Individual federal employee salary data has been posted for fiscal year 2017 and is now available in the searchable database at FedsDataCenter.com.
With discussions and proposed legislation to move federal agencies out of the Washington, DC area, it is interesting to compare average federal salaries between the Washington area and the other states.
It is not surprising that the states (including the District of Columbia) with the highest average federal employee salary are the District of Columbia and the two states surrounding Washington.
|District of Columbia||$115,594|
The states with the lowest average salary are Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. The following table shows the average federal employee salary by state from the state with the lowest average to state with the highest average.
|State||Average (adjusted pay)|
|No Data Reported||$81,305.65|
|DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA||$115,593.71|
Why the Large Differential Between States in Average Salaries?
There are a few reasons there is such a large differential between the states in average federal employee salaries. While reasonable people may disagree with the importance of these items, these are common reasons for the differential.
Most agency headquarters are located in the Washington, DC area. As a result, in many agencies the employees with the highest grade (and salary) are also in the Washington area. While in my experience from having worked in Washington and outside of that area, the theory is that the most significant decisions are made at agency headquarters and not in regional or field offices. That leads to higher salaries and higher grades as those jobs have the most responsibility.
There is also a tendency in agencies to engage in “grade creep.” Positions are reclassified and the job descriptions are expanded to appear greater responsibility is being given to a position which deserves a higher grade and salary. In many cases, the expansion is justified. In others, it is a way to award a higher grade to a person during a time of pay freezes or to retain an employee who may decide to leave for another job or to another agency.
Some states have regional offices. Others do not have these regional centers. As with agency headquarters located in Washington, the regional offices often have higher grades (and salaries) than those in lower echelons within an agency. States that do not have regional offices will typically have lower salaries.
The SWAMP Act and Average Salaries for Federal Employees
One reason some politicians are seeking to move agency functions out of the Washington, DC area is to share the wealth. Moving jobs and functions out of the Washington metro area to other localities will create jobs in the areas that would receive the jobs.
For example, the Department of Agriculture is sometimes mentioned as an agency which could have many of its functions and its headquarters located in the Midwest. This agency has about 14,450 employees making over $100,000 per year. While it is possible these salaries would go down as the locality pay in Washington is higher, chances are the average federal employee salary in a state such as Nebraska or Iowa would go up with a large agency moving to one of those states.
While the SWAMP Act introduced by Congressman Luke Messer (R-IN) or other legislation designed to move agencies out of Washington are still unlikely to be enacted, if enough Congressmen in rural states detected a significant financial advantage for their constituents, the existing system could change.