3 minute read

Federal Government Worker Job Description, Career as a Federal Government Worker, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training Varies—see profile

Salary Varies—see profile

Employment Outlook Fair

Definition and Nature of the Work

The federal government employs about 1.9 million civilians in the United States and abroad. Many hold jobs similar to those in private industry, such as secretaries, lawyers, physicians, biologists, truck drivers, and painters. Others have jobs exclusive to the government: postal service worker, internal revenue agent, or border patrol agent. Most work for agencies of the executive branch, printing money, caring for disabled veterans, forecasting weather, and cataloging documents. A smaller number are employed by the legislative and judicial branches of government, working as pages, court stenographers, and clerks. The government also employs mechanics, maintenance workers, chauffeurs, food service workers, plumbers, truck drivers, and countless other workers of various skills.

About one of every eight federal government employees works in Washington, DC. The rest work in all fifty states and in foreign countries.

Education and Training Requirements

A high school education is sufficient for some jobs, but others require bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degrees. Applicants for jobs in the United States must be at least sixteen years old. For overseas jobs the minimum age is twenty.

Most applicants take competitive examinations administered by the Office of Personnel Management. The tests measure applicants' ability to do particular jobs or their ability to learn to do the jobs. Some government agencies have developed their own testing and merit systems. They include the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Foreign Service of the Department of State, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Federal employees usually receive training on the job or in facilities outside government. Apprenticeship programs exist for certain trade workers, and work-study programs and summer programs are available for college students.

Getting the Job

All native-born and naturalized U.S. citizens may take civil service examinations. Announcements for the exams and job openings and application forms may be obtained from local branches of the Federal Information Center.

Federal government workers are employed by all branches of the federal government. Some work in Washington, DC, whereas others work in individual states or in foreign countries. (© Rob Lewine/Corbis.)

Once applicants have taken an exam they will be notified whether they are eligible for certain government jobs. When an opening occurs in a federal agency, the agency chooses from the applicants who had the three top scores. Applicants not selected may be considered for later vacancies. Applicants can also expect to be interviewed. Some jobs are not filled by examination, but according to training and experience.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Skilled workers can move up within an agency or be promoted to a job in another agency. Promotion is sometimes based on additional civil service examinations. Little overall growth in the number of federal jobs is expected through 2014. Most openings will occur when experienced workers retire or leave government service.

Working Conditions

Federal government workers generally have set workweeks, although overtime may be required. Employees have a great deal of job security.

Earnings and Benefits

The majority of federally employed workers are paid according to a system called the General Schedule. Each job is assigned a grade level according to the difficulty of the work and the training and experience required. In 2005 the starting salary for workers in the lowest grade, GS-1, was $16,016 per year. Most high school graduates with no related work experience started at GS-2, with a salary of $18,007 per year. Those with bachelor's degrees generally started at grade GS-5 or grade GS-7, depending on their academic record. In 2005 starting salaries for those positions were $24,677 and $30,567 per year, respectively. Those in the highest grade, GS-15, earned between $89,625 and $116,517 per year.

Skilled workers, manual laborers, and service workers are paid according to the Wage Board schedule, which is based on prevailing rates for similar jobs in private industry. Wages vary by geographic location.

Where to Go for More Information

American Federation of Government Employees
80 F St. NW
Washington, DC 20001-1528
(202) 737-8700

Federally Employed Women
1666 K St. NW, Ste. 440
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 898-0994

National Federation of Federal Employees
1016 Sixteenth St. NW, Ste. 300
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 862-4400

Federal government workers receive many benefits, including paid vacations, holidays, sick leave, low-cost life and health insurance, and retirement plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw and Public Service