Pay & Benefits Watch Pay & Benefits WatchPay & Benefits Watch
Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Paying the Price: Feds Increasingly Unhappy With Salaries


Despite an unprecedented three-year pay freeze, a majority of federal employees are still at least somewhat satisfied with their pay. That percentage of employees who feel that way, however, is plummeting.

In 2010 -- the last year feds received an across-the-board raise -- 66 percent of federal workers provided a positive response when asked, “Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your pay?” according to the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. In the 2013 report, which the Office of Personnel Management released last week, just 54 percent of respondents said the same.

While the overall results remain positive, just 14 percent of respondents said they were “very satisfied” with their pay. Not surprisingly, the results also varied by how much the employees were getting paid. Among GS 1-6 employees -- who earn annual base salaries of around $18,000 to $40,000 -- just 35 percent expressed satisfaction with pay. Compare that to GS 13-15 workers -- who earn between $72,000 and $130,000 before locality adjustments -- 65 percent of whom were happy with their pay. While the high-end earners are still more satisfied, they have dropped off 14 percentage points since 2010, while lower-end earners’ satisfaction has declined by just 8 percentage points.   

Put another way, even those who are still happy are becoming unhappy at a faster rate.

An employee’s age was not a significant variable in pay satisfaction, with all age ranges falling between 52 percent and 55 percent satisfied.

Pay satisfaction varied significantly by agency, ranging from 42 percent at the National Credit Union Association to 66 percent at NASA. A half dozen agencies -- including the Veterans Affairs and Treasury departments, two of federal government’s largest -- had scores below 50 percent.

One statistic remained consistent across all of government: every single agency saw a drop-off in pay satisfaction since 2011, most of them significant declines of more than 5 percentage points.

Another pay related issue saw the most negative response of any question asked on the survey, with 55 percent of respondents saying they do not believe raises depend on job performance. While just 21 percent of the lowest grade employees saw a raise-performance connection, 35 percent of those in the Senior Executive Service said the same.

So what does all of this mean? Are employees just grumpier, or could it carry over into negatively affecting agencies’ missions?

OPM says it’s a little bit of both.

“Factors such as an unprecedented 3-year pay freeze…are clearly taking a toll on the federal workforce,” OPM Director Katherine Archuleta wrote in the report. “The survey results serve as an important warning about the long-term consequences of the sequestration and budget uncertainty. Without a more predictable and responsible budget situation, we risk losing our most talented employees, as well as hurting our ability to recruit top talent for the future.”

For now however, employees are happy to do their jobs, and 63 percent of employees still said they would recommend their organization as a good place to work (although that number was 70 percent in 2010).

Despite the challenges federal workers face, Archuleta said, “we strongly believe that our agencies are good places to work and that our employees will continue to be dedicated to doing their work, serving the public in the best and most effective way.”

Will that continue? Well, that’s probably up to Congress

Eric Katz joined Government Executive in the summer of 2012 after graduating from The George Washington University, where he studied journalism and political science. He has written for his college newspaper and an online political news website and worked in a public affairs office for the Navy’s Military Sealift Command. Most recently, he worked for Financial Times, where he reported on national politics.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.