The GS or (General Scale) pay and classification system handles the pay rates for most white-collar Federal employees, both in the United States and abroad. This covers about 1.5 million employees across a variety of technical, professional, and administrative/clerical positions. These standards help define the qualifications, pay structure, and HR policies for federal employees. They are created and managed by the OPM (Office of Personnel Management) and used across the entirety of the United States government. Every agency classifies its positions, appoints employees, and sets pay rates following the OPM guidelines.
There are 15 grades in the General Schedule, with the lowest being GS-1 and the highest being GS-15. Government agencies classify positions within their agency according to responsibilities, required qualifications, and level of difficulty. For example, positions that require only a high school diploma and no other professional experience tend to fall under GS-1 or GS-2, while positions requiring a Bachelor’s degree might be a GS-5, and those requiring a Master’s degree would be GS-9 or above.
THE GRADE LEVELS IN THE GENERAL SCHEDULE (GS) PAY SCALE :
- GS-3 or GS-4: This grade determines the pay ranges for jobs for interns and students
- GS-5 to GS-7: This grade determines the pay for entry-level job positions. Holders of these jobs are employees with small or no job experience
- GS-8 to GS-12: This grade determines the pay for mid-level job positions in government
- GS-13 to GS-15: This grade determines the pay for top-level supervisory positions in government
- Above GS-15: This grade determines to pay for employees who are part of the Senior Executive Service
GS (General Schedule) Pay Scale 2021 Tables
|GS Grade||Step 1||Step 2||Step 3||Step 4||Step 5||Step 6||Step 7||Step 8||Step 9||Step 10|
Within the grade are step rates, from 1 to 10. Each of these steps increases an employee’s salary by approximately three percent. Acceptable performance and time in the position are required to move up steps within a grade; typically, an employee who remains at the same grade will move from step 1 to step 10 in 18 years. An exceptionally performing employee might qualify for an extra quality step increase on a shorter time scale, limited to one additional increase per year.
New hires in a position at a given GS grade typically come on at step one of the relevant grade. In certain special circumstances, however, a higher step rate may be authorized for a new employee; this is based on needs of the agency or special qualifications on the part of the new employee. A current federal employee who moves to a GS position only qualifies for a pay rate above step one if their previous rate of pay would have been higher under the new agency’s policies.
Employees working under the GS system can advance to a higher grade at specified intervals, which are usually at least a year. There are regulations, qualification standards, and agency policies which determine this process. These advances are limited to the full promotional potential initially advertised in the job listing under which an employee was hired. Once this occurs, further pay grade promotion is done under a competitive merit system. The value of a GS salary increase is typically at least the value of two steps of the previous GS grade.
The total base pay on which the GS schedule works is adjusted annually, in January. This involves a pay increase across-the-board based on changes in the cost of living nationwide and the relative salary changes in private industry. GS pay scale may also be adjusted according to locality pay, a percentage rate change that reflects the wages of private industry employees in that region. Most of the locality pay regions cover large metropolitan areas where cost of living and wages vary dramatically from the rest of the nation. The entirety of the states of Alaska and Hawaii are also locality pay regions. Any federal employee living outside the US is not eligible for any kind of locality pay adjustment.
Special circumstances may require alteration to GS pay rules. The President and Congress are authorized to make changes to the GS schedules. Also, specific jobs that are exceptionally desired by an agency or that are particularly difficult to fill in a specific region may be eligible for a different pay rate than would normally be authorized under the GS pay scale rules.