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Civil Service Ranks Compared to Military Ranks

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Government agencies like to assign ranks to their personnel. Whether it's civil service or the military, these ranks define responsibility, pay and to a certain extent, performance expectations. The government equates civil service positions with those in the military, dividing between upper level and lower grades. These are defined by seniority and achievement in a variety of roles.

GS Grades

GS, or general schedule grades are the equivalent of military officer ranks up to admiral or general. These grades start at GS-7 – the equivalent of an ensign or second lieutenant – and end with GS-15, the same effective grade as captain or colonel, depending on the branch of military service. Enlisted equivalencies begin at GS-1, the same as a new private or seaman in the military. There are multiple G pay classifications in this category. GS is a standard nonspecialized government employee. GM are those senior employees, equivalent to a commander, captain, lieutenant colonel and colonel in the military. GL are government law enforcement, while GP and GR are physicians and dentists, respectively.

SES Rankings

Beyond the GS scale comes SES rankings for government employees. Short for senior executive service, the designation signifies those administrators and personnel that have served the longest and with the most distinction, similar to how the military promotes its people. Ranging from rear admiral to admiral in the Navy and Coast Guard or brigadier general to general in the Army and Marines, SES grades run from SES 1 through SES 6.

Relative Salary

General schedule and military personnel follow a tiered payscale. Both receive pay increases not only based on their rank, but the time of service or "steps" within that grade. For example, a GS-10's 2012 annual pay would range from $56,857 at Step 1, while at Step 10 at that same grade he would receive $73,917. In comparison, an Army captain or Navy lieutenant would be paid $51,472 at less than two years' service, while beyond 30 years at that same grade he would be paid $85,942. These pay plans exclude other perks of service such as health care and housing allowances.

Experience and Education

Similar to the way in which an Army private just needs a high school degree to join the military, GS-2s do not require college degrees either. In fact, GS-1s don't even need high school diplomas, a minimum requirement for military service. The lack of postsecondary educational requirements holds true up until GS-4 is reached, the equivalent to an NCO grade in the military. A distinguishing characteristic between civilian GS jobs and military enlisted careers is that with government service, increasing education is needed to advance. For example, although an Army E-5 sergeant doesn't need a two-year degree or two years of college to get promoted to E-6 staff sergeant, anyone wanting to progress past GS-4 must have at least an associate's degree. This information is important to those wanting to transition out of the military into a civilian government job, since there's no guarantee that one rank in the military will immediately allow seamless transition into an equivalent government grade.


David Lipscomb is a professional writer and public relations practitioner. Lipscomb brings more than a decade of experience in the consumer electronics and advertising industries. Lipscomb holds a degree in public relations from Webster University.

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