How does the General Schedule Pay Scale Work? - FederalPay.org
White collar, civilian personnel in the federal government are paid on the standardized GS schedule. Some agencies may pay their employees using Pay Band systems or other special pay programs, but the GS schedule is the most widely used. It is used to pay over 1.5 million federal works across all 13 federal departments and numerous independent agencies.
The GS schedule applies to a wide range of personnel. Employees directly out of high school with no experience can start at GS Grade 1 or 2. While individuals with senior management roles will be GS 14 or 15. Above GS-15, employees are paid on the Senior Executive Service (SES) Schedule, which is reserved for high ranking officials who lead agencies and departments.
In the GS system, pay is based on three factors: grade, step, and location.
Grades run from 1 to 15 with 15 receiving the highest pay. Your grade is based on education, experience, and position. Some positions are limited in terms of what grade they can be paid at. Also grades have minimum educational and experience requirements to qualify for the grade. Grade increases are considered a promotion even though your title may not change. For example, an employee may be hired directly out of college and start with the title Mechanical Engineer and a grade of GS-5. That employee could work there whole career and receive promotions up to GS-13 and still have the title of Mechanical Engineer. If and when an employee moves into a managerial position their title will typical change. Each grade increase equates to a 10-15% pay increase.
In order to express whether someone is in an entry-level or senior role employees often list their GS grade along with their position. Grade is especially important when interacting with military personnel who are accustomed to rigid hierarchical command structure. This is common for employees in the Department of Defense. The Department of Defense employs more GS employees than any other single department or agency.
Step is based on how long you have worked for the federal government. Steps run from 1 to 10 with step 10 receiving the highest pay. Employees start at step 1 and move to step 2 after 1 year of service. As you move up in step the time intervals between step increases become long. It takes 18 years of service to reach step 10. Each step increase equates to a 2-3% increase in pay.
The final factor used to determine pay on the GS pay schedule is location. There are 34 different pay localities across the US. Each locality adds a different percentage you your base pay. Locality is designed to accommodate for higher costs of living in and around major cities. Locality rates are the highest around San Francisco and Washington D.C., two of the most expensive places to live in the United States. Locality rates are based on where you work, not where you live. If you do not work in or around a major metropolis you will fall under the “Rest of U.S.” locality area. To determine your final adjusted pay multiple your locality rate by your base pay. For instance, in 2014 if you are GS-7, step 4 in New York your base pay will be $37,751 and your locality rate is 28.72%. Your adjusted pay would be 37,751 x 1.2872 equals your total adjusted yearly salary of $48,593.
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