Fed salaries still increasing, even through pay freeze


The average federal salary increased nearly $1,000 last year — from $77,505 in fiscal 2011 to $78,467 — according to statistics posted online by the Office of Personnel Management yesterday.

How can that be, you ask, when federal pay has been frozen for more than two years now? The increase highlights a point we’ve made several times — that the pay freeze isn’t actually a total pay freeze. It’s a freeze on the pay scales. Within-grade step increases — which bump many feds up to a higher level of pay every one, two or three years — were left untouched by President Obama’s pay freeze, as were promotions. This means that hundreds of thousands of federal employees have still gotten pay raises, despite the pay scale freeze.

In all, the average federal salary has gone up  $1,881 since the freeze began. In fiscal 2010, the average pay was $76,586. The freeze did slow down the rate of increase, however — between fiscal 2008 and 2010, before it went into effect, the average federal salary increased more than $5,000.

When I wrote Federal Times’ story on the freeze in December 2010, I estimated these step increase raises during the (then two-year) pay scale freeze would cost the government at least $2.5 billion. These numbers tell me I drastically underestimated that figure, partly because I had no way to estimate how many feds would get promotions. If 2.1 million federal employees got, on average, $1,881 in raises, that comes close to $4 billion.


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  1. Does this account for the changes in demographics in which lower paid employees like interns and students were let go? Our office lost several of these individuals who, upon graduation have found gainful employment in their chosen field in the private sector.

    How about other demographic changes in the workforce resulting from retirements, resignations, etc? Were they considered?

  2. Seriously, $940 a year average over two years is something for crowing about? That’s about 1.2%. My health care costs grew more than that over the same period. Include inflation of 3% and 1.7% respectively for 2011 and 2012 and fed employees took a net decrease of 5-6% depending on what health care they have. That’s assuming that their step hit over this period, which for many, despite the “average”, it may not have. So per the way the government does their projections, we’ve still saved them $16 billion or so even with the $4 billion claimed creep.

    I also wonder about the changes in demographics as already mentioned.

    Finally, the tone of the article is that we are getting away with something. It’s obvious in the author’s opinion we aren’t really under a “pay freeze” and somehow hundreds of thousands of us are “scamming the system” by getting paid for promotions (the nerve!) or getting our steps as promised. Yes, we must all be living high on the hog on that average of $36 a pay that’s eaten up in taxes and health care before we even see it. Crackerjack job, breaking this story.

  3. If the average salary at the start of the pay freeze was $76, 586, then, adjusted for inflation, we would expect the average salary to be about $80,460 today, a difference of $3,784. In other words, those step increases you’re so obsessed with are so small that, on average, they don’t even match inflation. What you’re basically saying is that, indeed, feds are earning less today than they did in 2010, despite small pay increases and promotions for portions of the workforce.

    So far, federal employees have contributed around $100 billion to debt reduction efforts in the next decade. The effect of the pay freeze isn’t temporary, as it affects all federal employees future earnings, so that number grows even larger as the projection is carried forward. It should also be noted that not every fed is getting step increases, much less promotions.

    As I see it, feds are the only ones doing their part. By and large, most do so proudly, despite condescending nonsense like this being written about them every day.

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  5. sick-n-tired-fed on

    Once again, hack reporting. Heaven forbid the total picture ever get published, nobody would read it because it’s more “feel good” than the extreme rhetoric that is shown here.

    I need to stop expecting better from Federal Times.

    Stephen, show us your an equal opportunity reporter. Let’s see you gather the information about what our political leaders have done with their staff/income/pet programs to reduce the budget.

    There’s way too much focus on the “Federal Employee” costs and none on those that TRULY drive and control the budget.

    Anyone ever try and figure out how much it costs the taxpayers (of which Federal Employees are a part of) when Congress fails to pass timely appropriations?

  6. Hey Steve,
    Was your analysis based on the real burdened cost per employee? Health care premiums have skyrocketed and with the government paying around 65 to 70% of these premiums, the burdened cost per employee rose, resulting in an overall increase in salary budgets. The result for employees has been a net loss since there was no increase (unless said employee received a step increase, which in many cases would have been largely consumed by health care premium increases) in salary. Also, given the ceiling increase on social security limits, higher paid employees also had their burdened costs increased. A 3000 dollar hike in the limit results in a 229.5 dollar increase in the employee’s burdened cost. Was that included in the analysis?
    Freeze or not, salary budgets are going to go up, absent substantial attrition because of rising costs due to social security increased limits on earnings subject to tax and because of skyrocketing health insurance premiums. If your analysis was based on total salary budget per employee, you should realize that this is in fact a burdened basis, not the basis on which any individual employee sees.

  7. I am rotting in place at the top of my pay grade but my workolad has spiraled. I am an RN receiving 20% less than the private sector employers. My premiums have increased by 20%, my pay has been frozen since ’09 and my husband has been unemployed for several years. Now Obama, whom I gave $ toward his reelection wants to increase my pension contribution. Good grief.

  8. This kind of reporting is simply why I am chosing NOT to read or visit federal times anymore! Might as well call it Federal Right Wing Times!

  9. This article does not take into consideration all the Federal employees who are at the top of their pay grade, with no cola in site and no advancement opportunities either. We are not getting an increase in our salaries.

  10. What cheap shot title caption is this?

    Everyone knew steps were still going to happen. Don’t make it sound as if no one saw this coming. There was no hiding this as the article seems to portray. Or was the writer the only one lost, and suddenly figured this out?

    Longing for the day the “Federal Times” prints real journalism about feds and tells it like it really is.

    Like how even during better times, even after COLA’s and step-in-grades feds still took home less each year because health insurance premiums and social security taxes combined each year offset any COLA or Step.

    And of course the theoretical higher salary meant higher withholdings altogether. So no, fed did not or will they ever get paid more.

    Furthermore, don’t write an article implying that all feds make no less than $75,000. If you were a REAL journalist, or one that actually took the time to research before pecking nonesense into your keyboard, you’d see that the majority are GS-7’s if not lower.

    Way to go to fan the TP Party!

  11. The first clue that there might be something wrong with the statistics used is that the average wage is in excess of $70, 000 per year. That may be true if we are talking about wages in a major area like DC, New York City, LA, or San Diego. A real reporter would have done their due diligence to check the accuracy of the figures cited in the report.

    The GS pay schedules are located here: http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/salaries-wages/2013/general-schedule/

    Take a look for yourself and see if you truly believe that the average federal salary is in excess of $70,000. Personally, I don’t believe they are. I think this report is just another political attack against the average federal employee and not a stupid math error on the part of the staff responsible for preparing the report.

  12. Yes the total pay out for Federal Employees went up. Did you check into some of the reasons? How about the fact that our current First Lady has 20 Assistants, unlike all other First Ladies only had 1 or 2. All 20 are Federal Employees. Think that might have made the total amount go up? When your office has an opening for a position that cannot be vacant, such as a boss or only one person is hired for the particular task, that position must be filled. Those are the only promotions being filled. I am quite sure it works the same at every place of employment, not just the Federal Government. It did when I was employed by the Private Sector. As for multi-personnel jobs, the rest must pickup the work left by the folks who have moved on to retirement or other departments. And how about the Senate and the House, is anyone telling about there pay and costs to the taxpayer lately? I am due for my $0.36 step increase this year. It comes to $28.80 per biweekly pay and $748.80 annually. Yippee!! The sad part is Health Care rates have gone up, so I can pay for those on Welfare and they can receive their care. Tell me Stephen, How many of those folks got an increase in entitlements in the past three years? I also would like to know who you asked about the Average Federal Salary? Most of the folks here actually only receive 32,000 to 50,000 a year, not 76,000 plus. I am fed up with people thinking I am getting rich and do nothing because I am a Federal Employee! Maybe if the press would stop printing such crap and take a good look at the real problem of overspending, you would find it is not because of big dollars going to the average Federal Employee!!! How many more folks is the President going to fly to the Whitehouse on Airforce One? How many more illustrious dinners is he going to have? How many more big name talent folks is he going to have at the Whitehouse for entertainment? Do you reporting folks really sleep at night with the half-truth stories you print?

  13. I’m going to share a personal experience. I am one of the people that took a promotion last year. My boss got another job, so I was asked to take a temporary promotion into his spot. I would be paid at the next pay grade, step 1 (I was currently a step 4, so it was a nice bump). I did the job, plus my current position and an eqivalent position since we had a vacancy for more than 10 months and the work had to be done. So, I was doing 3 jobs, and my pay was bumped about 8 grand on an annual basis. So far, not bad. Here’s the kicker, due to some policy, I was only able to get this pay for 4 months. I was asked to continue doing the job for 8 months. So I was doing 3 jobs, 2 non-supervisory and one temporary promotion supervisor position.

    So yes, I received a promotion, but I did 3 jobs for 8 months and was only paid to do 1 of those jobs for 4 months at the boosted pay level. Once someone was finally hired, I was still asked to do 2 jobs for no additional money for another 12 months and there is no end in sight.

    But the reporter conveniently leaves these scenarios out of the story. I woukd hope this guy aspires to be a journalist and not someone just looking to put words out there to be seen. Be better than that.

  14. Are they considering average federal salaries of $78,000 plus for GS 12 and above no one under this grade makes this kind of money to compute this average.

  15. Replying to Roy,
    Roy, the average is in fact that high because it has to account for the burdened cost of each employee. When an agency budgets for a new employee, the cost budgeted includes things like the government’s share of your pension contribution, matching TSP contributions, social security and medicare contributions and their share of the health care premium. Now, in the past several years the limit on social security was raised from $110,100 to $113,700. That raised the burdened cost on a higher paid federal employee by $161,20. We all know that health care premiums have skyrocketed in recent years–that is another contributor to the burdened cost per employee. Those two examples raise the cost paid by the taxpayer per employee even if that employee realizes a gross gain of zero and an actual net loss.
    This is never considered when arguments regarding total federal compensation are discussed.

  16. I dont know who is getting the pay raises but it aint NO WG worker thats for sure, maybe the GS that make all the HIGH wages anys….but not the blue collar worker that does all the work..I know cause its me

  17. Step increases allow for timely and systematic pay increases if the individual hasn’t maximized the step ceiling. The next time you want to run a story, please investigate the locality pay entitlements for GS employees! The federal workers frequently reported about are usually in the GS pay system. Each step increase will also increase the individuals locality pay. Yes, I know that most of the people receiving the locality pay will say that this increase results in a very insignificant amount. This is still more money in the individuals pocket. I would probably consider a few extra pennies no big deal either, if I were one of the privileged locality pay recipients. I am one of the non-techical, non educated and misclassified wage grade workers. My step increase range was used up after my 6th year of service. I do not have any pity for people complaining about not receiving a annual pay raise while getting those step increases for 20 years and sliding from office to office, getting grade increases and doing the same type of paper shuffling job as before.

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