If you work for the federal government, you are probably paid according to the General Schedule (GS). While there are other compensation systems that cover federal employees, this is the predominant system.
The Office of Personnel Management operates the GS scale on behalf of the federal government. Each pay grade, such as the GS-7, requires certain experience or education in order to earn the amount allotted to that particular grade.
The base general schedule is the pay scale by which the federal government pays its employees. There are 15 total grades and up to 10 steps within the grades. The government rates candidates in this system, not jobs. So a single position can open to applicants from GS-1 to GS-9, for example.
The lowest-paid federal employees on the GS schedule fall under the GS-1 classification and step one. As these employees gain experience, they can move up in the steps to GS-1, step ten. When a job posting shows a pay range for a GS designation, it generally demonstrates the step-one and step-ten salary rates.
While your grade and step provide a starting point for your compensation under the General Schedule, your location can considerably alter the amount you are paid. The National Compensation Survey, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Office of Compensation and Working Conditions produces, determines these rates.
The cost of living is the primary driving factor in the BLS calculations. For example, high-cost states like California and New York earn high locality adjustments. However, professionals in states like North Dakota and South Carolina earn smaller salaries than others in the same GS level.
You can enter a federal job at any level GS level and step, depending on your education and experience. To earn GS-7 level, you must hold a bachelor’s degree and complete at least one year of full-time graduate study.
GS-7 professionals are typically just beginning their careers. As such, the federal government does not require professional experience. The government generally reserves GS-7 for scientific and engineering positions.
In 2019, GS-7 employees at step one earn $35,854 per year before locality adjustments. Those at step ten make $46,609. This translates to $17.18 and $22.33 per hour, respectively. With each step increase, full-time employees at this level earn an additional $1,195 per year.
In California, which has the highest locality adjustment, GS-7 employees start at $49,937 and earn up to $64,917 per year.
Federal employees in the GS system can earn step increases after working for a specified period of time and receiving at least satisfactory performance reviews. Typically, the period between promotions is a year of service for the first half of the steps and two years between the second half of the steps.
Certain agencies and positions provide for a career ladder where an employee can be promoted on an annual basis until reaching the top grade and step for that position. In order to go beyond a position’s stated GS level, higher authorization is necessary or the position may be subject to competitive selections.