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How to Negotiate Higher Pay

What is the Starting General Schedule Salary?

Can a new employee start above step 1 of a GS pay grade?

New hires typically start at step 1 of the GS pay grade that he/she was hired into within the federal government. However, there are exceptions, and the applicant can request a higher salary before accepting the position.

You MUST request the increase prior to officially accepting the position. The majority of new hires are unaware that agencies have the authority to offer pay comparability for many positions. If you were earning higher pay at your previous civilian job, and your pay was within the General Schedule pay grade that you were hired into, request that the agency match your salary. Agencies have authority to increase pay up to step 4 or 5 to match your previous salary. If you were earning above that figure the agency’s headquarters office in Washington DC would have to approve the request.


You will have to present documentation to verify your current employer’s salary.  A pay stub that shows your annual compensation and biweekly pay is sufficient in most cases. Local approval is much easier and quicker to obtain than headquarters concurrence and an agency may not receive approval for increases above their local authorization level for a number of reasons including budgetary limitations. The only way to find out if an agency will approve a salary match is to ask and ask when they first contact you with an offer. Once you accept a position by law your salary cannot be increased except through the standard step increases that you will receive throughout your career until you achieve step 10 of your pay grade.

The majority of professional and administrative federal workers are under the General Schedule (GS). The General Pay Schedule includes 15 grades of pay for civilian white-collar and service workers, and 10 within-grade steps for each grade based on length of service and quality of performance. New employees usually start at the first step of a GS pay grade. In an effort to make federal pay more responsive to local labor market conditions, federal employees working in the U.S. receive locality pay. The specific amount of locality pay is determined by survey comparisons of private sector wage rates and federal wage rates in the relevant geographic area. At its highest level, locality pay can lead to an increase of as much as 26 percent above the base salary. A January pay adjustment tied to changes in private sector pay levels is divided between an across-the-board pay increase in the General Schedule and locality pay increases in most years.

Approximately 10 percent of total federal non-postal employment is classified under the Wage Grade (WG) blue-collar pay schedules. Wage Grade workers are placed in a five step pay system and the pay is based on competitive rates that are established by an annual wage survey. The Department of Defense employs the largest number of Wage Grade workers.

There are a number of special compensation systems that augment the general schedule. Physicians receive signing bonuses for a one-year continued-service agreement and additional bonuses for two years. The Federal Aviation Administration pays employees in safety-related careers under a “Core Compensation” multi-pay band system. Organizations such as the General Accounting Office (GAO), NASA, and the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology either are exempt from or have exceptions to the GS pay system.