There are several pay systems within the Federal government. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) develops and maintains Government-wide regulations and policies governing pay administration, including basic pay setting, locality pay, special salary rates, back pay, pay limitations, premium pay, grade and pay retention, severance pay, recruitment, relocation and retention incentives, and cost-of-living allowances (COLA). However, each Federal agency is responsible for administering these pay policies and programs for its employees. Within the Department the Bureau of Human Resources assists the Secretary in carrying out these responsibilities. Below is a brief description of the more common pay systems found within the Department of State:
Executive Schedule (EX)
Five levels of pay to which top executives are assigned (e.g., members of the President's Cabinet, deputy secretaries, under secretaries, assistant secretaries, various officials of Commissions, Regulatory Boards and the like).
Foreign Service Schedule (FS)
Fourteen steps on the FS pay scale. In setting the pay of an employee in the Foreign Service, the appropriate official considers such factors deemed appropriate including qualifications, experience, and education.
For current FS pay tables, please click here.
Pay plan used by the Department to denote a pay schedule similar to the General Schedule. Excepted service positions at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations (USUN) and the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) use the GG designation.
General Schedule (GS)
Based on equal pay for substantially equal work within each local pay area. The majority of the Department's Civil Service employees are compensated under the General Schedule. There are fifteen grades and ten steps within each grade that determine pay.
On an initial appointment into the Civil Service, pay is usually set at step one of the grade of the position for which the employee is selected, although it may be set higher based on superior qualifications or a special need of the agency when certain requirements are met. Additionally, pay rates for employees paid under the General Schedule may differ because of the geographic location or the level of difficulty of the position. See the section on Adjustments to Pay for further information.
For current GS pay tables, click here.
Senior Executive Service (SES)
Includes most managerial, supervisory, and policy positions classified above the General Schedule grade 15 or equivalent positions in the Executive Branch of the Federal government. The Executive Resources Board (ERB) pay policy allows for pay to be set based on qualifications, performance, responsibilities of the position, and private sector pay.
For the current SES pay schedule, click here.
The Wage Grade (WG)
Schedule is referred to as "blue collar" or "prevailing rate" and is based on the prevailing rates in a given local wage area. This system covers trade, craft, labor, and other blue-collar jobs. Each wage area pay scale is divided into three classes: WG (worker), WL (leader), and WS (supervisor).
Adjustments to Pay
Employees working in certain areas (e.g., Washington, D.C. metropolitan area) designated by the President under 5 U.S.C. 5304(d)(1) may receive an adjustment in pay to reduce pay disparities with non-Federal workers within each locality. For information on locality pay areas and rates, see 5 CFR 531.601, Subpart F or visit the Office of Personnel Management.
Overtime and Compensatory Time
Employees identified as "nonexempt" are eligible to receive overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Agencies must compensate these employees for work conducted in excess of the regular 40-hour workweek. Employees who are identified, as "exempt" are not covered by the FLSA but can still receive overtime pay under Title 5 of the U.S.C. In certain instances, employees can request compensatory time off in lieu of being paid for overtime or can be required to receive compensatory time off rather than overtime pay.
The supervisor or authorizing official must approve all overtime and compensatory time before it is worked. To find out if you are exempt or non-exempt or to find out more about the policies and procedures for overtime and compensatory time, contact your Executive Office.
Each year the President determines whether to authorize an adjustment in the basic pay of certain categories of Federal employees. This adjustment is usually made annually and is usually implemented at the beginning of the first full pay period of January.
Special Salary Rates
These rates are higher rates of basic pay that are established for a group or category of General Schedule (GS) positions in one or more geographic areas. Special rates are established to address existing or likely significant handicaps in recruiting or retaining well-qualified employees. These rates may be established for nearly any category of employee based on criteria such as occupational series, specialty, grade level, and geographic area.
Within-Grade Increases (WIG)
Employees under the GG and General Schedule (GS) pay plan who are paid at less than the maximum rate of the grade (i.e., step 10) of their position may earn an advance to the next higher step of the grade or the next higher rate within the grade. This increase is called a within-grade (WIG) or step increase.
Waiting periods for a WIG range from 1 to 3 years and are defined in 5 CFR 531.405. Employees paid under a prevailing rate system (e.g., wage grade) also earn within grades. However, the WIG is paid in accordance with the rules at 5 CFR, Part 532. Employee performance must be at an acceptable level of competence and the most recent performance rating of record shall be at least fully successful or an equivalent level.
The Federal Government provides an array of benefits, financial incentives, and family friendly programs to its employees. Below are some of the incentives offered:
The Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program allows eligible employees the opportunity to enroll in a group health insurance plan, regardless of age or medical condition. Nationally about 200 health plan options are offered to Federal employees. The government pays a significant part of the cost for health benefits and the employee's cost is deducted biweekly from his/her pay.
New employees have 60 days from the date of appointment to enroll in a participating FEHB plan. To enroll, employees must complete and submit an Employee Health Benefits Election Form, SF-2809, to their bureau Executive Office within 60 days of their entry on duty. Failure to enroll within the 60-day period will result in NO COVERAGE. The employee must wait until the next opportunity to enroll, which is generally during the annual open season held from November through December or when a qualifying life event occurs (e.g., marriage, and birth of a child).
The Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) Program provides term insurance and builds no cash value. FEGLI consists of basic life insurance coverage and three options which are: Option A Standard, Option B Additional, and Option C Family. All new employees are automatically covered under basic, unless waived. Employees must have the basic insurance in order to elect any of the optional coverages. Optional insurance is NOT automatic – you have to take action to elect it. If you want Optional Insurance, you must elect coverage within 60 calendar days after becoming eligible. If you do not make an election, you are considered to have waived optional insurance.
To waive basic life coverage or to elect additional coverage, complete a SF 2817, Life Insurance Election form. Employees are also encouraged to designate beneficiaries by completing a SF-2823, Designation of Beneficiary, Federal Employees Group Life Insurance Program form to receive life insurance proceeds and to assure that benefits will be paid as desired. If beneficiaries are not designated, proceeds will be paid in accordance with the order of precedence of the state in which the employee resides at time of death.
Unlike health insurance, FEGLI does not have an annual open enrollment. Therefore, if you fail to enroll during the eligibility period, you must meet certain requirements and satisfy evidence of insurability in order to enroll.
Long-Term Care Insurance
The Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP) is an important addition to the package of benefits available to Federal employees and retirees. The employee, however, pays the full cost for this insurance. Long-term care insurance, under the Federal program, provides you reimbursement for costs of care when you are unable to perform at least two activities of daily living, (e.g., eating, bathing, dressing) for an expected period of at least 90 days or when you need constant supervision due to a severe cognitive impairment. As a new employee, you may be eligible to apply for this program. If eligible you will use either an abbreviated underwriting application or a full underwriting application, depending on whether you apply within 60 days of becoming eligible.
For more detailed information on Federal health, life, and long-term care insurance, visit http://www.opm.gov/insure/.
Flexible Spending Account (FSA) Program
Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) allow you to make pre-tax salary contributions to pay for qualified medical expenses that are not reimbursed by FEHB or any other source, and to pay dependent care expenses. The funds put into an FSA are not subject to Federal income and FICA taxes, nor most state and local income taxes.
A Health Care FSA (HCFSA) pays for the uncovered or un-reimbursed portions of qualified medical costs. The HCFSA does not replace your health insurance; it simply pays for your out-of-pocket health care expenses with pre-tax dollars. A Dependent Care FSA (DCFSA) allows you to pay eligible expenses for dependent care, such as childcare expenses or expenses for an adult who is disabled, with pre-tax dollars.
You have 60 days after your hire date, but no later than October 1 of any Plan Year, to make an election to participate in the FSA Program. Elections will be binding throughout the Plan Year unless you experience a Qualified Status Change (e.g., marriage, divorce, birth of a child, death of a dependent). If you are hired on or after October 1 you are ineligible to participate in that Plan Year and must wait until the FEHB open season to enroll, held in the fall of each year, from mid-November to mid-December. Your elections become effective for the next calendar year.
As FSA elections are completely voluntary, you must re-enroll each year if you wish to maintain a dependent and/or health care account. FSA claims must be filed timely. Additionally, any funds deducted that are not claimed by the established deadline will be forfeited. Unlike the FEHB, there are no government contributions to the program. All of the money contributed to the FSA is contributed by you.
There are three retirement plans for Civil Service employees. Generally, the type of appointment determines whether an employee is covered by a retirement plan. Employees hired before December 31, 1983 are covered under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). Those hired after January 1, 1984 are covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS). Employees who had a break in service that exceeded one year and ended after 1983 and five years of creditable civilian service on January 1, 1987 may be covered under the CSRS Offset system.
Employees under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) are covered also by Social Security. Social Security benefits are provided to workers and their qualified dependents under the Old-Age Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI) programs of the Social Security Act. It replaces a portion of earnings lost as a result of retirement, disability, or death.
Employees are also covered under Social Security's Medicare Hospital Insurance program, which pays a portion of hospital expenses incurred while you are receiving Social Security disability benefits or retirement benefits at age 65 or older. For more information on Social Security benefits to include Medicare, visit the Social Security Administration Internet website.
Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)
The Thrift Savings Plan is a retirement savings and investment plan for Federal employees and contributions are tax deferred. The purpose of the TSP is to provide supplemental retirement income. TSP offers Federal employees the same type of savings and tax benefits that many private corporations offer their employees under the 401(k) plans. By participating in the Thrift Savings Plan an employee has the opportunity to save part of his/her earnings before they are taxed. Contributions are made to your account through payroll deductions.
Employees covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) or the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) can enhance retirement income by participating in TSP. However, there are different rules for each group. FERS employees can contribute a percentage of their basic pay each pay period and receive matching agency contributions.
CSRS employees can also contribute a specific percentage of their basic pay each pay period but do not receive matching agency contributions. There are six TSP investment funds from which to choose:
- Government Securities Investment (G) Fund
- Fixed Income Index Investment (F) Fund
- Common Stock Index Investment (C) Fund
- Small Capitalization Stock Index Investment (S) Fund
- International Stock Index Investment (I) Fund
- Lifecycle (L) Funds
Student Loan Repayment Program
Legislation authorizes agencies to establish loan repayment programs in order to assist in the recruitment and retention of high qualified employees. The Department's SLRP is not available for all employees with student loan debt but it is available to Civil Service employees encumbering specific mission critical occupational series positions and Foreign Service employees assigned to extreme hardship and/or danger pay eligible overseas postings. Since the program was launched in 2002, more than 2700 employees have benefited from this once-a-year-incentive payment made directly to employee lenders. Annual gross lump sum payments have ranged from $4600 to $8500 per qualifying employee, depending on agency funding availability. An initial three-year service commitment is also required for those qualifying for the first time.
Queries regarding the specifics of the Student Loan Repayment Program may be directed to the Department at SLRP@state.gov. A response will be forthcoming within two (2) business days.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (Student Loan Forgiveness)
This legislation is being administered by the U.S. Department of Education's Direct Loans. Individuals interested in a career in public service, who also have significant federally insured student loan debt, may be interested in researching eligibility at http://studentaid.ed.gov/PORTALSWebApp/students/english/PSF.jsp. It is possible for employees to qualify for the Department's SLRP and after ten years of specific public service have the balance of their federally insured loan(s) forgiven.
Transit Benefits Program
The Department also administers a Transit Benefits Program which encourages employees to use public transportation for commuting to and from work on a regular and ongoing basis. This non-taxable subsidy provides encouragement by reducing the cost of an employee's daily work commute. Thus, occasional or sporadic use of public transportation does not qualify an employee for enrollment in this program. Although this program is intended to supplement employees' commuting costs, the Department can only reimburse these costs up to the maximum allowable amount.
To participate in the Transit Benefits Program, employees must complete the online electronic application eTransit and certify that they will comply with the rules and procedures of the program. eTransit is an Employee Self-Service application that is available via the Department's intranet. Anyone making a false, fictitious, or fraudulent certification may be subject to criminal prosecution under Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001, or agency disciplinary actions up to and including dismissal from the Federal service.
Leave and Absences
It is the Department's policy to be fair and consistent in its application of the laws regarding the administration of leave. Employees are expected, in return, to consider the interests of the Department in requesting leave and to avoid any abuse of leave privileges.
Leave Accrual Rates
|Employee Type||Less than 3 years of service*||3 years but less than 15 years of service*||15 or more years of service*|
|Full-time employees||½ day (4 hours) for each pay period||¾ day (6 hours) for each pay period, except 1¼ day (10 hours) in last pay period||1 day (8 hours) for each pay period|
|Part-time employees**||1 hour of annual leave for each 20 hours in a pay status||1 hour of annual leave for each 13 hours in a pay status||1 hour of annual leave for each 10 hours in a pay status|
|Uncommon tours of duty**||(4 hours) times (average # of hours per biweekly pay period) divided by 80 = biweekly accrual rate.***||(6 hours) times (average # of hours per biweekly pay period) divided by 80 = biweekly accrual rate.***||(8 hours) times (average # of hours per biweekly pay period) divided by 80 = biweekly accrual rate. ***|
Holidays for Federal Employees Ten Paid Holidays Per Year
- New Year's Day (January 1)
- Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Third Monday in January)
- Washington's Birthday (Third Monday in February)
- Memorial Day (Last Monday in May)
- Independence Day (July 4)
- Labor Day (First Monday in September)
- Columbus Day (Second Monday in October)
- Veterans Day (November 11)
- Thanksgiving Day (Fourth Thursday in November)
- Christmas Day (December 25)
You must be in a pay status either the day before or after the holiday in order to be paid.
Presidential Inauguration Day
Federal employees in the Washington, DC, area are entitled to a holiday on the day a President is inaugurated (January 20 following a Presidential election). Employees are entitled to this holiday if they are employed in —
- The District of Columbia;
- Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties in Maryland;
- Arlington and Fairfax Counties in Virginia; and
- the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church in Virginia.
When Inauguration Day is moved to January 21st because January 20th falls on Sunday, Federal employees in the Washington, DC, area who would otherwise work on Monday, January 21st, are entitled to a holiday on that day.