Federal Employee Salaries

How much are federal employees who work for the United States federal government paid, and how do their pay systems work?

FedSmith has compiled an overview of the major pay systems in the federal government and federal employee pay raises.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is the federal agency tasked with providing leadership on pay administration for civilian federal employees.

Contents

Average Annual Salary for Federal Employees

As of March 2021, the average federal employee annual salary (excluding benefits) is $91,570.

Pay Raises for Federal Employees

By law, Congress and the president determine how much, if any, pay raise federal employees get in a given year. Because it is determined by a political process, it is more complex and confusing than one might assume.

Federal employees received a 1% across-the-board pay increase for 2021.

To see how federal employees have fared with their raises under both political parties, see our article: 50 Years of Federal Pay: Democrats v. Republicans.

Although they are often confused as being the same thing, the annual pay raise for federal employees is different from the annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) calculation for federal retirees.

For complete details on the pay raise process, see How is the Annual Federal Employee Pay Raise Determined?.

GS Pay Scale

As noted above, the General Schedule (GS) pay system covers the majority of civilian white-collar federal workers employed in professional, technical, administrative, and clerical positions.

There are 15 GS grades establishing base annual salaries that run from 1 (lowest) to 15 (highest). The grade of each job is established by the employing agency based on the level of difficulty, responsibility and required qualifications. Typically, individuals would qualify within the GS grades along these general lines:

  • GS-2: Individuals with no additional experience and a high school diploma
  • GS-5: Individuals with a bachelor’s degree
  • GS-9: Individuals with a master’s degree

Within-Grade Increases (WGI)

Each GS grade has 10 step rates (steps 1-10) and employees can move to higher steps throughout their federal careers. Within-grade increases (WGI) as they are called are based on an acceptable level of performance and longevity (waiting periods of 1 year at steps 1-3, 2 years at steps 4-6, and 3 years at steps 7-9). 

Each WGI amounts to a salary increase of about 3% of an employee’s salary. In effect, a WGI is a pay raise based on the length of time in government service at a particular step and grade in the General Schedule’s pay system.

GS Pay Scale 2021

The GS pay tables are published annually by OPM at the start of each year. The latest one of the annual GS base pay rates is included below.

GradeStep 1Step 2Step 3Step 4Step 5Step 6Step 7Step 8Step 9Step 10WGI
119738204002105621709223652274923398240522407824690VARIES
222194227222345724078243492506525781264972721327929VARIES
324216250232583026637274442825129058298653067231479807
427184280902899629902308083171432620335263443235338906
5304143142832442334563447035484364983751238526395401014
6339033503336163372933842339553406834181342943440731130
7376743893040186414424269843954452104646647722489781256
8417234311444505458964728748678500695146052851542421391
9460834761949155506915222753763552995683558371599071536
10507485244054132558245751659208609006259264284659761692
11557565761559474613336319265051669106876970628724871859
12668296905771285735137574177969801978242584653868812228
1379468821178476687415900649271395362980111006601033092649
1493907970371001671032971064271095571126871158171189471220773130
151104601141421178241215061251881288701325521362341399161435983682
SALARY TABLE 2021-GS
INCORPORATING THE 1% GENERAL SCHEDULE INCREASE
EFFECTIVE JANUARY 2021
Annual Rates by Grade and Step

Locality Pay

Most GS employees are also entitled to locality pay, which is a geographic-based percentage rate that reflects pay levels for non-federal workers in certain geographic areas as determined by surveys conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are currently 47 locality pay areas.

Additional GS Pay Resources

Wage Grade Pay Scale (FWS)

The Federal Wage System (FWS) (a.k.a. wage grade) was developed to make the pay of Federal blue-collar workers comparable to prevailing private sector rates in each local wage area. It is a partnership between OPM, other federal agencies and labor organizations. The goal of the FWS is to pay employees according to local prevailing rates and covers most trade, craft, and laboring employees in the executive branch.

Additional Wage Grade Pay Resources

Infographic showing the makeup of federal employees and the overall United States federal workforce in 2021 based on the latest available data from the Office of Personnel Management
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