Is There a Gender Pay Gap in the Federal Government?

Office of Personnel Management acting director Beth Colbert recently issued a memo directing federal agencies to conduct ongoing analyses to identify and target the existence of gender related pay discrepancies among their employees.

Is pay inequality a problem among the federal workforce? The Office of Personnel Management thinks it is and has issued guidance to federal agencies to advance pay equality by gender.

The memo is a follow up to a report OPM issued last year on the gender pay gap in government.

Acting OPM director Beth Colbert said in a recent memo to agency leaders:

In our study of the gender pay gap in the Federal workforce, we found that some agencies require the use of a job candidate’s existing salary or that existing salary must be considered when setting pay of a new General Schedule employee.  Reliance on existing salary to set pay could potentially adversely affect a candidate who is returning to the workplace after having taken extended time off from his or her career or for whom an existing rate of pay is not reflective of the candidate’s current qualifications or existing labor market conditions.

We revised our fact sheet on the General Schedule superior qualifications and special needs pay-setting authority at to remind agencies that existing salary is only one factor an agency may use when setting pay under this authority and to clarify the regulatory criteria. We added information about determining whether the candidate has superior qualifications, whether the agency has a special need for the candidate’s services, and the full range of factors to consider when setting pay beyond existing salary.  The revised fact sheet also refers to agency policies and the fact that a determination cannot be made retroactively.

The memo also encouraged agencies to conduct their own gender data analyses to identify areas where potential gender-related pay disparities exist, any reasons for those disparities, and to develop strategies to target and reduce these gaps.

The memo added:

We recommend that your agency develop a plan for conducting ongoing data analysis related to gender pay equality on a regular and recurring basis to remain focused on addressing this important issue and to measure progress in closing the gender pay gap.  The attachment describes OPM’s Governmentwide data analysis process and can serve as a guide for your agency to use while conducting your own analysis.  We encourage you to fine-tune your analysis to best capture the demographics of your agency.  A more detailed description of the process OPM used to conduct our gender pay analysis for the April 2014 report can be obtained by emailing the Pay and Leave office at

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.