The "average" federal employee salary is at the center of a long-standing controversy over federal pay vs. private-sector pay. Federal employee groups argue that comparisons of average salaries are misleading because federal workers tend to be older, more experienced, more educated and more concentrated in professional-type jobs — all indicators of higher salary. The Obama administration has made a similar argument in its recent budget proposals.
In a statement, National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley said: "The federal government employs lawyers, doctors, scientists, IT experts, managers and workers who manage contractors, many of whom could earn far more in the private sector but who have chosen public service. At the same time, there also are a great many federal employees at the lower end of the pay scale. For example, nearly half of NTEU IRS members work in positions at Grades 2 to 8 on the General Schedule (GS) pay system."
"Most of these employees work full-time, yet thousands of them earn far less than what can reasonably be considered a middle-class salary," she said. "These IRS employees and other federal employees have not had a pay raise in more than two years, yet the cost of everything they buy is increasing."
American Federation of Government Employees public policy director Jacque Simon said in an e-mail, "The gradual increase in average salary reported by OPM reflects the movement of employees into executive, management and other higher graded positions, mostly due to promotions.
"There are 4,744 more employees making $140,000 or more than there were a year ago, while there are 14,004 fewer federal employees in the GS-5 to GS-9 range. Most of our members are in the GS-5 to GS-9 range and earn anywhere from about $31,000 to $68,000, depending on what part of the country they work in."