Since 1953, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has been responsible for managing the security clearance program for federal employees. The OPM background investigators conduct inquiries into an applicant’s past, including a criminal background and credit check, to ascertain whether the applicant is a suitable candidate for the position. Certain sensitive positions may require the investigator to interview an applicant’s family, neighbors or friends. Investigators belong to the 1810 classification, with salaries based on the general schedule (GS) system of pay grades.
Advancing to Next Pay Grade
Investigators at the GS-5 level must have a bachelor’s degree or three years of experience, with at least one year of job duties equivalent to a GS-4 or above. To advance to a GS-7, the investigator must have at least one year of graduate school, “superior academic achievement” or one year as a GS-5. A GS-9 must have a master’s degree, or two academic years of graduate or law school, or one year’s experience as a GS-7. To advance to a GS-11 pay grade requires one year of GS-9 experience, a doctoral degree, or three academic years of graduate school. Advancement to grades GS-12 and above require one year of experience at the previous grade.
Base Pay for GS-5, GS-7 and GS-9
At a GS-5 pay grade, the base salary ranged from $27,431 to $35,657 per year, according to the OPM's salary table effective January 2011. An investigator with a GS-7 pay grade carried a base salary range of $33,979 to $44,176. As a GS-9, base pay ranged between $41,563 and $54,028 annually.
Base Pay for GS-11 and GS-12
Investigators with a GS-11 pay grade received base pay ranging from $50,287 to $65,371 annually, according to the OPM’s salary table effective January 2011. An investigator with a GS-12 pay grade received a base salary between $60,274 and $78,355 per year.
Base Pay for GS-13, GS-14 and GS-15
As a GS-13, an investigator earned an annual base salary of $71,674 to $93,175 on the OPM’s 2011 salary table. Investigators with a GS-14 grade earned base salaries ranging from $84,697 to $110,104 annually. An investigator with a GS-15 pay grade earned a base salary between $99,628 and $129,517 per year.
The Office of Personnel Management adjusts base pay by location to account for differences in the cost of living. These adjustments range from 11.01 percent in the state of Hawaii to 35.15 percent in the San Francisco area. As additional examples, in the greater Atlanta, Georgia, area, the adjustment is 19.29 percent; 24.8 percent in the area encompassing Boston, Massachusetts, and Manchester, New Hampshire; and 24.22 percent for the District of Columbia, Baltimore, Maryland and Northern Virginia district.