Note: An updated version of this article is available with details on searching the latest available fiscal year of salary data.
Based on recently released data from the Internal Revenue Service from 2011 tax returns, it takes an adjusted gross income of $388,905 or more to be in the top 1% of income earners in the United States. That is 5.2% higher than it took to be in this category a year earlier. The 1.37 million Americans with this elite status reported 18.7% of all the country’s taxable income.
While we do not know the adjusted gross income of federal employees, the yearly salary of most federal employees is public information and can be quickly searched using the updated FedSmith.com salary database of individual federal employee salaries. A number of agencies do not report individual names and salary figures for security reasons so the database does not consist of all federal employees. Postal Service employee salaries are in a separate database and that database operates in the same way as the database for other federal workers.
While very few federal employees will qualify for the 1% ranking, there are about 150 federal employees making $350,000 or more. In fact, one federal employee working for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania makes more than the President of the United States with a salary of $401,589.00.
There are 1257 federal employees who make at least $300,000 per year according to the latest data from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Most of these federal employees work for the Department of Veterans Affairs. For those who may be curious and want to do their own search, just go to FedsDataCenter.com and click on the “salary” column twice to sort the salaries from the highest salary to the lowest reported salary.
Based on past experience, most people are probably using the database to search for an individual federal employee. That is not hard to do and here is an example.
If you are curious about a federal employee named Mary Jones, here is how to locate her salary. First, go to the federal salary search at FedsDataCenter.com. Near the top of the page, there is a blank entry box labeled “name”. Enter the last name of the person you are seeking and then the first name so your entry looks like this: Jones, Mary. After you have done this, click on the “go” button. Here are the results that will pop up at the top of your search:
What if you are interested in finding the “Mary Jones” who works in Alexandria, Virginia? In the database, enter the name Alexandria in the location field. Several cities will pop up so select the one that looks correct. In this instance, several options will pop up but the first choice is “Alexandria” and this is most likely the name of the person in Alexandria, Virginia.
Select the first name in the location list, click on the “go” button and your search results for “Mary Jones” in Alexandria will appear. The results will also show the name of the organization in which this “Mary Jones” works.
It is also possible to search for employees by title. This can be tricky as you will have to use the title as entered into the database by the providing agency. As an example, you can search on “human resources management” and find everyone in the database with that title. When the list of names appears, you can then click on the “salary” column or the “Location” column to sort the data. For example, if you select “human resources management” and then sort by salary to display the highest salary in this field, this is the result of the search:
For those who may be wondering why salaries may be higher in this field than those in similar positions in your agency, remember that the federal government’s pay system is no longer uniform between agencies. While the employees showing up in this list may be making more than human resources managers in most agencies, some agencies are under a separate pay system. While they may be labeled as General Schedule (GS) employees, all agencies are not equal when it comes to pay and grade classification.
Agencies that pay these higher salaries are often regulatory agencies in the financial field such as SEC, FDIC, or Comptroller of the Currency. These are often much smaller than the more well-known cabinet level agencies. Those looking to enhance their future retirement income by jacking up their “high three” years of pay in order to increase their retirement annuity may want to keep that in mind when, in the future, you may be applying for a job as part of your career planning strategy.
FedSmith recently ran an article that was widely read in which a retiring Member of Congress complained that those elected to Congress are underpaid. Perhaps Congressman Moran was thinking of the higher salaries many federal employees now receive in comparison to the salaries for a Member of Congress. Since a Member of Congress now has a salary of $174,000, the Speaker of the House has a salary of $223,500, the Vice President’s salary is $230,700, and the Majority Leaders of the House and Senate have salaries of $193,400, there are thousands of federal employees making higher salaries—some federal salaries are much higher.
There are 30,218 federal employees making at least $175,000 per year—or more than a current Member of Congress. With the large egos often accompanying those in elected positions, it probably rankles people in these positions to make less than these 30,000 federal employees make.
Most federal employees will not fall in the upper echelons of federal employee salary levels. In any event, in response to those readers who often question the high average salary levels of federal employees, these high salaries contribute to higher average levels, despite a lower average salary in many cabinet level agencies.
In the meantime, peruse the updated database at your leisure to see if your name is included and how much the federal government reports that your colleagues are receiving.
Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47