The Top Paid Federal Employees

The average federal civilian employee makes $74,311 per year.

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Federal employee pay is high, by national standards, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. The average federal civilian employee earns $74,311 per year, nearly double the national per capita income of $39,138. That average has climbed nearly $12,000 from the 2000 average of $63,445 (2010 dollars), but it won't change for the next two years. On Monday, President Obama announced a two-year pay freeze for federal civilian workers as a deficit-cutting tactic, one that the White House estimates will save $2 billion over the next two years, $28 billion over the next five years, and $60 billion over the next decade. Of course, there will be bigger savings in some government offices than others. The Defense Department, for example, has 764,000 civilian workers on its payroll--more than twice the number of the next-largest department, the Department of Veterans' Affairs. [See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.]

The ten federal agencies and departments with the largest workforces as of September 2010 are:

Agency/Department Total Staff
Department of Defense 764,299
Department of Veterans Affairs 308,814
Department of Homeland Security 188,983
Department of Justice 116,901
Department of the Treasury 109,900
Department of Agriculture 108,291
Department of Health and Human Services 83,202
Department of the Interior 79,048
Social Security Administration 69,963
Department of Transportation 57,947

However, these 10 largest agencies are for the most part close to the bottom of the list when it comes to average employee salaries. The agencies and departments with the highest average annual pay tend to have small staffs. For example, the Northern Border Regional Commission, which promotes economic development in the poorer areas of northern New England, only claims one employee, with an annual salary of $165,300. The Securities and Exchange Commission is by far the largest agency among the best-compensated government offices, with its 3,917 employees averaging $147,475 in annual pay. [See which industries give the most to members of Congress.]

The ten federal agencies with the highest average annual pay per employee as of September 2010 are:

Agency Total Staff Average
Annual Pay
Northern Border Regional Commission 1 $165,300
Farm Credit System Insurance Corporation 10 $164,143
Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board 24 $147,812
Securities and Exchange Commission 3,917 $147,475
Federal Housing Finance Agency 453 $146,021
National Council on Disability 21 $138,709
Commodity Futures Trading Commission 699 $137,253
Arctic Research Commission 8 $134,249
Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board 104 $132,954
Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission 7 $128,857

Source: U.S. Office of Personnel Management

*OPM data covers all Executive Branch agencies except the following: the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, Foreign Service personnel at the State Department, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Office of the Vice President, the Postal Regulatory Commission, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the U.S. Postal Service, and the White House Office. Data also excludes the Public Health Service's Commissioned Officer Corps, all non-appropriated fund employees and foreign nationals overseas, and the Judicial Branch. Legislative Branch offices covered by the data include the Government Printing Office, U.S. Tax Court, and other selected commissions.

Clarified on 12/01/10