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.