The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) handles compensation for all federal employees. It uses uniform pay tables, a practice which guarantees fairness by ensuring that pay is equal for any work performed at the same experience level. Promotions are also equally granted using a standard set of guidelines that account for job type, education and experience.
Federal pay tables are typically divided into grades, which indicate education and experience. Each grade is also subdivided into steps, which are incremental raises given on the way from one grade to another. The table applying to most jobs is called the General Schedule. There are also separate tables for law enforcement, executives, senior level professionals or scientists, administrative law judges and members of Boards of Contract Appeals.
The General Schedule for 2011 starts with an annual rate of $17,803 for Grade 1, Step 1. The wage for Grade 8, Step 6, about halfway through the table, runs $43,901 per year. The highest grade, which is Grade 15, Step 10, pays $129,517 annually. Locality tables modify salaries depending on the cost of living of the area in which employees work. For example, in Chicago, employees receive a payment adjustment of 25.10 percent. This puts Grade 1, Step 1 compensation at $22,272 per year, Grade 8, Step 5 at $54,920 annually, and Grade 16, Step 10 wages at $155,500 yearly. In Alaska, the locality payment is 16.46 percent. This gives Grade 1, Step 1, an annual wage of $20,733; Grade 8, Step 6, yearly pay of $51,127; and Grade 15, Step 10, yearly compensation of $150,835.
The law enforcement table applies to those men and women who risk their lives to enforce federal laws. They start at Grade 3, Step 1, with annual rates of $26,208, continue on to a mid-level of Grade 6, Step 6, at $40,767, and finally reach Grade 10, Step 10, with $61,031. Law enforcement also has their own locality tables, that use the same percentages as other tables. For example, Chicago adjusts wages at 25.10 percent, which puts Grade 3, Step 1, at an annual $32,786; Grade 6, Step 6, at a yearly $51,000; and Grade 10, Step 10, at $76,350.
The methods used by attorneys at the Department of Justice are one example of how federal promotions are handled. The base salary for entry-level attorneys with honors starts at General Schedule Grade 11, Step 1, at $50,287 per year. Locality pay for this level in Washington, DC, is $62,467. After six months, attorneys go from Grade 11 to 12; after a year, they continue to Grade 13; after another year, they proceed to Grade 14; and after 18 months, they go to Grade 15. Promotions at the latest stage can take as little as 12 months, depending on organizational policies.