The federal government is by far the largest employer in the United States, with about 2 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.
The chart below illustrates the salary ranges for government jobs that are in the highest demand.
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.
Auditors perform detailed financial and performance audits of government agencies, their contractors, and 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: The USAJOBS site indicates that auditors who are hired at the GS 09-14 level generally earn between $57,510 and $117,191 per year based on level of responsibility and location. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that accountants and auditors working for the government earned an average of $68,420 in May 2018. The BLS predicted that accounting/auditor jobs in the overall economy would grow by about 10% through 2026, a faster than average rate.
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 PhD.
There is a strong government demand for both inorganic and organic chemists, particularly for roles in 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: The USAJOBS site indicates that chemists are mostly hired at the GS 09-14 level and generally earn between $54,757 and $128,920 per year based on level of responsibility and location. The BLS estimated that chemists working for the federal government earned an average of $110,260 in May 2018. The BLS predicted that chemist jobs in the overall economy would grow by about 7% through 2026, about as fast as average for all occupations.
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: The USAJOBS site indicates that civil engineers are mostly hired at the GS 09-13 level and generally earn between $57,510 and $136,926 per year based on level of responsibility and location. The BLS estimated that civil engineers working for the federal government earned an average of $95,380 in May 2018. The BLS predicted that civil engineering jobs in the overall economy would grow by about 11% through 2026, a faster than average rate.
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 the government. As an IT pro, you might be called upon to design, develop, and test systems-level software for military or aerospace applications, facilitate software engineering life cycles, develop quality control processes, and evaluate 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: The USAJOBS site indicates that computer scientists are mostly hired at the GS 11-15 level and generally earn between $61,642 and $166,500 per year based on level of responsibility and location. The BLS estimated that computer scientists working for the federal government earned an average of $109,810 in May 2018. The BLS predicted that computer scientist jobs in the overall economy would grow by about 19% through 2026, a much faster than average rate.
Job Requirements: Educational requirements typically include a bachelor's degree in computer science or a 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: According to the BLS, the median annual wage for air traffic controllers was $124,570 in May 2018. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $68,090, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $178,650. The BLS predicted that air traffic controller jobs would grow by about 3% through 2026, a slower than average rate.
Job Requirements: A candidate must have either three years of progressively more 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.
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: The USAJOBS site indicates that economists are mostly hired at the GS 9-15 level and generally earn between $51,026 and $166,500 per year based on level of responsibility and location. The BLS estimated that economists working for the federal government earned an average of $119,590 in May 2018. The BLS predicted that economist jobs would grow by 6% through 2026, about as fast as average for all occupations.
Job Requirements: Educational requirements typically include a bachelor's degree with significant coursework in economics, mathematics, and statistics. Many candidates for the higher level economist positions have a master’s or doctoral degree in a related discipline.
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, assess patient health problems, initiate nursing care plans, and maintain medical records. They also provide patient education on wellness practices, disease prevention, and health maintenance.
Salary: The USAJOBS site indicates that licensed practical nurses are mostly hired at the GS 3-6 level and generally earn between $38,524 and $59,660 per year. Registered nurses were mostly hired at the GS 7-10 level and generally earn from $53,779 to $75,666. The BLS estimated that registered nurses earned an average of $78,390 while working for the government. The BLS predicted that registered nurse jobs in the overall economy would grow by about 15% through 2026, a much faster than average rate.
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: The USAJOBS site indicates that human resources specialists are mostly hired at the GS 7-14 level and generally earn between $42,246 and $152,352 per year based on level of responsibility and location. The BLS estimated that HR specialists earned an average of $66,350 while working for government agencies. The BLS predicted that HR specialist positions in the overall economy would grow by about 7% through 2026, or about as fast as average.
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: The USAJOBS site indicates that mechanical engineers are mostly hired at the GS 12-13 level and generally earn between $74,750 and $132,649 per year based on level of responsibility and location. The BLS estimated that mechanical engineers in the overall economy earned an average of $87,370 in 2026 and projected job growth of 9%, about as fast as average.
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.
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.
Salary: The USAJOBS site indicates that physicians are mostly hired at the GS 15 level and generally earn between $130,000 and $320,000 per year based on level of responsibility and location. The BLS estimates that physicians in the overall economy earned an average of $208,000 per year. The BLS projected growth of 13% through 2026, faster than average for all occupations.
Job Requirements: 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 level, 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 (August 2019) - 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.