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Federal Employee Pay & Benefits

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Federal Employee Pay & Benefits

Page updated 5/22/2016

Federal Employee Pay / Vacations & Sick Leave / Insurance

Job security, excellent benefits, good federal employee pay, and an exceptional retirement system are just a few of the reasons most people seek federal employment. Others consider government careers because of desirable travel opportunities, training availability, diverse occupations, and the ability to locate jobs nationwide and overseas.

There are 8 predominant pay systems. Approximately half of the workforce is under the General Schedule (GS) pay scale, 20 percent are paid under the Postal Service rates, and about 10 percent are paid under the Prevailing Rate Schedule (WG) Wage Grade classification. The remaining pay systems are for the Executive Schedule, Foreign Service, Special Salary Rates, and non appropriated Fund Instrumentalities (NAFI) pay scales, and Veterans Health Administration.

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Average annual salary for full-time federal government jobs now exceeds $81,258 and the average annual federal workers compensation, including pay plus benefits, now exceeds $123,049 compared to just $61,051 for the private sector according to the United States Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The majority of professional and administrative federal workers are paid under the General Schedule (GS). The General Schedule has 15 grades of pay for civilian white-collar and service workers, and smaller within-grade step increases that occur based on length of service and quality of performance. New employees usually start at the first step of a grade; however, if the position in question is difficult to fill, entrants may receive somewhat higher pay or special rates. Almost all physician and engineer positions, for example, fall into this category. In an effort to make federal pay more responsive to local labor market conditions, federal employees working in the continental U.S. receive locality pay. The specific amount of locality pay is deter-mined by survey comparisons of private sector wage rates and federal wage rates in the relevant geographic area. At its highest level, locality pay can lead to an increase of as much as 26 percent above the base salary. Every January a pay adjustment tied to changes in private sector pay levels is divided between an across-the-board pay increase in the General Schedule and locality pay increases.

Vacation and Sick Leave


All employees receive 10 paid holidays, 13 days of vacation for the first three years service, 20 days of vacation with three to 15 years of service, and 26 days after 15 years. Additionally, 13 sick days are accrued each year regardless of length of service and employees can carry over any sick leave accumulation to the next year. Many federal employees accrue sick leave balances of a year or more during their career. The author had 2100 hours of sick leave, just over one year, accumulated when he retired in 2005. He was able to exchange his sick leave balance for an increase in his annuity payment. Military time counts toward benefits. If you have three years of military service you begin with four weeks of paid vacation. Military service time counts toward civil service retirement. Below you will find a list of all 2015 federal holidays and the days that they fall on.


Paid Holidays:

  • New Years Day (January)
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday (Mid January)
  • Washington's Birthday (February)
  • Memorial Day (May)
  • Independence Day (July 4th)
  • Labor Day (September)
  • Columbus Day (October)
  • Veterans Day (November)
  • Thanksgiving Day ( November)
  • Christmas Day (December 25th)

Federal Holiday Dates

2016 Federal Holiday Schedule and Dates
Friday, January 1 New Year’s Day
Monday, January 18 Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Monday, February 15 * Washington’s Birthday
Monday, May 30 Memorial Day
Monday, July 4 Independence Day
Monday, September 5 Labor Day
Monday, October 10 Columbus Day
Friday, November 11 Veterans Day
Thursday, November 24 Thanksgiving Day
Monday, December 25 Christmas Day












* This holiday is designated as "Washington’s Birthday" in section 6103(a) of title 5 of the United States Code, which is the law that specifies holidays for Federal employees. Though other institutions such as state and local governments and private businesses may use other names, it is our policy to always refer to holidays by the names designated in the law.

Health & Life Insurance


Medical health plans and the Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) programs are available to all employees. The Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) plan is an employee-employer contribution system and includes fee-for-service, consumer-driven, point-of-service, and HMO options. The costs are reasonable and the coverage excellent.

The federal government also offers comprehensive dental and vision care under the Federal Employees Dental & Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP). Coverage is available from a number of healthcare providers and is competitively priced with standard and high options. The FEGLI program offers low-cost term life insurance for the employee and basic coverage for the family. FEGLI offers up to five times the employee’s salary in death benefits.

One of the primary benefits of federal employment is the satisfaction you experience from working in a challenging and rewarding job. Positions are available with the level of responsibility and authority that you desire.

Retirement System


The federal retirement system is currently based on the following: Social Security contributions, an annuity based on 1 percent for each year of service times your three highest earning years, Social Security offset if you meet certain conditions, and an employee contribution system fashioned after a 401k defined contribution plan. You can elect to contribute up to 15 percent of your salary into a THRIFT savings 401k plan. The government matches your contributions. Employees receive 1 percent automatically and they match the next 3 percent contributed by the employee and 50 cents per dollar for the next 2 percent contributed. Therefore, if you contribute a minimum of 5 percent Uncle Sam matches 5 percent. New hires should consider contributing a minimum of 5 percent to receive a 5 percent match from the government.

Contributions are tax-deferred and reduce taxable income by the amount contributed. The retirement benefit is determined by the amount accumulated during the employee’s career. This includes the interest earned and capital gains realized from the retirement fund. Visit, our retirement planning Web site, for complete information and details about the federal retirement system.

There are many withdrawal options, including lump sum and various fixed term annuities. The THRIFT plan contribution payout is in addition to your federal retirement annuity and Social Security benefits that you will be eligible for at retirement.

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