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.
- Average Annual Salary for Federal Employees
- Pay Raises for Federal Employees
- GS Pay Scale
- Federal Wage System (FWS)
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.
|Grade||Step 1||Step 2||Step 3||Step 4||Step 5||Step 6||Step 7||Step 8||Step 9||Step 10||WGI|
INCORPORATING THE 1% GENERAL SCHEDULE INCREASE
EFFECTIVE JANUARY 2021
Annual Rates by Grade and Step
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
- OPM – Overview of the GS Pay System
- Current GS Pay Scales for All Pay Localities
- 2021 Locality Pay Area Definitions
- GS Pay Calculator
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.