Compensation for Federal Workforce Costs the Government $1 Million Per Minute

What does it cost to pay America’s federal workforce? A new report takes an in-depth look at federal compensation.

Have you ever wondered what it costs the government to employ its workforce? A new report from Open the Books answers that question and many more.

The Report

So what is the report about? It looks in depth at federal employee compensation based on data from FY 2016. Here are some of the highlights. The full report offers much more detail.

Total Compensation

According to the disclosed data analyzed by the report, the federal government collectively paid 1.97 million federal employees $136.3 billion – that works out to $1 million per minute, $66 million per hour, and $524 million per day.

Those same federal employees are given 10 federal holidays, 13 sick days, and 20 vacation days per year. Assuming each employee utilized all of that time off, the report notes it totals $22.6 billion annually.

Top Paying States

Which states have the greatest concentrations of total compensation? Not surprisingly, Washington, DC ranks first with $15,449,763,606 for 139,243 employees. Rounding out the top five are California, Maryland, Texas, and New York.

Highest Paid Federal Employees

Regarding general trends in federal employee compensation, the report says this:

There are now 29,852 federal employees who out-earn every governor of the 50 states, receiving more than $190,823 each. Over a six-year period (FY2010-2016), the number of federal employees making $200,000 or more has increased by 165 percent, those making $150,000 or more has grown by 60 percent, and those making more than $100,000 has increased by 37 percent.

Bar chart showing the growth of federal employee salaries from FY 2010 - 2016

Highest Paying Agencies

Which agencies have the most federal workers with six-figure salaries? The Departments of Veterans Affairs, Justice and Health and Human Services are the top three.

However, the average total pay paints a different picture. The Securities and Exchange Commission has the highest average annual salary of $178,630. The Farm Credit System Insurance Corporation ranks second ($175,318) and the Federal Housing Finance Agency is third ($167,565).


One of the smallest federal agencies included in the study, Presidio Trust, had some of the most lavish bonuses of all agencies analyzed. It paid out three of the four largest bonuses in the federal government based on the available data the report studied, the biggest of which was $141,525.

About the Study

As noted above, the data are based on salary data from fiscal year 2016. All of the data were released by the Office of Personnel Management and the Postal Service.

Employees excluded from the data are the 742,000 civilian employees at the Department of Defense and the 1.3 million active duty military members.

Roughly $1 billion of federal bonuses were not disclosed because OPM claimed that union contracts governing those particular data prohibited disclosure under FOIA. The Postal Service also did not disclose any bonus data for similar reasons.

About Open the Books

According to its website, Open the Books is a government watchdog that works “hard to capture and post all disclosed spending at every level of government.”

“We believe taxpayers have a constitutional right to government oversight. We believe hard data is a game changer. Once citizens are able to see how the government spends their money, it will influence how they vote and how they view their government,” reads a statement on the website.

The report gave special thanks to former Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Barack Obama (D-IL) for making the report on federal employee salaries possible. They were the original sponsors of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, the bill that Open the Books said helped make its report possible thanks to it requiring full disclosure of details about federal spending.

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.