HomerandomBreakin' down the government pay system

Breakin’ down the government pay system

Check it out you crazy delicious bloggers. I’m gonna take some time today to get all academic on your a$$ and explain how gettin’ paid by the Feds works. Consider this a peephole to the public sector. For those that don’t care how gov pay works you can read an old post about “The importance of discipline” or you can watch this cat run in to a wall on YouTube.

F.Y.I. I’m only going to be discussing the GS (General Schedule) pay system because that is the classification I fall under and is the standard for most federal agencies.

There are 15 grades amongst the GS system. Higher pay grades mean higher income. Below is a picture of the various GS pay scales… click image to make larger

It may be a little confusing if you don’t know exactly how it works. Essentially, within each grade you will notice there are also 10 steps. Most federal positions have a career ladder. This basically means that you come in at a pre-determined pay grade, and as time passes you jump up to higher grades and steps. The best way to explain how this whole system works is to give ya an example. I’ll break down the pay system for my current position.

I started with Uncle Sam 1.5 years ago and was hired as a GS-7 step 1. Referencing the chart above you can tell my base salary was $33,477 (my actual starting salary was around $40,000 after Cost Of Living Adjustments (COLA), but for this example I’m just gonna use the base salaries)

Before I even applied to the position, I knew that it had a career ladder to the GS-12 pay grade. My specific career ladder was a 7/9/11/12. The numbers represent the promotion track to reach my maximum income. After exactly one year as a GS-7 step 1 ($33,477), I was promoted to a GS-9 step 1($40,949). In six months I will then again promote to a GS-11 step one ($49,544). One year after that I will then be a GS-12 ($59,383). My position does not increase to the GS-13 level and therefore I will never be paid as one. Once, you reach the highest grade, you then begin to promote steps. After one year as a GS-12 step 1 you promote to GS-12 step 2. You promote every year for steps 1-4, every two years steps 5-7, and every three years step 8-10. Confused? Don’t be. It basically takes 18 years to go from a step 1 to a step 10. Using my actual pay (after COLA), I started at $41,324 and at the start of my fourth year I will be making $73,302. Thats a $32K increase in 3 years! It gets much less exciting after that as it will take 18 years to go from $73,302 to $95,288.

I hope this all makes sense, but I’m starting to think I probably just confused the crap out of my readers. I guess the most important thing to note with government pay is you know exactly how much money you are going to make in 2, 5, 20, and 30 years down the road if you stay in the same position. I knew when I started at $40,000 the most I could ever make is $95,000. It’s great to know that in six months I can expect an over $10,000 pay increase, but sometimes frustrating to know that promotions generally come because of time in service and not necessarily the quality of work one produces. Don’t take that to mean that a crappy employee is still going to be promoted because they wont be, but it does mean that an average special agent makes the exact same amount as the best special agent in the country. Love it or hate it, this is the way the government works.

Hopefully you didn’t fall asleep 🙂



  1. Hey Debt Ninja, I was wondering how you got through the hiring process to work for Uncle Sam.

  2. Just wait until you can hop into private industry and take all your sweet govt connections with you.

  3. @ Skeeter- Hit my up with an email with any specific questions you may have and I'll be more than happy to respond to it. [email protected]

    @ Donnie- Yeah I definitely get to do a lot of networking. It's always nice to know people, and hopefully at some point that will make myself more marketable if I join the private sector in the future.

  4. Yo man, nice work. It takes another 18 yrs to get to 95K! That's long man but congrats on getting to 75K so quickly!

    Can I come in as a higher grade immediately if I worked 20 yrs in the private sector for example already? I want to work for the Dept of Transportation, where 1700 of them now make $170,000!!!

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