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United States federal civil service

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Title: United States federal civil service  
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United States federal civil service

Remarks by FDR in 1944 at Union Station, thanking government workers for helping win the war

In the United States, the federal civil service was established in 1871. The Federal Civil Service is defined as "all appointive positions in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of the Government of the United States, except positions in the uniformed services." (5 U.S.C. § 2101).[1] In the early 19th century, positions in the federal government were held at the pleasure of the president—a person could be fired at any time. The spoils system meant that jobs were used to support the American political parties, though this was gradually changed by the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 and subsequent laws. By 1909, almost two-thirds of the U.S. federal workforce was appointed based on merit, that is, qualifications measured by tests. Certain senior civil service positions, including some heads of diplomatic missions and executive agencies are filled by political appointees. Under the Hatch Act of 1939, civil servants are not allowed to engage in political activities while performing their duties.[2]

According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), as of December 2011, there were approximately 2.79 million civil servants (civilian, i.e. non-uniformed) employed by the US Government.[3][4][5] (This includes executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. This also includes more than 600,000 United States Postal workers.)

The U.S. civil service includes the Competitive service and the Excepted service. The majority of civil service appointments in the U.S. are made under the Competitive Service, but certain categories in the Diplomatic Service, the FBI, and other National Security positions are made under the Excepted Service. (U.S. Code Title V)

U.S. state and local government entities often have competitive civil service systems that are modeled on the national system, in varying degrees.


  • Federal agencies 1
  • Pay systems 2
  • Employment by Agency 3
  • US Civil Service Commission 4
  • Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 5
  • Civil servants in literature 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Federal agencies

Employees in the civil services work under one of the independent agencies or one of the 15 executive departments.

In addition to departments, there are a number of staff organizations grouped into the Executive Office of the President. These include the White House staff, the National Security Council, the Office of Management and Budget, the Council of Economic Advisers, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

There are also independent agencies such as the United States Postal Service, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). In addition, there are government-owned corporations such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the National Railroad Passenger Corporation.[6]

As of January 2009, the Federal Government, excluding the Postal Service and soldiers, employed about 2.0 million civilian workers. The Federal Government is the nation’s single largest employer. Although most federal agencies are based in the Washington, D.C. region, only about 16% (or about 288,000) of the federal government workforce is employed in this region.[7]

There were 456 federal agencies in 2009.[8]

Pay systems

The pay system of the United States government civil service has evolved into a complex set of pay systems that include principally the General Schedule (GS) for white-collar employees, Federal Wage System (FWS) for blue-collar employees, Senior Executive System (SES) for Executive-level employees, Foreign Service Schedule (FS) for members of the Foreign Service and more than twelve alternate pay systems that are referred to as alternate or experimental pay systems such as the first experimental system China Lake Demonstration Project. The current system began as the Classification Act of 1923[9] and was refined into law with the Classification Act of 1949. These acts that provide the foundation of the current system have been amended through executive orders and through published amendments in the Federal Register that sets for approved changes in the regulatory structure of the federal pay system. The common goal among all pay systems is to achieve the goal of paying equitable salaries to all involved workers regardless of system, group or classification. This is referred to as pay equity or (“equal pay for equal work”). Select careers in high demand may be subject to a special rate table,[10] which can pay above the standard GS tables. These careers include certain engineering disciplines and patent examiners.[11][12]

The General Schedule (GS) includes white collar workers at levels 1 through 15, most professional, technical, administrative, and clerical positions in the federal civil service. The Federal Wage System or Wage Grade (WG) schedule includes most federal blue-collar workers. As of September 2004, 71% of federal civilian employees were paid under the GS; the remaining 29% were paid under other systems such as the Federal Wage System for federal blue-collar civilian employees, the Senior Executive Service/Senior Level and the Executive Schedule for high-ranking federal employees, and the pay schedules for the United States Postal Service and the Foreign Service. In addition, some federal agencies—such as the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Reserve System, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation—have their own unique pay schedules.

All federal employees in the GS system receive a base pay that is adjusted for locality. Locality pay varies, but is at least 10% of base salary in all parts of the United States. The following salary ranges represent the lowest and highest possible amounts a person can earn, without earning over-time pay or receiving a merit-based bonus. Actual salary ranges differ (for instance a GS-9, step 1 in rural Arkansas may start at $46,625 versus $55,015 in San Jose, California), but all salaries lie within the parameters of the following ranges (effective January, 2012):[13]

Pay grade GS-1 GS-2 GS-3 GS-4 GS-5 GS-6 GS-7 GS-8 GS-9 GS-10 GS-11 GS-12 GS-13 GS-14 GS-15
Lowest step (1) $ 17,803 $ 20,017 $ 21,840 $ 24,518 $ 27,531 $ 30,577 $ 33,979 $ 37,631 $ 41,563 $ 45,771 $ 50,287 $ 60,274 $ 71,674 $ 84,697 $ 99,628
Highest step (10) $ 22,269 $ 25,191 $ 28,392 $ 31,871 $ 35,657 $ 39,748 $ 44,176 $ 48,917 $ 54,028 $ 59,505 $ 65,371 $ 78,355 $93,175 $110,104 $129,517
Source: U.S. Office of Personnel Management, 2012.[14]

Nineteen percent of federal employees earned salaries of $100,000 or more in 2009. The average federal worker's pay was $71,208 compared with $40,331 in the private sector, although under

  • Career Guide to Industries Federal Government, Excluding the Postal Service (Bureau of Labor Statistics)—Statistics and details on Federal civil service

External links

  1. ^ "The Federal Civil Service". DOI University, National Business Center, U.S. Department of the Interior. Revised 11/10/98. Archived from the original on 2009-10-18. Retrieved 2009-08-31. 
  2. ^ "Political Activity (Hatch Act)". Retrieved 2011-05-25. 
  3. ^ "Total Government Employment Since 1962". Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  4. ^ O'Keefe, Ed. "Federal Eye - How many federal workers are there?". Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  5. ^ "December 2011". 2012-01-01. Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  6. ^ "Circular NO. A–11 PT. 7 Planning, Budgeting, Acquisition, and Management of Capital Assets" (PDF). OMB Circular No. A–11 (2008). Executive Office of the President Office of Management and Budget. June 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-28. 
  7. ^ "Federal Government, Excluding the Postal Service". US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2008-03-12. Retrieved 2008-07-28. , Section: Employment. Note: Because data on employment in certain agencies cannot be released to the public for national security reasons, this total does not include employment for the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, and National Imagery and Mapping Agency.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Pub. Law no. 516, Ch. 265, 42 Stat. 1488 (March 4, 1923).
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Office of Personnel Management, Salary Tables, 2012". Retrieved 2014-06-13. 
  14. ^ Office of Personnel Management. (2012). Salary Table No. 2012-GS. Retrieved from the OPM:
  15. ^ Cauchon, Dennis (11 December 2009). "Richest of federal workers get richer". Melbourne, Florida: Florida Today. pp. 1A. 
  16. ^ Cauchon, Dennis (10 November 2010). "More fed workers' pay tops $150K". Melbourne, Florida: Florida Today. pp. 4A. 
  17. ^ "Congressional Research Service Report for Congress: The Executive Schedule IV Pay Cap on General Schedule Compensation" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-12-22. 
  18. ^ "January 2009 Pay Adjustments". United States Office of Personnel Management. 18 December 2008. Retrieved 2011-12-22. 
  19. ^ "Federal Government". Retrieved 2011-05-25. 
  20. ^ a b c Digital History, Steven Mintz. "Digital History". Retrieved 2011-05-25. 
  21. ^ Creating America: A History of the United States, Rand McNally, p 238 (2003).
  22. ^ E. Chemerinsky, "Making Sense of the Affirmative Action Debate", (1996)
  23. ^ Ingraham, Patricia W.; Donald P. Moynihan (2000). The Future of Merit. p. 103. 
  24. ^ Roberge, Ellen (2011). SNAFU, A Hysterical Memoir About Why the Government Doesn't Work. Orlando, FL: Createspace/BureauRat Publishing. p. 119.  
  25. ^ "The Press: Soap Operas Come to Print".  


See also

  • Mumms, Hardee (1977). Federal Triangle. New York: Dutton.   Humorous novel of 1970s federal employees in Washington, DC [25]
  • Philipson, Morris H (1983). Secret understandings: A novel. New York: Simon & Schuster.   Novel about the wife of a federal judge
  •   A State Department employee's son reconstructs a childhood in a fictional Middle Eastern country
  • Costello, Mark (2002). Big If. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.   A novel of life in the Secret Service
  •   A novel of a diplomat's son in Cambodia
  •   A novel about a public health contractor in San Francisco
  •   A novel of the Forest Service (NYT review)

Civil servants in literature


This act abolished the United States Civil Service Commission and created the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) and the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). OPM primarily provides management guidance to the various agencies of the executive branch and issues regulations that control federal human resources. FLRA oversees the rights of federal employees to form collective bargaining units (unions) and to engage in collective bargaining with agencies. MSPB conducts studies of the federal civil service and mainly hears the appeals of federal employees who are disciplined or otherwise separated from their positions. This act was an effort to replace incompetent officials. [23]

Civil Service Reform Act of 1978

The United States Civil service exams have since been abolished for many positions, since statistics show that they do not accurately allow hiring of minorities according to the affirmative action guidelines.[22]

Effective January 1, 1978, the commission was renamed the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978.

Public support in the United States for civil service reform strengthened following the assassination of President James Garfield.[20] The United States Civil Service Commission was created by the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, which was passed into law on January 16, 1883. The commission was created to administer the civil service of the United States federal government. The law required federal government employees to be selected through competitive exams and basis of merit;[20] it also prevented elected officials and political appointees from firing civil servants, removing civil servants from the influences of political patronage and partisan behavior.[20][21] However, the law did not apply to state and municipal governments.

US Civil Service Commission

SOURCE: U.S. Office of Personnel Management
Federal Government executive branch civilian employment,
except U.S. Postal Service, January 2007[19]
(Employment in thousands)
DC area United
DC area
Combined Total 1,774 284
Executive departments 1,593 234 Independent agencies 179 48
Defense, total 623 65 Social Security Administration 62 2
Army 223 19 NASA 18 4
Navy 168 24 Environmental Protection Agency 18 5
Air Force 152 6 Tennessee Valley Authority 12 0
Other defense 80 16 General Services Administration 12 4
Veterans Affairs 239 7 Small Business Administration 6 1
Homeland Security 149 20 Office of Personnel Management 5 2
Treasury 109 14 Other independent agencies 45 30
Justice 105 23
Agriculture 92 11 Executive departments (cont.)
Interior 66 7
Health/Human Services (HHS) 60 28 Energy 15 5
Transportation 53 9 State 14 12
Commerce 39 21 Housing/Urban Dev (HUD) 10 3
Labor 16 6 Education 4 3

Employment by Agency

Basic pay rates for Senior Executive Service (i.e. non-Presidentially appointed civil servants above GS-15) will range from $119,554 to $179,700 in 2012.


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