United States federal civil service

Last updated
Remarks by FDR in 1944 at Union Station, thanking government workers for helping win the war Informal Remarks At Union Station Plaza, Washington, D.C - NARA - 198093.tif
Remarks by FDR in 1944 at Union Station, thanking government workers for helping win the war

The United States federal civil service is the civilian workforce (i.e., non-elected and non-military public sector employees) of the United States federal government's departments and agencies. The federal civil service was established in 1871 (5 U.S.C.   § 2101). [1] U.S. state and local government entities often have comparable civil service systems that are modeled on the national system, in varying degrees.

A civilian is "a person who is not a member of the military or of a police or firefighting force". The term "civilian" is slightly different from a non-combatant under the law of war, as some non-combatants are not civilians. Under international law, civilians in the territories of a party to an armed conflict are entitled to certain privileges under the customary laws of war and international treaties such as the Fourth Geneva Convention. The privileges that they enjoy under international law depends on whether the conflict is an internal one or an international one.

The public sector is the part of the economy composed of both public services and public enterprises.

Title 5 of the United States Code outlines the role of government organization and employees in the United States Code. It also is the Title that specifies Federal holidays.


According to the Office of Personnel Management, as of December 2011, there were approximately 2.79 million civil servants employed by the U.S. government. [2] [3] [4] This includes employees in the departments and agencies run by any of the three branches of government (the executive branch, legislative branch, and judicial branch), such as over 600,000 employees in the U.S. Postal Service.

Career employees and political appointees

The majority of civil service positions are classified as competitive service, meaning employees are selected based on merit after a competitive hiring process for positions that are open to all applicants. The Senior Executive Service (SES) is the classification for non-competitive, senior leadership positions filled by career employees or political appointments (e.g., Cabinet members, ambassadors, etc.). Excepted service positions (also known as unclassified service) are non-competitive jobs in certain federal agencies with security and intelligence functions (e.g., the CIA, FBI, State Department, etc.) that are authorized to create their own hiring policies and are not subject to most appointment, pay, and classification laws. [5]

The competitive service is a part of the United States federal government civil service. Applicants for jobs in the competitive civil service must compete with other applicants in open competition under the merit system administered by the Office of Personnel Management.

According to the United States Office of Government Ethics, a political appointee is "any employee who is appointed by the President, the Vice President, or agency head". As of 2016, there are around 4,000 political appointment positions which an incoming administration needs to review, and fill or confirm, of which about 1,200 require Senate confirmation.

Most civilian positions in the federal government of the United States are part of the competitive service, where applicants must compete with other applicants in open competition under the merit system administered by the Office of Personnel Management. However, some agencies are excluded from these provisions. Although they primarily operate on a merit basis also, they have their own hiring systems and evaluation criteria. These agencies are called excepted service agencies and such positions are part of the excepted civil service.


In the early 19th century, positions in the federal government 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 American political parties, though this was gradually changed by the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 and subsequent laws. By 1909, almost two-thirds of the U.S. federal workforce 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. [6] In some cases, an outgoing administration will give its political appointees positions with civil service protection in order to prevent them from being fired by the new administration; this is called "burrowing" in civil service jargon. [7]

Spoils system

In politics and government, a spoils system is a practice in which a political party, after winning an election, gives government civil service jobs to its supporters, friends, and relatives as a reward for working toward victory, and as an incentive to keep working for the party—as opposed to a merit system, where offices are awarded on the basis of some measure of merit, independent of political activity.

Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act 1883 law of the US Congress establishing the United States Civil Service Commission

The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act is a United States federal law enacted in 1883 that mandated that positions within the federal government should be awarded on the basis of merit instead of political affiliation. The act provided selection of government employees by competitive exams, rather than ties to politicians or political affiliation. It also made it illegal to fire or demote government officials for political reasons and prohibited soliciting campaign donations on Federal government property. To enforce the merit system and the judicial system, the law also created the United States Civil Service Commission. This board would be in charge of determining the rules and regulations of the act. The act also allowed for the president, by executive order, to decide which positions would be subject to the act and which would not. A result was the shift of the parties to reliance on funding from business, since they could no longer depend on patronage.

Hatch Act of 1939 United States law

The Hatch Act of 1939, officially An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities, is a United States federal law whose main provision prohibits employees in the executive branch of the federal government, except the president, vice-president, and certain designated high-level officials, from engaging in some forms of political activity. It went into law on August 2, 1939. The law was named for Senator Carl Hatch of New Mexico. It was most recently amended in 2012.

Federal agencies

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

Independent agencies of the United States federal government are agencies that exist outside the federal executive departments and the Executive Office of the President. In a more narrow sense, the term may also be used to describe agencies that, while constitutionally part of the executive branch, are independent of presidential control, usually because the president's power to dismiss the agency head or a member is limited.

The United States federal executive departments are the principal units of the executive branch of the federal government of the United States. They are analogous to ministries common in parliamentary or semi-presidential systems but they are led by a head of government who is also the head of state. The executive departments are the administrative arms of the President of the United States. There are currently 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.

White House Official residence and workplace of the President of the United States

The White House is the official residence and workplace of the President of the United States. It is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C. and has been the residence of every U.S. President since John Adams in 1800. The term "White House" is often used as a metonym for the president and his advisers.

United States National Security Council U.S. federal executive national security and intelligence forum

The White House National Security Council (NSC) is the principal forum used by the President of the United States for consideration of national security, military matters, and foreign policy matters with senior national security advisors and Cabinet officials and is part of the Executive Office of the President of the United States. Since its inception under Harry S. Truman, the function of the Council has been to advise and assist the President on national security and foreign policies. The Council also serves as the President's principal arm for coordinating these policies among various government agencies. The Council has counterparts in the national security councils of many other nations.

Office of Management and Budget United States government agency

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is the largest office within the Executive Office of the President of the United States (EOP). OMB's most prominent function is to produce the President's Budget, but OMB also measures the quality of agency programs, policies, and procedures to see if they comply with the president's policies and coordinates inter-agency policy initiatives.

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. [8]

There were 456 federal agencies in 2009. [9]

Pay systems

The pay system of the United States government civil service has evolved into a complex set of pay systems that include principally the General Schedule (GS) for white-collar employees, Federal Wage System (FWS) for blue-collar employees, Senior Executive System (SES) for Executive-level employees, Foreign Service Schedule (FS) for members of the Foreign Service and more than twelve alternate pay systems that are referred to as alternate or experimental pay systems such as the first experimental system China Lake Demonstration Project. The current system began as the Classification Act of 1923 [10] and was refined into law with the Classification Act of 1949. These acts that provide the foundation of the current system have been amended through executive orders and through published amendments in the Federal Register that sets for approved changes in the regulatory structure of the federal pay system. The common goal among all pay systems is to achieve the goal of paying equitable salaries to all involved workers regardless of system, group or classification. This is referred to as pay equity or ("equal pay for equal work"). Select careers in high demand may be subject to a special rate table, [11] which can pay above the standard GS tables. These careers include certain engineering disciplines and patent examiners. [12] [13]

The General Schedule (GS) includes white collar workers at levels 1 through 15, most professional, technical, administrative, and clerical positions in the federal civil service. The Federal Wage System or 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 in base salary, without earning over-time pay or receiving a merit-based bonus. Actual salary ranges differ adjusted for increased locality pay (for instance a GS-9, step 1 in rural Arkansas may start at $50,598 [14] versus $61,084 [15] in San Jose, California), but all base salaries lie within the parameters of the following ranges (effective January, 2018): [16]

Pay gradeGS-1GS-2GS-3GS-4GS-5GS-6GS-7GS-8GS-9GS-10GS-11GS-12GS-13GS-14GS-15
Lowest step (1)$ 18,785$ 21,121$ 23,045$ 25,871$ 28,945$ 32,264$ 35,854$ 39,707$ 43,857$ 48,297$ 53,062$ 63,600$ 75,628$ 89,370$ 105,123
Highest step (10)$ 23,502$ 26,585$ 29,957$ 33,629$ 37,630$ 41,939$ 46,609$ 51,623$ 57,015$ 62,787$ 68,983$ 78,355$ 98,317$116,181$136,659
Source: U.S. Office of Personnel Management, 2018. [17]

Nineteen percent 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, although under Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76, most menial or lower paying jobs have been outsourced to private contractors. [18] In 2010, there were 82,034 workers, 3.9% of the federal workforce, making more than $150,000 annually, compared to 7,240 in 2005. [19] GS salaries are capped by law so that they do not exceed the salary for Executive Schedule IV positions. [20] The increase in civil servants making more than $150,000 resulted mainly from an increase in Executive Schedule salary approved during the Administration of George W. Bush, which raised the salary cap for senior GS employees slightly above the $150,000 threshold. [21]

Basic pay rates for Senior Executive Service (i.e. non-Presidentially appointed civil servants above GS-15) will range from $119,554 to $179,700 in 2012.

Employment by agency

As of January 2009, the Federal Government, excluding the Postal Service and soldiers, employed about 2 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. [22]

Federal Government executive branch civilian employment,
except U.S. Postal Service, fiscal year 2016 [23]
(Employment in thousands)
Worldwide Washington, D.C. Worldwide Washington, D.C.
Combined Total2,096173
Executive departments1,923132Independent agencies17341
Defense, total73816.5 Social Security Administration 640.2
Army 2512 NASA 171
Navy 20712 Environmental Protection Agency 164
Air Force 1690.5 Securities and Exchange Commission 53
Other defense802 General Services Administration 124
Veterans Affairs 3738 Small Business Administration 40.8
Homeland Security 19224 Office of Personnel Management 52
Treasury 929
Justice 117
Agriculture 977Executive departments (cont.)
Interior 714
Health/Human Services (HHS) 874 Energy 155
Transportation 558 State 1310
Commerce 463 Housing/Urban Dev (HUD) 83
Labor 165 Education 43
SOURCE: U.S. Office of Personnel Management

U.S. Civil Service Commission

Public support in the United States for civil service reform strengthened following the assassination of President James Garfield. [24] 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. The law required federal government employees to be selected through competitive exams and basis of merit; [24] it also prevented elected officials and political appointees from firing civil servants, removing civil servants from the influences of political patronage and partisan behavior. [24] [25] However, the law did not apply to state and municipal governments.

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.

The United States Civil service exams have since been abolished for many positions, since statistics show that they do not accurately allow hiring of minorities according to the affirmative action guidelines. [26]

Civil Service Reform Act of 1978

This 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. [27] [28]

Reforms under the Trump administration

President Donald Trump signed three executive orders designed to enforce merit-system principles in the civil service and intended to improve efficiency, transparency, and accountability in the federal government. [29] [30] U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson struck down the majority of Trump's executive orders, ruling they were a violation of federal law. [31]

Civil servants in literature

See also

Related Research Articles

United States Office of Personnel Management United States federal government agency

The United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government that manages the government's civilian workforce. The agency provides federal human resources policy, oversight and support, and tends to healthcare, insurance and retirement benefits and services for federal government employees.

Combined Federal Campaign non-profit organization donation system for U.S. government employees

The Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) is the workplace giving program of the federal government of the United States. The program is authorized by executive order 12353 of March 23, 1982, and is overseen by the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Issued by President Reagan, the order states that a CFC objective is "to lessen the burdens of government and of local communities in meeting needs of human health and welfare ..." According to OPM's website, the mission of the CFC "is to promote and support philanthropy through a program that is employee focused, cost-efficient, and effective in providing all federal employees the opportunity to improve the quality of life for all".

Senior Executive Service (United States) position classification in the civil service of the United States federal government

The Senior Executive Service (SES) is a position classification in the civil service of the United States federal government, equivalent to general officer or flag officer ranks in the U.S. Armed Forces. It was created in 1979 when the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 went into effect under President Jimmy Carter.

The general schedule (GS) is the predominant pay scale within the United States civil service. The GS includes the majority of white collar personnel positions. As of September 2004, 71 percent of federal civilian employees were paid under the GS.

Civil Service Reform Act of 1978

The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, (CSRA), reformed the civil service of the United States federal government, partly in response to the Watergate scandal. The Act abolished the U.S. Civil Service Commission and distributed its functions primarily among three new agencies: the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), and the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA).

The U.S. Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program is a highly selective, prestigious two-year training and development program at a United States government agency, administered by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), for U.S. citizens with a recent graduate degree. Applicants undergo an arduous multistage assessment and testing process. After completing the program, agencies may place PMFs as permanent federal civilian employees.

Executive Schedule is the system of salaries given to the incumbents of the highest-ranked appointed positions in the executive branch of the U.S. government. The President of the United States appoints incumbents to these positions, most with the advice and consent of the United States Senate. They include members of the President's Cabinet as well as other subcabinet policy makers. There are five pay rates within the Executive Schedule, usually denoted with a Roman numeral with I being the highest level and V the lowest. Federal law lists the positions eligible for the Executive Schedule and the corresponding level. The law also gives the president the ability to grant Executive Schedule IV and V status to no more than 34 employees not listed.

Oklahoma Office of Personnel Management

The Oklahoma Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was an agency of the government of Oklahoma which was dissolved in 2011. OPM managed the civil service of the state government. OPM previously provided comprehensive human resource services to all state agencies and employees, as well as information for individuals interested in state service careers. OPM, together with the Oklahoma Merit Protection Commission, was responsible for administering and enforcing the State Merit System.

John Berry (administrator) American administrator

Morrell John Berry is an American former government official who was named President of the American Australian Association in 2016. Berry was director of the United States Office of Personnel Management from 2009 to 2013 and United States Ambassador to Australia from 2013 to 2016.

The Federal Wage System (FWS) in the United States was developed to make the pay of federal blue-collar workers comparable to prevailing private sector rates in each local wage area. The FWS is a partnership worked out between the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), other Federal agencies, and labor organizations.

The Senior Foreign Service (SFS) comprises the top four ranks of the United States Foreign Service. These ranks were created by the Foreign Service Act of 1980 and Executive Order 12293 in order to provide the Foreign Service with senior grades equivalent to general- and flag ranks in the military and naval establishments, respectively, and to grades in the Senior Executive Service. Like military ranks and other Foreign Service ranks, the Senior Foreign Service grade system assigns rank in person, not rank in position.

U.S. civil service reform was a major issue in the late 19th century at the national level, and in the early 20th century at the state level. Proponents denounced the distribution of government offices—the "spoils"—by the winners of elections to their supporters as corrupt and inefficient. They demanded nonpartisan scientific methods and credential be used to select civil servants. The five important civil service reforms were the two Tenure of Office Acts of 1820 and 1867, Pendleton Act of 1883, the Hatch Acts and the CSRA of 1978.

Human resource management in public administration concerns human resource management as it applies specifically to the field of public administration. It is considered to be an in-house structure that ensures unbiased treatment, ethical standards, and promotes a value-based system.

Senior Executive Service Accountability Act

The Senior Executive Service Accountability Act is a bill that would make it less difficult to fire or suspend members of the Senior Executive Service (SES).

In June 2015, the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced that it had been the target of a data breach targeting the records of as many as four million people. The final estimate of the number of stolen records is approximately 21.5 million. This includes records of people who had undergone background checks, but who were not necessarily current or former government employees. It has been described by federal officials as among the largest breaches of government data in the history of the United States. Information targeted in the breach included personally identifiable information such as Social Security numbers, as well as names, dates and places of birth, and addresses.

A Schedule C appointment is a type of political appointment in the United States who serve in confidential or policy roles immediately subordinate to other appointees. as of 2016, there are 1,403 Schedule C appointees. Most of these are confidential assistants, policy experts, special counsels, and schedulers, although about 500 of them are non-policy support roles.

The Holman Rule is a rule in the United States House of Representatives that allows amendments to appropriations legislation that would reduce the salary of or fire specific federal employees, or cut a specific program. The rule was first enacted in 1876 and rescinded in 1983, and was reinstated in January 2017 on a temporary basis. It was in effect for the entirety of the Republican-controlled 115th Congress and several amendments were proposed that progressed to a vote of the full House, but none were adopted. The rule was rescinded once more at the beginning of the 116th Congress upon Democrats taking control of the chamber.

George Nesterczuk is an American political advisor, consultant, and government official. He was nominated by President Donald Trump in June 2017 to become the Director of the United States Office of Personnel Management, but he later withdrew his candidacy over potential delays in the confirmation process.


  1. "The Federal Civil Service". DOI University, National Business Center, U.S. Department of the Interior (Revised 11/10/98). Archived from the original on 2009-10-18. Retrieved 2009-08-31.
  2. "Total Government Employment Since 1962". Opm.gov. Retrieved 2013-02-05.
  3. O'Keefe, Ed. "Federal Eye – How many federal workers are there?". Voices.washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2013-02-05.
  4. "December 2011". Opm.gov. 2012-01-01. Retrieved 2013-02-05.
  5. "Help Center: Entering Federal Service". USAJOBS. United States Office of Personnel Management. Retrieved January 25, 2017.
  6. "Political Activity (Hatch Act)". Osc.gov. Archived from the original on 2011-05-20. Retrieved 2011-05-25.
  7. Eilperin, Juliet (November 18, 2008). "Administration Moves to Protect Key Appointees". Washington Post.
  8. "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. June 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-07-26. Retrieved 2008-07-28.
  9. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-10-14. Retrieved 2013-10-13.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  10. Pub. Law no. 516, Ch. 265, 42 Stat. 1488 (March 4, 1923).
  11. "U.S. Office of Personnel Management".
  12. http://nasajobs.nasa.gov/benefits/pay.htm
  13. "Federal pay and the General Schedule (GS)".
  14. "OPM SALARY TABLE FOR THE REST OF U.S." (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-01-20. Retrieved 2018-01-18.
  15. "OPM SALARY TABLE FOR THE LOCALITY PAY AREA OF SAN JOSE" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-01-20. Retrieved 2018-01-18.
  16. "Office of Personnel Management, Salary Tables, 2018" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-01-20. Retrieved 2018-01-19.
  17. "2018 General Schedule (GS) Locality Pay Tables". Office of Personnel Management. 2012. Archived from the original on 2018-01-09. Retrieved 2018-01-18.
  18. Cauchon, Dennis (11 December 2009). "Richest of federal workers get richer". Melbourne, Florida: Florida Today. pp. 1A.
  19. Cauchon, Dennis (10 November 2010). "More fed workers' pay tops $150K". Melbourne, Florida: Florida Today. pp. 4A.
  20. "Congressional Research Service Report for Congress: The Executive Schedule IV Pay Cap on General Schedule Compensation" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-01-19. Retrieved 2011-12-22.
  21. "January 2009 Pay Adjustments". United States Office of Personnel Management. 18 December 2008. Retrieved 2011-12-22.
  22. "Federal Government, Excluding the Postal Service". US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2008-03-12. Archived from the original on 2009-01-14. 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.
  23. "FedScope Federal Human Resources Data". U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Retrieved 2017-02-07.
  24. 1 2 3 Digital History, Steven Mintz. "Digital History". Digitalhistory.uh.edu. Archived from the original on 2011-10-01. Retrieved 2011-05-25.
  25. Creating America: A History of the United States, Rand McNally, p. 238 (2003).
  26. E. Chemerinsky, "Making Sense of the Affirmative Action Debate", (1996)
  27. Ingraham, Patricia W.; Donald P. Moynihan (2000). The Future of Merit. p. 103.
  28. Roberge, Ellen (2011). SNAFU, A Hysterical Memoir About Why the Government Doesn't Work. Orlando, FL: Createspace/BureauRat Publishing. p. 119. ISBN   978-0615610290.
  29. Eaton, Sabrina. "President Trump signs three executive orders in attempted crackdown on federal unions". The Plain Dealer. Cleveland.com. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  30. Korte, Gregory. "Trump signs executive orders aimed at loosening clout of federal labor unions". USA TODAY. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  31. Korte, Gregory. "Judge rules against Trump's attempt to weaken federal unions". USA TODAY. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  32. "The Press: Soap Operas Come to Print". TIME . August 8, 1977. Retrieved February 27, 2010.
  33. "The Rules of the Game". 5 March 1911. Retrieved 19 March 2018 via NYTimes.com.