Government

Does the federal government pay IT workers better than the private sector?

In many cases working for the government pays off in better salaries. But with IT, it depends on your specialty.

On average, federal employees earn more than their counterparts in the private sector. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, federal workers earned an average salary of $67,691 in 2008 for occupations that exist both in government and the private sector. The average pay for the same mix of jobs in the private sector was $60,046 in 2008.

This is not always the case across the IT field, however. According to the report, a "computer, information systems manager" would make $122,020 a year when working for the federal government, compared to $115,705 in the private sector; a difference of $6,315. But computer support specialists would make on average $45,830 per year for the federal government but $54,875 in the private sector (a difference of -$9,045).

Other key findings, according to USAToday:

  • Federal. The federal pay premium cut across all job categories - white-collar, blue-collar, management, professional, technical and low-skill. In all, 180 jobs paid better average salaries in the federal government; 36 paid better in the private sector.
  • Private. The private sector paid more on average in a select group of high-skill occupations, including lawyers, veterinarians and airline pilots. The government's 5,200 computer research scientists made an average of $95,190, about $10,000 less than the average in the corporate world.
  • State and local. State government employees had an average salary of $47,231 in 2008, about 5% less than comparable jobs in the private sector. City and county workers earned an average of $43,589, about 2% more than private workers in similar jobs. State and local workers have higher total compensation than private workers when the value of benefits is included.

Next time, I'll cover some specifics of the government system pay scale, which is as layered and complicated as the concept of cold fusion. Stay tuned!

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

12 comments
shodges119
shodges119

There are several things not even mentioned in this article. When comparing Federal IT against Private sector jobs. Does the Private Sector Job require a Security Clearance. This can range from secret to TS SCI with Lifestyle Poly. Huge difference in pay. A program manager in the private sector probably does not hold this clearance, so the position becomes harder to fill. Also DISA has installed 8570 Compliancy as a mandate which require IA Certification along with Platform Certification. Senior Managers are now to some degree required to have a CISSP and a Platform Cert such as CCNP/MCIPT or MCSE. If your IT billet is in an Acquisistion Billet you also have to get level 1,2 and 3 level certified for contracting. I would take this into consideration when trying to compare apples to oranges. It would be more like comparing a PHD to a bachelors. The requirements are insane and thus why people find it very difficult to even get a call back when applying for a government position. It would cost too much to get the individual cleared and certified for administrative access. Therefore they pay more for these requirements to already be met. This is a response to both subjects about Federal Pay and comaparing to public jobs.

BoxunloX
BoxunloX

I would have to say.....yes. I am currently a SysAdmin for the FedGov. I am not in the armed forces but I do work for the DoD as a Department of the Army Civilian. Before I landed my current job I did some research online and the average salary for the type of work that I do was between 45,000 and 50,000/year. As Toni stated in the article the government pay system is complicated. I am a GS-11 step 1. Depending on your time in grade you can be anywhere from a step 1 to a step 10. There is a significant difference in pay between the two. As a step 1 my base pay is $50,287/year. Above average as you can see. The government also gives those who hold IT positions (overseas such as myself and in the States its called locality pay) between the grades of GS-9 and GS-12 what they call IT specialty pay. For a GS-9 IT Specialty pay is the base pay + 20%. For a GS-11 it is base pay + 16%, and for a GS-12 it is base + 12%, I believe. Also, depending on the country you are in, there is Cost of Living Allowance (COLA). I am located in Germany where the strong status of the Euro allows me to receive $648 /month in COLA. So, I am a GS-11 step 1 which equates to $50,287 + 16% + $648 /month which comes to $66,108.92 /year. Definitely better than the equivalent private sector job.

ueit
ueit

yes that is not all infact...

htmapes
htmapes

If you throw in paid time off, co-pays for benefits and the retirement benefits, it's not even close. Official estimates by the Feds put the true differential at between 35% and 70%. In 2009, for example, the number of people making more than $170,000 in salary in one Federal agency alone went from about 50 to over 1500.

DC_Federal_Employee
DC_Federal_Employee

I'm a federal IT guy and my pay is now higher than some friends of mine in private industry. I'd say on average a federal government IT worker starts out making less (depending on what grade level (GS scale) but over time catch up then pass most private industry workers. One big reason for this is how the GS system is designed as well as the automatic 2-4% raise the gov't gives all employees every January. That doesn't include step increases within your GS level either which usually amounts to $1500-2000. One thing against the federal side is the type of IT work. The high-level federal IT workers (GS-14/15) are almost entirely paper-pushing drones. Most of the real IT work is handled by contractors. Private side workers have the ability to stay in a technical/hands-on job and make money to what a GS-14/15 make but usually requires jumping from company to company. Having a security clearance helps even more.

njaneardude
njaneardude

Many of my old contractor friends who have been working on 'three letter agency' contracts for years and years cannot get onboard as a DHE (Direct Hire Employee) because of the certification criteria. I don't have a college degree but have an armload of certs and experience which landed me with the feds.

reelskills
reelskills

and the kicker is that the compensation received by government workers never reflects the economic realities on the ground. They keep chugging along with our taxpayer dollars while in the private sector we are required by the laws of economic nature to adjust expectations accordingly. it sure pays to be a government employee!

njaneardude
njaneardude

"...it sure pays to be a government employee!" True story. I was on a break while in in IT training for my fed job when my wife calls. "YOU JUST GOT PAID TODAY, DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH YOU MADE!!!" (Caps for very real shouting). We fought like h-e double hockey sticks that first year. I took a huge cut but I looked at the long term benefits. Within 2 years I was making what I was making as a contractor. Do I miss the contractor bucks, yeah, but now I have job security which I enjoy even more.

paul.hudson
paul.hudson

I tried to work for the private sector. With 30 years of experience, they wanted me to work for $10.00/hr. I was lucky. I got picked up by the Federal Government. You can look up my pay on the federal paychart (GS9/6) I've been a GS9 for 10 years. So, what about the benefits. My retirement plan, FERS, is basically a 401(k). I have to make good decisions about what funds to invest in or there is no money at retirement. The health benefits are ok but, my private insurance is cheaper and better. Paid time off? Sure, you can accumulate time just like the civilian sector. 1 hour for so many hours worked. The trick is taking your time off. Most Federal IT workers work 50-60 hours a week and are on call on weekends and holidays. Oh, and did I mention the training. None. If you want to keep up with your field, you have to pay for it out of that "generous" paycheck yourself. The reasoning seems to be, you don't need the training to be selected for a new job that includes an increase in paygrade but you can't get that new job if you don't have the training. They don't want to train you because you'll just leave for the private sector. Sound familiar??

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

Training is sometimes paid for, but the reasons have to be exceedingly specific and precise. Regardless of how relevant. Government used to pay for college education, but they don't anymore. And I could run rings around what some coworkers do. (not all things, I am hardly superman, but that's not the point.) At the college I attend, there is a poster that adumbrates college levels and associated pay. $36,000/yr for people with a Bachelor's degree is great.... If we lived in 1979, that is... In 2010, that's a slap in the face, nor have I proceeded to me "unpaid internship" tangent yet. These anti-government articles seem to be carefully spun to incite emotion rather than to incite critical thought, which is akin to a sin in this country to begin with... Just like Apple's anti-Java and anti-Flash rants, which others merrily disprove. http://www.zdnet.com/blog/perlow/web-video-showdown-flash-vs-quicktime-vs-windows-media/13176 for instance, and that isn't the only one, but I digress again.

BoxunloX
BoxunloX

"My retirement plan, FERS, is basically a 401(k). I have to make good decisions about what funds to invest in or there is no money at retirement." You didn't mention the Thrift Saving Plan offered by the Gov. Might want to look into that. "my private insurance is cheaper and better" My federal insurance costs are very low and I go to the provider of my choice for both medical and dental. "Paid time off? Sure, you can accumulate time just like the civilian sector. 1 hour for so many hours worked. The trick is taking your time off. Most Federal IT workers work 50-60 hours a week and are on call on weekends and holidays" Depending on the circumstances GS employees earn between 6 and 8 hours vacation per 2 week period. I work in a large federal organization and no one is on call, and overtime is rare. Also, taking vacation isn't a problem for those in my organization. Sure there are those times when it is a bit easier to take vacation but I've never seen anyone's vacation denied. "Oh, and did I mention the training. None. If you want to keep up with your field, you have to pay for it out of that "generous" paycheck yourself. The reasoning seems to be, you don't need the training to be selected for a new job that includes an increase in paygrade but you can't get that new job if you don't have the training. They don't want to train you because you'll just leave for the private sector. Sound familiar??" My biggest gripe is with this statement. When I began my IT career with the Fed they sent me to a Net+ boot camp, A+ boot camp, and Security+ boot camp. After the courses they handed me a voucher to sit and take each exam for free. I am now certified and didn't pay a dime. These boot camps were hosted by Global Knowledge. We all know how expensive this would have been had I paid out of pocket. DoD 8570.1-M mandates that persons working in IT positions must have industry standard baseline certifications....and the Gov pays for it. Here are some other courses paid for by the Gov that I have taken: -Information Assurance Security Officer's Course -Information Assurance Security Manager's Course -Information Management Officer's Course -Organizational Unit Administrator's Course -IT Project Management Tools and Concepts Next month I am attending a Symantec Netbackup course, once again for free. Other

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