Government Pay Scale and the Steps in Wage Grade

by Aurelio Locsin; Updated September 26, 2017

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is the government department responsible for managing payments and benefits for all federal employees. It guarantees fairness in compensation by using the same pay tables for all jobs in a particular area. These tables generally divide wages into grades, which depend on an employees experience and education. Within each grade are steps, which represent periodic increases that move workers closer toward the next level. All information is current as of 2011.

General Schedule

This is the most common pay scale for white-collar workers within the federal government and covers professional, administrative, technical and clerical positions. This table contains 15 grades and 10 steps within each grade. The lowest Grade 1, Step 1 wage runs $17,803 per year. Step 5 for that grade is $20,171 and Step 10 is $22,269. The highest Grade 15, Step 10 pay offers $129,517, up from step 1 of the same level at $99,628.

Locality Pay

Government employees can work in any region of the country, and each region has a different cost of living. To take the local prices into account, the OPM applies adjustments from Locality Pay Tables toward the General Schedules. For example, workers in New York City are entitled to a locality payment increase of 28.72 percent. Thus, the Grade 1, Step 1 pay is $22,916 per year and the Grade 15, Step 10 salary is $155,000. In Phoenix, Arizona, which has a locality payment of 16.76 percent, the Grade 1, Step 1 wage is $20,787, and the Grade 15, Step 10 pay is $151,224.

Law Enforcement

Law enforcement personnel, such as correctional officers or border security, have their own pay and locality tables. They start with Grade 3, Step 1, because most jobs demand at least a college degree, or equivalent law enforcement or military experience. This base salary runs $26,208 per year. The highest Step 10 for this grade pays $32,032 per year. The highest Grade 10, Step 10, pays $61,031. As for locality pay, New York City still demands a 28.72 percent increase. Thus, pay for Grade 3, Step 1 is $33,735 per year, and Grade 10, Step 10 is $78,559.

Executive Schedule

The Executive Schedule applies to the highest-ranking appointed officials in the executive branch of the government. These include members of the president’s Cabinet. These officials are prohibited by law from receiving locality pay. This table has only five levels, with the first having annual wages of $199,700, and the highest level having $145,700.

About the Author

Aurelio Locsin has been writing professionally since 1982. He published his first book in 1996 and is a frequent contributor to many online publications, specializing in consumer, business and technical topics. Locsin holds a Bachelor of Arts in scientific and technical communications from the University of Washington.