What Is Federal Locality Pay?

Where You Work Makes a Difference in Federal Law Enforcement Jobs

When it comes to salaries in careers with the U.S. Government - particularly federal law enforcement jobs - where you work can matter almost as much as what you do or who you work for. The federal pay system is large and complex, with several different ways federal workers can earn more than their base rate of pay. One such way federal employees earn more is through the locality pay system.

What Is Locality Pay?

The idea is fairly simple. Federal locality pay adjustments provide a means for workers to earn salary additives on top of their base pay, predicated on where they're assigned to work. While a special agent working at the G-10 level in Atlanta, Georgia will earn $57,554, that same worker doing the same job at the same level will earn $60,212 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Why Does the Federal Government Offer It?

Different areas of the country have different costs of living. In short, it costs more to live in some areas of the United States than it does in others. Additionally, industries may offer different pay and compensation packages in different parts of the country. Law enforcement and other criminal justice careers are particularly susceptible to variations in salaries due to the diversity of tax bases and tax rates across the country. 

While money isn't the only thing in a job, it's a pretty important factor in recruiting and keeping the most qualified candidates. Locality pay is offered so that agents, officers, and other federal workers don't look elsewhere for higher-paying jobs in their assigned geographical areas.

Also, because federal workers are often more transient than others - they can be assigned anywhere in the country and, in some careers, the world - locality pay helps ensure that workers are better able to afford to live in the areas in which they are stationed.

How Is It Calculated?

Some groups differ on the disparity between federal government and private sector salaries. The Federal Salary Council - a group made up partially by union representatives - insists that federal workers earn about 35 percent less than comparable private sector jobs. The Congressional Budget Office, on the other hand, suggests private and federal salaries are comparable. Nonetheless, as an employer, the federal government has recognized the value in maintaining a competitive wage. 

To that end, the President's Pay Agent - a council established to make recommendations on federal pay- uses data from the Occupational Employment Statistics program, collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to compare salaries in 33 metropolitan areas and a 34th category representing the rest of the United States.

What Locality Has the Highest Pay?

According to the federal Office of Personnel Management's 2015 pay scale, the metropolitan area of San Jose - San Francisco - Oakland offers the highest pay, where a federal law enforcement agent at the G-10 level will earn $65,206 compared to the base rate of $48,247 or to the locality rate of $55,079 for the "rest of the United States."

Should You Be Concerned?

Typically, when federal agencies hire new officers, they send them to the areas they need them most for their first assignments. It's relatively rare that as a new officer, you would get your choice of duty assignments. With that in mind, locality pay is good to know about, but shouldn't be a major factor in deciding whether or not to apply for a federal law enforcement job.