencies have the highest and lowest average salary and which agency comes out first among all agencies as having the highest average salary.

Whenever we publish articles about federal salaries, especially when discussing “average” federal salary figures, there are numerous comments along the lines of “you should exclude employees in Washington, DC” or “higher graded employees should not be included in the average figure” or “the average is not as high as this in our agency.”

There is some validity to these statements. As we have pointed out previously, salaries in Washington, DC are higher than in the rest of the country.

Last week, I received a query from the Wall Street Journal asking about average federal salaries for a specific federal agency. In researching the answer, it became obvious there is a noticeable difference between agencies in how much they pay employees. All of the information is from statistics from the Office of Personnel Management.

Average Federal Employee Salary

Overall, the average federal employee salary, not including any benefits, is now $73,877. In the United States, the average federal employee makes $74,245. The first figure includes federal employees in US Territories or foreign countries.

How Agencies Are Defined by OPM—and the Highest Average Salary Among Cabinet Level Agencies

A small independent agency is defined by the Office of Personnel Management as one having less than 100 employees.
A medium sized independent agency is with with 100-999 employees; a large independent agency is 1000 or more employees and the cabinet level agencies are the very large agencies most of us are familiar with. The dollar figures are the average salaries for these particular agencies.

Some of the smaller agencies are unknown to most people. Small agencies are ones such as the African Development Foundation ($105,192), the Commission on Civil Rights ($107,765); the Commission of Fine Arts ($97,880); and the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation ($68,903).

Medium agencies include agencies such as the Federal Labor Relations Authority ($115,253), the Merit Systems Protection Board ($119,694), the Federal Housing Finance Agency ($147,547), and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation ($99,418).

The large independent agencies include the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ($84,940); the Federal Trade Commission ($117,471); and the Office of Personnel Management ($69,925).

The cabinet level agencies include the Department of Defense ($69,723); the Department of Education—which has the highest average among this category of agencies—($103,849); and the Department of Transportation ($103,512).

The cabinet level agency with the lowest average salary: the Department of Agriculture ($64,867).

Agency With the Highest Average Salary in the Federal Government

So which agency has the distinction of having the highest average federal salary?

Perhaps you thought it would be the Federal Housing Finance Agency with an average salary of $147,547.  This agency is a new agency created in 2008 and describes itself as “a world-class, empowered regulator with all of the authorities necessary to oversee vital components of our country’s secondary mortgage markets – Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Home Loan Banks.”

This small agency is certainly a contender. But is comes in behind a small agency unknown to most Americans: the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board ($147,812). Its sole purpose is to provide independent scientific and technical oversight of the Department of Energy’s program for managing and disposing of high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel. The agency had a number of people with a salary of more than $163,000 in 2009 (the average salary figures cited above are as of March 2010) with a title listed as “Miscellaneous Administration and Program.”

No doubt, there are numerous reasons for the wide variety of average salaries among federal agencies depending on the agency, its mission and the specialties of its workforce. In general, the smaller more specialized agencies have higher salaries and, of course, a smaller number of employees on the payroll.

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