Want A Higher Federal Employee Salary? Move to New Location or Agency?

Where are federal employee salaries the highest? Do employees make more in the U.S.? How do you compare?

How does your salary compare to other federal employees? How does your salary compare to employees in different locations around the world and in smaller or larger agencies?

There are more than 2.1 million federal employees. Most are in the United States but thousands are not located here. Most work in cabinet-level agencies but more than 100,000 work in smaller agencies.

There is a difference in average salaries depending on where a federal employee works and the size of the agency. Obviously, an employee’s skills, education level, and type of job are also important.

FedSmith frequently receives questions about federal salaries in the federal government. This is a summary of average salaries in agencies of a different size and employees who work in or outside of the United States.

The data in this article are from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). It is the latest data available (December 2020).

Average Federal Employee Salary

All of us would probably like to have more money for daily expenses as well as for pleasure— whether it is for buying a new car or dining in one of your favorite restaurants.

See how you compare to this figure: $90,510. This is the average salary for a federal employee as of the end of December according to OPM. This figure is for General Schedule and equivalent grades.

Where is the Highest Average Salary?

It will not surprise some readers that federal employees in some agencies make a much higher salary. There are always reasons for a higher salary and these reasons may narrow down an individual’s choices due to lack of required skills or possibly less desirable locations.

In the chart below, there is a breakdown of average salaries by the type of agency, number of employees in the agency, and location.

The highest average federal employee salary: $133,757. That is the average for federal employees in medium-sized independent agencies located in foreign countries. In the same type of agency located in the United States, the average salary is a little less: $127,283.

The highest average salary for federal employees working in the United States is in small independent agencies. The average salary for these employees: $129,843. (For individual salaries, check out How to Find a Federal Employee’s Salary.)

Where is the Lowest Average Federal Salary?

The lowest average federal employee salary is in cabinet level agencies that operate in US Territories. The average for these employees is $69,162.

In the United States, federal employees in cabinet level agencies also have a lower average salary ($89,433) than the overall average for federal employees. Cabinet level agencies also have a lower average salary in all locations: $89,106.

Average Salary by Agency Size and Location

Here is a more complete breakdown of average salaries in locations and by agency size:

Average SalaryUnited StatesUS TerritoriesForeign CountriesUnspecifiedAll locations
Cabinet Level Agencies$89,433$69,162$70,709$89,409$89,106
Large Independent Agencies
1000+ Employees
Medium Independent
100-999 Employees
Small Independent
Less than 100 Employees
All Agencies$90,902$69,528$73,717$89,827$90,510

Number of Federal Employees In the World

While federal employees in medium-sized independent agencies earn the highest amount in foreign countries, there are not many of these employees. According to OPM, there are 210 of these employees that fall into this category.

By far, the largest number of federal employees work in cabinet level agencies within the United States. 1,955,171 federal employees fall into this category out of a total of 2,171,513 federal employees throughout the world as of December 2020.

Here is a breakdown of federal employment in agencies of various size and locations:

EmploymentUnited StatesU.S. TerritoriesForeign CountriesUnspecifiedAll Locations
Cabinet Level Agencies1,955,17114,74728,6071,3961,999,921
Large Independent Agencies
1000+ Employees
Medium Independent Agencies
Small Independent Agencies
Less than 100 Employees
All Agencies2,124,35615,50530,1911,4612,171,513


Federal employees who work in agencies outside of cabinet-level agencies often have a higher average salary. Finding a job in a cabinet-level agency is easier as there are so many more employees and more diverse occupations in the very large agencies.

Perhaps working in a smaller agency outside of the United States is a desirable option for some readers. If a higher salary goes along with a desirable choice, seeking a different job outside of the U.S. may be worthwhile.

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