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Federal Job Pay Grades & Benefits

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The General Schedule and the Federal Wage System define pay grades for most federal jobs. Over 70 percent of the federal workforce is paid according to the General Pay Scale. Experience and responsibility are ranked against the wage charts. Each federal job is given a specific rating depending on the amount of education and experience required for each position. General Schedule wage chart is used for office positions and the Federal Wage System is used for labor, craft and trade occupations.

General Schedule

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The General Schedule (GS) is made up of 15 grades, starting at GS-1 and ending at GS-15. Each grade has a broad legal definition for responsibility, difficulty and required qualifications. Within each grade there are 10 steps, with advancement from step to step requiring the employee to show improved ability. Within the GS pay scale, the four top steps within a pay grade are higher than the bottom steps of the grade above. Typically, federal employees advance a grade for every year of employment. Also, affecting the GS are Locality Pay Tables, an addition to the base salary. These vary by geographical area and result in differences in the GS based upon an area's cost of living.

GS Salaries

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The starting pay grade for a new federal employee typically depends upon his experience and education. For instance, a college graduate who has a Bachelor’s degree but no work experience could start at GS-5, which, in 2010, was approximately $35,000 per year, depending upon location. If the new employee had done a year of graduate work, the starting grade could be GS-7, approximately $43,000.

Federal Wage System

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The Federal Wage System (FWS) has three pay scales: WG, WL and WS. WG employees hold non-supervisory and on-lead positions. The WG scale has 15 grades and there are five salary range steps within each grade. Leader positions fall under the WL scale which has the same 15 grades and five salary range steps as the WG. Supervisory positions fall under WS, with 19 grades and, within each grade, five steps.

FWS Hourly Wages

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FWS employees are paid hourly. Depending upon the location of the job, the hourly rate for a WG-1 level position is around $13 per hour with WS-19 hourly rates approximately $45 per hour.


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Federal employees, by law, are paid salaries that are competitive with similar jobs in private industry and, based on Employment Cost Indes (ECI), they increase annually. Health and life insurance benefits are available to federal employees, with the government paying a large percentage of the premiums. All federal employees are covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System and are eligible for 401(k) type savings plans. The federal employee also enjoys 10 paid holidays per year, plus sick and vacation time. There is also the possibility, based upon job requirements, of employer paid education, part-time work and flexible work schedules.


Diane Stevens' professional experience started in 1970 with a computer programming position. Beginning in 1985, running her own business gave her extensive experience in personal and business finance. Her writing appears on Orbitz's Travel Blog and other websites. Stevens holds a Bachelor of Science in physics from the State University of New York at Albany.

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