It’s not all bad working for the federal government. In fact, many stay for years. Like a well-worn glove that they just can’t seem to throw away, many continue to keep putting it on year after year. Known problems can be managed, and there are a lot of benefits to getting a federal job and sometimes it’s easier to just hunker down and weather all of the budget drills, continuing resolutions, shutdowns, and more. But as federal employees rise in the ranks, one issue will flare up every time Congress or the White House try to hand out a raise. It’s easy for the public to assume that everyone will be happy with that increase, but what they don’t understand is that not everyone will actually get a raise or a cost of living increase – even if they live in an expensive area.

Senior leaders at the GS-15 level may be recognized leaders, managing high level programs and issues, but their compensation has a pay cap on it, which impacts GS-15 employees in high cost area. Compensation isn’t everything, but the inability to get a raise or cost of living increase due to a pay cap is frustrating and demoralizing.

Lack of Incentive to Stay Becomes a Competition Problem

It’s easy to think that federal employees make enough money already. In fact, it’s often the cry from the public. And just like every other organization, there are federal employees who are not the nation’s finest. However, there are many public servants who could have chosen other jobs in the public sector that would compensate them for their experience and value. Federal employees understand that upward mobility in the government means sticking out longer than others around you, but when you put a pay cap – even at $172,500 for employees in the D.C. region, it starts to push top talent out the federal door.

With a lack of incentive to stay, a GS-14 at a step 10 has no reason to seek out or apply for a GS-15 level position that offers more responsibilities and supervisor tasks. The tasking may change, but the reward remains the same. Those at the top in government often have advanced degrees and years of experience that industry offers raises and bonuses for. In order for the federal government to be able to compete, they have to pay for the skills that are needed. While we need to attract younger talent, we also have to give the next generation a reason to stay in government.

If the federal government continues to lose senior level talent, they will increasingly not be able to compete with the tech industry.  As the DoD and Intel fields require more and more innovation and technology advancements, they need to get the best talent. It will only grow increasingly more challenging to hire top talent when the government is capping large groups of individuals and skill sets.

It’s a Leadership Issue

It’s true that generally issues within an organization flow down from the top, and compensation issues that plague the federal government are no different. Members of the senior executive service (SES) also have a pay cap, and GS employee pay is not allowed to exceed SES pay. So, until SES compensation is raised, any raises or cost of living increases will just be frustrating for employees at the GS-15 level in high cost areas.

One way to be heard is to contact your local congressional offices in order to begin to see policy changes. If the government loses out on top talent, the cost to national security is immeasurable as we compete with peer and near peer threats.


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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.