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In the United States, the civil service was established in 1872. The Federal Civil Service is defined as "all appointive positions in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of the Government of the United States, except positions in the uniformed services." (5 U.S.C. § 2101).[1] In the early 19th century, government jobs were held at the pleasure of the president—a person could be fired at any time. The spoils system meant that jobs were used to support the political parties. This was changed in slow stages by the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 and subsequent laws. By 1909, almost two-thirds of the U.S. federal work force was appointed based on merit, that is, qualifications measured by tests. Certain senior civil service positions, including some heads of diplomatic missions and executive agencies are filled by political appointees. Under the Hatch Act of 1939, civil servants are not allowed to engage in political activities while performing their duties.

The U.S. civil service includes the Competitive service and the Excepted service. The majority of civil service appointments in the U.S. are made under the Competitive Service, but certain categories in the Diplomatic Service, the FBI, and other National Security positions are made under the Excepted Service. (U.S. Code Title V)

U.S. state and local government entities often have competitive civil service systems that are modeled on the national system, in varying degrees.


Federal agencies

Employees in the civil services work under one of the independent agencies or one of the 15 executive departments.

In addition to departments, there are a number of staff organizations grouped into the Executive Office of the President. These include the White House staff, the National Security Council, the Office of Management and Budget, the Council of Economic Advisers, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

There are also independent agencies such as the United States Postal Service, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). In addition, there are government-owned corporations such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the National Railroad Passenger Corporation. [2]

As of January 2007, the Federal Government, excluding the Postal Service, employed about 1.8 million civilian workers. The Federal Government is the nation’s single largest employer. Although most federal agencies are based in the Washington, D.C. region, only about 16% (or about 288,000) of the federal government workforce is employed in this region.[3]

There are over 1,300 federal government agencies.[4]

Pay Systems

General Schedule (or GS) is the name used to describe a payscale utilized by the majority of white collar personnel in the civil service of the federal government of the United States. The GS was enacted into law by the Classification Act of 1949, which replaced a similar act of the same name enacted in 1923. The GS is intended to keep federal salaries equitable among various occupations ("equal pay for equal work").

The GS includes most professional, technical, administrative, and clerical positions in the federal civil service. The Wage Grade (WG) schedule includes most federal blue-collar workers. As of September 2004, 71% of federal civilian employees were paid under the GS; the remaining 29% were paid under other systems such as the Federal Wage System for federal blue-collar civilian employees, the Senior Executive Service/Senior Level and the Executive Schedule for high-ranking federal employees, and the pay schedules for the United States Postal Service and the Foreign Service. In addition, some federal agencies—such as the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Reserve System, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation—have their own unique pay schedules.

All federal employees in the GS system receive a base pay that is adjusted for locality. Locality pay varies, but is at least 10% of base salary in all parts of the United States. The following salary ranges represent the lowest and highest possible amounts a person can earn, without earning over-time pay or receiving a merit-based bonus. Actual salary ranges differ (for instance a GS-9, step 1 in rural Arkansas may start at $46,625 versus $55,015 in San Jose, California), but all salaries lie within the parameters of the following ranges (effective January, 2009): [5]

19% of federal employees earned salaries of $100,000 or more in 2009. The average federal worker's pay was $71,208 compared with $40,331 in the private sector.[6]

GS-1 $ 19,971 $ 29,482
GS-2 $ 22,454 $ 33,339
GS-3 $ 24,499 $ 37,578
GS-4 $ 27,504 $ 42,187
GS-5 $ 30,772 $ 47,204
GS-6 $ 34,300 $ 52,613
GS-7 $ 38,117 $ 58,470
GS-8 $ 42,214 $ 64,755
GS-9 $ 46,625 $ 71,520
GS-10 $ 51,345 $ 78,759
GS-11 $ 56,411 $ 86,525
GS-12 $ 67,613 $ 103,710
GS-13 $ 80,402 $ 123,335
GS-14 $ 95,010 $ 145,747
GS-15 $ 111,760 $ 153,200

Source: U.S. Office of Personnel Management, 2009.

Basic pay rates for Senior Executive Service, i.e. those above GS-15, ranged from $140,000 to $190,000, excluding cost of living adjustments.[7]

Employment by Agency

Federal Government executive branch civilian employment,
except U.S. Postal Service, January 2007[8]
(Employment in thousands)
United States Washington, DC area


1,774 284



Executive departments

1,593 234

Defense, total

623 65


223 19


168 24

Air Force

152 6


80 16

Veterans Affairs

239 7

Homeland Security

149 20


109 14


105 23


92 11


66 7

Health and Human Services

60 28


53 9


39 21


16 6


15 5


14 12

Housing and Urban Development

10 3


4 3



Independent agencies

179 48

Social Security Administration

62 2

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

18 4

Environmental Protection Agency

18 5

Tennessee Valley Authority

12 0

General Services Administration

12 4

Small Business Administration

6 1

Office of Personnel Management

5 2


45 30

SOURCE: U.S. Office of Personnel Management

US Civil Service Commission

The United States Civil Service Commission was created by the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, which was passed into law on January 16, 1883. The commission was created to administer the civil service of the United States federal government in response to the assassination of President James Garfield. The law required certain applicants to take the civil service exam in order to be given certain jobs; it also prevented elected officials and political appointees from firing civil servants, removing civil servants from the influences of political patronage and partisan behavior.[9]

Effective January 1, 1978, the commission was renamed the Office of Personnel Management under the provisions of Reorganization Plan No. 2 of 1978 (43 F.R. 36037, 92 Stat. 3783) and the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978.

Civil Service Reform Act of 1978

ThIis act abolished the United States Civil Service Commission and created the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) and the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). OPM primarily provides management guidance to the various agencies of the executive branch and issues regulations that control federal human resources. FLRA oversees the rights of federal employees to form collective bargaining units (unions) and to engage in collective bargaining with agencies. MSPB conducts studies of the federal civil service and mainly hears the appeals of federal employees who are disciplined or otherwise separated from their positions. This act was an effort to replace incompetent officials. [10]

See also


  1. ^ "The Federal Civil Service". DOI University, National Business Center, U.S. Department of the Interior. Revised 11/10/98. Retrieved 2009-08-31.  
  2. ^ "Circular NO. A–11 PT. 7 Planning, Budgeting, Acquisition, and Management of Capital Assets" (PDF). OMB Circular No. A–11 (2008). Executive Office of the President Office of Management and Budget. 2008-06. Retrieved 2008-07-28.  
  3. ^ "Federal Government, Excluding the Postal Service". US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2008-03-12. Retrieved 2008-07-28.  , Section: Employment. Note: Because data on employment in certain agencies cannot be released to the public for national security reasons, this total does not include employment for the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, and National Imagery and Mapping Agency.
  4. ^ This page currently maintained by Molly L. Fischer. "Louisiana State University Libraries - Federal Agency Index". Retrieved 2009-08-31.  
  5. ^ "Office of Personnel Management, Salary Tables, 2009". Retrieved 2009-08-19.  
  6. ^ Cauchon, Dennis (11 December 2009). "Richest of federal workers get richer". Melbourne, Florida: Florida Today. pp. 1A.  
  7. ^ Office of Personell Management. (2008). Salary Table No. 2008-EX. Retrieved from the OPM:
  8. ^
  9. ^ Creating America: A History of the United States, Rand McNally, p 238 (2003).
  10. ^ Ingraham, Patricia W.; Donald P. Moynihan (2000). The Future of Merit. p. 103.  

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