Civil service pay grade comparison to military pay grade

Civilians and military members may work in the same federal installations and perform similar duties, yet their pay structures couldn't be any more different. Although some factors such as supervisory responsibilities and location are considered with pay, the method of payment and expectations for each are not the same. Military and civilian pay grades have stark differences.

Grade Title

Military pay grades, regardless of branch, are divided into two sections: enlisted and officer. Civilian pay grades are often annotated by the type of work done. There are more than 30 specific notations, but many fall into the general service (GS) and non-supervisory wage system (WG). Supervisory wage system positions are noted as WS. Those under the National Security Personnel System (NSPS) are noted with a "Y" before their grade notation.

Civilian Steps versus Years in Service

Military pay grades earn more pay as they advance in rank and time in service. There are imposed time limits for certain pay grades in specific branches. According to the Air Force High Year Tenure requirements, E-5s cannot remain in the Air Force beyond 20 years of service at that rank. Civilian workers have no restrictions and can stay in their pay grade as long as they want. Civilian pay increases can happen in the "Step" system within the grade based on time of service. Promotion from Step One to Step Four happens yearly upon favourable review; Step 4 to Step 7 happens every two years. Promotions from Step 7 to Step 10 happen every three years.


Enlisted military members advance to non-commissioned officer and senior non-commissioned officer positions through testing, board review or a combination of both. Commissioned officers advance based on board reviews. For federal civilians, there is no testing or board review to advance in pay grade. Advancement can be based on position change and competition for supervisory positions. For example, if a federal worker is in a GS-7 position that will not convert into a higher level, he will always be paid as a GS-7 as long as he remains there.


Military members who advance in rank are expected to carry more general responsibilities with each rank. Advanced military ranks are often put in charge of subordinates and can be assigned supervisory positions regardless of experience. Civilians, however, may or may not have those responsibilities. It is possible to work as a GS-7 and have supervisory responsibilities; you can also work as a GS-11 and have no responsibilities or additional time commitments. It all depends on the nature of the position.

Additional Pay

Military members also qualify for additional pay to cover housing costs as compensation for their relatively low incomes. Military grades can receive Base Allowance for Housing if they live outside the installation. Federal civilians may receive locality pay, depending on where they work, in addition to the base salary. Civilians working in the San Francisco area received a 35.15 per cent increase in pay for 2010.

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About the Author

Paul Bright has been writing online since 2006, specializing in topics related to military employment and mental health. He works for a mental health non-profit in Northern California. Bright holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of North Carolina-Pembroke and a Master of Arts in psychology-marriage and family therapy from Brandman University.

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