Average Federal Employee Salary 2010-2021: $74,307 to $93,773. With No Pay Raise, Retirements Went Up

How much has the average federal employee salary changed? Do pay raises which are less than a COLA influence the number of retirements?

Key Points

  • The average federal employee salary as of the end of fiscal year 2021 is now nearly $94,000 per year
  • The average federal employee salary has gone up more than the combined total of the average federal pay raises in the last decade
  • There was only one year between 2010 and 2021 when the average federal employee salary dropped
  • There was an unusual three year period when a larger number of federal employees retired than in most other years

How much do federal employees earn? What is the average federal employee salary in 2021?

The end of the government’s fiscal year is the end of September. In theory, a new budget goes into effect on October 1st. In practice, a new budget may actually take months to be passed in Congress and the government continues to run on a continuing resolution until a new budget is passed—and that often happens sometime in the next calendar year.

Despite the inability of Congress to pass a budget each year, the government continues to function. The end of Uncle Sam’s fiscal year is a good point for comparing how the federal government, or at least the people working in the federal bureaucracy, are changing over time.

Average Federal Employee Salary and Grades: 2017-2021

At the end of the government’s fiscal year in September 2021, the average federal employee salary throughout the world was $93,773. This is different from the average annual salary for full-time permanent employees which was $93,075 (including locality pay).

Employees in the Washington, DC statistical area have a higher average GS grade and a higher average salary. In Washington, the average grade was 12.67. This includes Washington, DC, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia core-based statistical areas. The average GS grade for federal employees was 10.48.

Federal Pay Raise: 1%; Average Pay Increase: 4.7%

Way back in September 2020, the average federal employee salary for federal employees was $90,098 or $3,677 lower than at the end of the 2021 fiscal year. This percentage increase was 4.7%.

This may surprise some readers as the annual pay raise for 2021 was a 1% across-the-board pay raise without any increase for locality pay.

The difference in the annual pay raise and the percentage increase may be based on within-grade increases, locality pay increases, promotions, and in some instances, “grade creep” where a person moves into a higher grade based on a reclassification without actually receiving a promotion.

One way of looking at the latest data is that the 4.7% average pay increase shows that the last year has been a good one for federal employees as far as average pay is concerned.

The reality is that in other years the actual annual pay raise has increased more than the announced pay raise. For example, from 2013 – 2021, the pay raises granted each year amounted to 13.1%. The actual pay of federal employees went up 18.1%. In Washington, the actual pay increase was 21% during the same time period.

Over a longer time period, the average federal employee salary has increased from $84,913 for full-time permanent employees at the end of September 2017 to the more up-to-date salary of $93,075 at the end of the 2021 fiscal year—an increase of 9.61% over five years.

Also back in 2017, the average GS grades were also lower than the more current federal workforce. In 2017, 10.38 was the average grade (compared to 10.48) and the average grade in Washington, DC statistical area was 12.53 (compared to 12.67).

The average length of service in 2017 was 13.51 years for full-time permanent employees. In 2021, the length of service average went down to 12.8 years.

Average Federal Employee Salary by Year: 2010-2021

Fiscal YearAverage SalaryAverage Salary in Washington, DC
Data provided by OPM’s FedScope

Average Salary Up 26.14%; Up 27.17% in Washington

From an average federal employee salary of $74,307 in 2010 to an average of $93,733 in 2021, this is an increase of 26.14%. The increase, and the average salaries, are higher in Washington, DC. The average there was up 27.17% from 2010 – 2021.

What Happened to Average Federal Employee Pay in 2014?

Why did the average federal employee pay drop in 2014? I do not really know. I have posed the question to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) but did not receive a response. The average pay data for each year comes from OPM.

Here are several possible reasons for the drop.

  • Low or no across-the-board pay raises for several years,
  • A COLA that was higher for retirees than the pay raise for current employees, and
  • An unusually large number of federal employees retiring.

What was the average pay raise from 2011, 2012, and 2013? If you guessed there were no across-the-board pay raises during those years, you are correct. There were no pay raises during those three years. In 2014, the pay raise was 1% and in 2015, the pay raise was 1%.

Pay Raises Zero, COLAs Paid Each Year, and Federal Retirement Numbers Went Up

It may be a coincidence, but in 2013, 2014, and 2015, there were an unusual number of federal employee retirements following a few years of very small or no across-the-board pay raises. If pay raises for current federal employees are smaller than the COLA given to retirees (which was the case from 2011 – 2014), it is a logical choice for an employee to choose retirement. An employee who is retiring is often paid more and is likely to be a higher graded employee than a new employee coming in to work for the government.

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