Highest Paying In-Demand Government Jobs

Top Paying Government Career Options

The federal government is by far the largest employer in the United States, with about two million employees. Whether you’re exploring careers, thinking about a career change, or evaluating job options, it can make sense to consider a government job. Many federal jobs offer a good salary, employee benefits, and a retirement plan, and qualified applicants are in high demand for many positions.

Review Federal Job Salaries

Federal (and other government) jobs are typically paid based on set pay rates, scales, and grades. These scales establish a predetermined salary range, based on the education and experience required for each position.

For 2019, the lowest pay rate (Grade 1, Step 1) is $19,048. The highest rate (Grade 15, Step 10) is $138,572. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management publishes a chart with the current pay rates for each grade annually. Rates can vary based on the job location, and there are locality pay rate tables available for each separate geographic area.

You might be surprised to discover how well many government workers are compensated: the average annual salary for government workers is $84,913.

Explore Government Career Options

A handy tool for exploring government opportunities is the USAJOBS website, where most government opportunities are advertised. The site allows users to search by factors such as keyword, location, agency, and high need areas as well as filter by pay grade or GS level.

10 High-Paying Government Jobs

Here are some of the highest-paying government jobs, most of which are also in high demand according to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Also, see below for some of the lowest-paying federal government jobs.

1. Auditor

Auditors perform detailed financial and performance audits of government agencies, their contractors, and of grantees such as laboratories, universities, and state and local governments. Essential for ensuring that all arms of an agency operate in compliance with governing regulations and policies, auditors meticulously report upon their investigative process, their findings, and their recommendations for corrective action.

Salary: Auditors who are hired at the GS 11-13 level generally earn between $61,218 to $113,428 per year based on level of responsibility and location.

Job Requirements: Educational requirements typically include a four-year degree with a major or concentration in accounting. Higher grades often require a graduate master’s degree or Ph.D.

2. Chemist

There is a strong government demand for both inorganic and organic chemists, particularly for roles with public health and environmental protection agencies. Chemists conduct qualitative and quantitative chemical analyses and laboratory experiments to identify chemical contaminants in food supplies or the environment and to support quality assurance programs. There are also opportunities for chemists specifically trained in forensic research to work for agencies like the Secret Service.

Salary: Chemists who are hired at the GS 14-15 level generally earn at least $106,815.

Job Requirements: Educational requirements typically include an advanced degree in chemistry or a degree in a related field with substantial coursework in chemistry.

3. Civil Engineer

Civil engineers are hired primarily by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They perform engineering duties in planning, designing, and overseeing construction and maintenance of buildings, facilities, and infrastructures for both civil works and military installations. Strong candidates for these jobs are adept in civil engineering areas including grading and earthwork design, geotechnical and hydraulic engineering, dam construction, and concrete and steel design.

Salary: Civil engineers hired at the GS 13-G14 level generally earn from $88,704 to $104,821.

Job Requirements: Educational requirements typically include a bachelor’s or advanced degree in engineering with significant coursework in civil engineering.

4. Computer Scientist

There are several exciting career avenues for computer scientists within government. As an IT pro, you might be called upon to design, develop and test systems-level software for military or aerospace applications, facilitating software engineering life cycles, developing quality control processes, and evaluating the technical reliability of key systems. Or, you might be asked to transition software development lifecycle methodologies to Agile, create frontline cybersecurity protocols, or contribute to the design of scientific software and application solutions.

Salary: Computer Scientists hired at GS 12-14 generally earn an average of $79,411-$103,106.

Job Requirements: Educational requirements typically include a bachelor's degree in computer science or bachelor's degree with at least 30 semester hours in a combination of mathematics, statistics, and computer science. 

5. Air Traffic Controller

While most air traffic controllers are hired by the Federal Aviation Administration, they can also find employment with the Department of the Air Force’s Air Force Materiel Command, Air National Guard Units, and the Air Education and Training Command. Tasked with ensuring the safe and expeditious passage of air traffic, they must have a strong command of radar and communications equipment as they oversee takeoffs and landings, prescribe routes, communicate weather and air stability data to pilots, keep aircraft properly separated, and control traffic on the ground.

Salary: The median annual wage for air traffic controllers was $124,540 in May 2017. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $67,440, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $175,800.

Job Requirements:  A candidate must have either three years of progressively responsible work experience, a bachelor’s degree, a combination of post secondary education and work experience totaling three years, or obtain a degree through a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) program.

6. Economist

Economists perform both qualitative and quantitative analyses of economic and production data in order to evaluate economic conditions and trends, track market performance and anomalies, and develop regulatory strategies and policies. Well-versed in the use of SAS and other statistical software to manipulate complex data sets, they must also be able to effectively communicate their findings to various project stakeholders in order to formulate viable action plans, forecast the impact of proposed initiatives, and control project costs and risk exposure.

Salary: Economists working for the government generally earn $81,518 to $134,781 at the GS 12-15 level.  

Job Requirements: Educational requirements typically include a bachelor's degree with significant coursework in economics, mathematics, and statistics. Many candidates have a master’s or doctoral degree in a related discipline.

7. Nurse

There are well over 150 active job openings for trained nurses interested in working for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Nurses skillfully triage new patients, assessing patient health problems, initiating nursing care plans, and maintaining medical records. They also provide patient education on wellness practices, disease prevention, and health maintenance.

Salary: Nurses working for the federal government generally earn from $70,752 - $82,680 at the GS 11-12 level.

Job Requirements: Educational requirements typically include possession of a diploma, associate degree, bachelor's degree, or master's degree from an accredited professional nursing education program, as well as passing the nursing licensing exam.

8. Human Resources Specialist

Human resources (HR) specialists optimize the government’s large-scale recruitment and placement processes to ensure adequate staffing levels. They prepare job announcements, utilize automated talent acquisition systems, generate job referral lists, and onboard federal job candidates. They often handle tasks related to employee relations, compensation and benefits, and training; within the federal system, they also facilitate merit promotion procedures and verify that all human resources rules and regulations are strictly observed.

Some human resources specialists focus on one of these functions while others are trained in multiple HR disciplines.

Salary: Human resources specialists at the GS 12-14 levels can earn from $79,411 to $117,736.

Job Requirements: Educational requirements typically include a bachelor’s degree with coursework in human resources, business, and psychology. Certifications in areas of HR from professional groups are valued by employers.

9. Mechanical Engineer

Mechanical engineers can find well-compensated employment with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Defense, the Departments of the Army and the Air Force, and the Department of the Interior. They evaluate and remediate performance issues in mechanical systems, including testing systems and construction sites for compliance with regulatory requirements. They also oversee the installation, operation, maintenance, and repair of equipment such as centralized heat, gas, water, energy, and steam systems.

Salary: Mechanical engineers at the GS 12-14 levels can earn from $83,541 to $113,929.

Job Requirements: Educational requirements typically include a bachelor’s degree in engineering with a concentration in mechanical engineering.  Certifications in specific aspects of engineering are sometimes required by agencies.

10. Physician

Physicians working for the government are often hired at the GS14-15 level with salaries of $103,395 and greater. Government physicians often specialize in some aspect of medical care such as psychiatry, emergency, surgical, cardiology, hematology, and oncology. Like nurses, they are hired primarily by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Physicians must earn a degree at an accredited medical school and obtain board certifications in areas of specialized practice.

Low-Paying Government Jobs

Not all government jobs are well-compensated. Positions that don’t require a high level of skills, like the following, are typically rated at the GS 1-4 levels with compensation of $20,000 — $31,000: forestry technicians, food service assistants, social services assistants, postal operations assistants, educational aides, library technicians, housekeeping aides, child and youth program assistants, and tax examining clerks.

Source: USAJobs — The jobs on this list were generated by reviewing the list of government jobs in high demand and filtering by government job listings on that list with the highest pay levels.