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50 highest-paying jobs in the federal government

  • 50 highest-paying jobs in the federal government
    1/ Shutterstock

    50 highest-paying jobs in the federal government

    There are some major pros to snagging a job with the U.S. government. Federal jobs exist all across the country, the benefits tend to be competitive, and the types of jobs cover interests across the spectrum. Sure, the job comes with plenty of bureaucracy. And, yes, during government shutdowns, employees may have to take forced, unpaid leave. However, most of the time, the job is steady and may even come with a large paycheck. But which federal jobs are the best compensated?

    Stacker took a look at FederalPay, a public resource website for U.S. employees that is not run by the government. Using information from 2017, FederalPay ranked each job by annual average salaries. Here, Stacker also notes the pay for the highest-paid individual in each particular job.

    To find out who’s making the most paper while still making a difference for the country, read on. Plus, find out more about what each job entails and what it takes to get the gig.

    RELATED: 100 biggest U.S. government contractors and what they do

  • #50. Fire protection engineering
    2/ schriever.af.mil

    #50. Fire protection engineering

    Average annual salary (2017): $120,676
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $172,100

    Fire protection engineers investigate the root causes of fires, examining the way architecture and design could prevent or suppress blazes. Day to day, they also may inspect buildings or fire equipment. Most fire protection engineers start by getting a degree in engineering before getting on-the-job experience with a firefighting agency.

  • #49. International cooperation
    3/ Sgt. Andres Alcaraz // U.S. Marine Corps

    #49. International cooperation

    Average annual salary (2017): $120,921
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $161,900

    All 37 international cooperation personnel working for the federal government are employed by the Agency for International Development. This job requires planning, developing, and implementing foreign economic assistance programs. In addition to knowing about foreign policy and finances, these workers must understand the country that the United States is working with on any particular program.


     

  • #48. Metallurgy
    4/ James St. John // Flickr

    #48. Metallurgy

    Average annual salary (2017): $121,071
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $187,000

    The job title says a lot about what it entails—metal. Metallurgists are materials scientists specializing in iron, copper, and other metals, often focusing on extraction and processing. Most metallurgists get degrees in engineering or materials science. Government gigs are known for being the best paying in this field.

  • #47. Credit union examiner
    5/ agnosticpreacherskid // Wikimedia Commons

    #47. Credit union examiner

    Average annual salary (2017): $121,197
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $279,000

    Credit union examiners travel around the state, or even around the country, examining federally chartered credit unions. They typically work out of the credit unions they’re inspecting, or may even work from home. Qualifications for the job require a yearlong program of classes, on-the-job training, and progressive work assignments.

  • #46. General physical science
    6/ USEPA // Flickr

    #46. General physical science

    Average annual salary (2017): $121,243
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $245,670

    This wide-ranging job category includes physicists, chemists, astronomists, and geologists. Many of these employees work for the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of Energy. Expect most of them to have master’s degrees or higher in their fields.

  • #45. Operations research
    7/ Pixabay

    #45. Operations research

    Average annual salary (2017): $121,371
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $192,522

    If you’re a problem-solver by nature, this may be the job for you. Operations research analysts use data mining, mathematical modeling, and statistics to help organizations operate efficiently and cost-effectively. Math, business, or industrial engineering degrees are helpful to enter this field.

  • #44. Economist
    8/ Tim Evanson // Flickr

    #44. Economist

    Average annual salary (2017): $121,424
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $268,000

    Economists research and predict trends, analyze data, and examine financial resources. Most of these jobs, which are with departments like the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Internal Revenue Service, require a master’s degree in economics.

  • #43. Employee benefits law
    9/ Lisa Ferdinando // DoD

    #43. Employee benefits law

    Average annual salary (2017): $121,515
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $187,000

    Employee benefits lawyers are experts on everything from health care and 401(k) to paid-time off and welfare benefits. Naturally, a legal degree is essential for this job. The federal government hires these legal minds for the Employee Benefits Security Administration and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.

  • #42. Plant physiology
    10/ NPS.gov

    #42. Plant physiology

    Average annual salary (2017): $121,662
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $207,800

    Whether studying entire plants or just their genes, plant physiologists are experts about the physical, biological, and chemical functions of flora. Most plant physiologists have a background in botany, chemistry, math, and biology, and most have experience working in labs. The Agricultural Research Service employs the majority of these federal workers.

  • #41. Transportation industry analysis
    11/ MBisanz // Wikimedia Commons

    #41. Transportation industry analysis

    Average annual salary (2017): $122,121
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $161,900

    These analysts have a mind for everything having to do with transportation, including air, trucking, freight, and more. They’re smart about regulatory controls, customs, and carrier operations, and may work for the Maritime Administration, Federal Aviation Administration, or Federal Railroad Administration, among other departments.

  • #40. Patent examining
    12/ United States Patent Office // Wikimedia Commons

    #40. Patent examining

    Average annual salary (2017): $122,477
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $170,388

    The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office protects inventors and businesses, who file patents and trademarks. Patents protect new designs and trademarks help inform customers about the brands they’re buying. Patent examiners tend to be trained scientists and engineers who review patent applications and ensure that patents are, in fact, for new products.

  • #39. Geodesy
    13/ Elizabeth Merriam // U.S. Navy

    #39. Geodesy

    Average annual salary (2017): $122,558
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $163,817

    This job requires monitoring and measuring Earth’s shape, geodynamic phenomena, and gravity field, to determine its exact coordinates and how they might change over time. These trained scientists help track the rise of oceans, the change of tides, and more. It may come as no surprise that most geodesists work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

  • #38. Materials engineering
    14/ nrc.gov

    #38. Materials engineering

    Average annual salary (2017): $122,619
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $172,100

    Materials engineers may work in mechanical, chemical, nuclear, aerospace, civil, or electrical engineering, where they study various materials at the atomic level and sometimes even develop new products, such as technological devices or plastics, from their materials of choice. Most engineers employed in this field have at least a bachelor’s degree in their area of expertise.  

  • #37. Foreign agricultural affairs
    15/ Pixabay

    #37. Foreign agricultural affairs

    Average annual salary (2017): $122,989
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $187,000

    The Foreign Agricultural Service oversees U.S. agricultural programs abroad, from market development to trade agreements. Personnel for the FAS are employed in offices all around the world.

  • #36. Air safety investigating
    16/ NTSB

    #36. Air safety investigating

    Average annual salary (2017): $123,653
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $163,400

    Working primarily for the National Transportation Safety Board, air safety investigators investigate the causes of aircraft accidents. This life-saving job requires a high-school diploma and, typically, a college degree.

  • #35. Education research
    17/ Pixabay

    #35. Education research

    Average annual salary (2017): $124,507
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $187,000

    The Institute of Education Sciences, which helps ground education policy in scientifically based information, employs the majority of the government’s education researchers. These individuals analyze and share data about student performance and education policies. An education or analysis background is helpful for this job. The best part? The work can result in real changes for the nation’s school systems.

  • #34. Foreign affairs
    18/ Pixabay

    #34. Foreign affairs

    Average annual salary (2017): $125,055
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $207,800

    The duties of foreign affairs personnel are varied. Generally, they represent and support U.S. efforts abroad through foreign assistance programs, working on counter-crime units, enforcing security investigations, aiding military training programs, and more. Education requirements depend on the specialty, but most openings require a college education.

  • #33. Air traffic control
    19/ Pixabay

    #33. Air traffic control

    Average annual salary (2017): $125,112
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $202,285

    More than 14,000 air traffic controllers in the United States guide 2.2 million planes from taxi to takeoff every day. It’s a demanding job with unusual hours, and one that requires a lot of training. Prospective employees need three years of "progressively responsible” work experience, a bachelor’s degree, or a combination of college and work experience. Interestingly, there’s also an age limit: Applicants must be under 30.

  • #32. Cryptanalysis
    20/ Pixabay

    #32. Cryptanalysis

    Average annual salary (2017): $125,325
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $163,900

    Cryptanalysts crack secret codes and encrypted messages and, conversely, also work to make sure that messages and data from the U.S. government are kept secure. Only 18 of these workers have been hired by the feds, all working for the FBI. Most of these code-making and code-breaking experts have backgrounds in computer science, math, and computer engineering.

  • #31. Mediation
    21/ Pixabay

    #31. Mediation

    Average annual salary (2017): $125,411
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $172,100

    Mediators work as middlemen, developing labor–management relationships that work for federal employers and employees. Beyond that, they improve relationships between management and laborers, try to reduce litigation costs, enforce workplace conflict-management training, and help establish workplace rules.

  • #30. Computer cience
    22/ Pixabay

    #30. Computer cience

    Average annual salary (2017): $125,751
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $220,000

    Computer scientists work for tons of governmental agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration, National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Institutes of Health, and the FBI. Typically, computer scientists need at least a master’s degree in computer science, computer engineering, or a similar field.


     

  • #29. Computer engineering
    23/ Pixabay

    #29. Computer engineering

    Average annual salary (2017): $126,361
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $199,869

    Most of the federal government’s computer engineers work for the space and air programs. Of the 1,105 federal computer engineering employees, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center employs over 300 of them, the John F. Kennedy Space Center has 124, the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center has 81, and the Federal Aviation Administration has 78. Computer engineers tend to be experts in hardware, software, or software applications.

  • #28. Medical officer
    24/ Pixabay

    #28. Medical officer

    Average annual salary (2017): $126,492
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $390,000

    Depending on the role, medical officers may be licensed physicians or otherwise be trained in the medical field. Typically, they work for the feds in advisory, consultation, and administrative roles. Medical officers may conduct research, help institutionalize health programs, and more. There’s a staggering 33,100 such employees working for the government, many of whom have jobs with the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • #27. Electronics engineering
    25/ Thomas Bresson // Wikimedia Commons

    #27. Electronics engineering

    Average annual salary (2017): $126,746
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $192,879

    Electronics engineers, naturally, design electronics. This includes circuits, devices, and other electrical components. Education requirements vary by the role. NASA’s electronics engineers, for example, are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree in their fields.

  • #26. Financial institution examining
    26/ Pixabay

    #26. Financial institution examining

    Average annual salary (2017): $127,731
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $288,524

    Analyzing insurance companies, housing, farming, and other institutions to make sure they’re complying with all laws and regulations is the name of the game for financial institution examiners. Legal degrees, auditing experience, and accounting backgrounds all help to land one of these jobs.

  • #25. Zoology
    27/ Pixabay

    #25. Zoology

    Average annual salary (2017): $127,875
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $173,417

    Zoologists study everything about animals and their behavior. It’s a dream job for many but, with just 58 federal slots, there aren’t many zoologists working for the government. But the ones who do—often for the Smithsonian Institution, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or the Environmental Protect Agency—make good money doing so.

  • #24. Actuarial science
    28/ Shutterstock

    #24. Actuarial science

    Average annual salary (2017): $128,524
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $187,000

    Actuaries analyze risks for financial institutions, insurance, and other groups and professions. Because their main tools are math, statistics, and business savvy, it may come as no surprise that a background in these fields helps procure this job. Most of the government’s actuaries work for the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Social Security Administration, and the Internal Revenue Service.

  • #23. Pharmacology
    29/ Pixabay

    #23. Pharmacology

    Average annual salary (2017): $128,533
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $248,699

    Pharmacologists test and research drugs. It’s a serious, tedious job, but one that can help countless patients and even save lives. Most pharmacologists attend medical school. What can they expect for all those years of education? A high salary and rewarding work.

  • #22. Aerospace engineering
    30/ Pixabay

    #22. Aerospace engineering

    Average annual salary (2017): $128,757
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $193,840

    These engineers help planes and rocket ships take flight. Their day-to-day job requires designing all manner of aircraft, including satellites and missiles. At least a bachelor’s degree in engineering is required. For those doing national defense-related work, special security clearance is necessary, too.


     

  • #21. General engineering
    31/ Coast Guard Compass

    #21. General engineering

    Average annual salary (2017): $129,820
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $240,100

    Falling under the wide umbrella of "general engineering” are folks who work for the Department of Energy, the Veterans Health Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, NASA, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It’s also the 34th most popular job in the U.S. government. Most have a bachelor’s or master’s in engineering, typically with a specific focus depending on their field.

  • #20. General attorney
    32/ Shutterstock

    #20. General attorney

    Average annual salary (2017): $130,515
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $287,774

    A lot of lawyers work for the federal government. Nearly 35,000, to be exact, in every department or agency from customs to immigration to the environment. Like lawyers in private practice, attorneys for the feds need to attend law school and pass the bar exam.

  • #19. Health system administration
    33/ Pixabay

    #19. Health system administration

    Average annual salary (2017): $130,791
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $225,398

    These administrators are typically responsible for managing health care systems, from hospitals to larger networks. Rather than having feet on the ground working directly with patients, they typically take a larger, overview look at the systems. They may work for the federal prison system, the Veterans Health Administration, or even the Indian Health Service. There are degrees for health system management at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

  • #18. Fish and wildlife administration
    34/ Defense.gov

    #18. Fish and wildlife administration

    Average annual salary (2017): $134,259
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $187,000

    This job combines environmentalism with government action. Fish and wildlife administrators (who typically work for the Fish and Wildlife Service) evaluate conservation efforts, help with budgeting, and may even oversee certain wildlife preserves. Most of the employees in this role began working as scientists before moving into administrative work.

  • #17. Financial management
    35/ Tech. Sgt. Sean Tobin // U.S. Air Force

    #17. Financial management

    Average annual salary (2017): $134,671
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $280,500

    Financial managers oversee everything to do with the fiscal health of a particular federal department, from the Department of Energy to the Veterans Benefits Administration. Most have a bachelor’s degree and then work as auditors, accountants, or analysts before becoming financial managers.

  • #16. Naval architecture
    36/ Navsea.navy.mil

    #16. Naval architecture

    Average annual salary (2017): $135,553
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $161,900

    Only seven people are employed by the feds as naval architects. Those lucky enough to snag one of these high-paying gigs, where they design vessels and other water-based devices, find themselves working for the Maritime Administration and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A specific set of skills is needed for this job, so most have undergraduate or graduate degrees in naval architecture.

  • #15. Financial analysis
    37/ reynermedia // Flickr

    #15. Financial analysis

    Average annual salary (2017): $135,750
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $286,345

    Financial analysts look at how each department is functioning from a cost level. They need to know about accounting, law, and how their department is organized. Accounting, business, and math degrees are useful for this job, which is known as one of the most desirable in the financial services industry.

  • #14. Patent adviser
    38/ Pxhere

    #14. Patent adviser

    Average annual salary (2017): $136,011
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $161,900

    Patent advisers work within the Agricultural Research Service and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when patents are needed for new innovations. The CDC also employs in-house experts who can help review patents when outside scientists file claims related to their scientific discoveries. These advisers tend to have legal degrees.


     

  • #13. Physics
    39/ Pixabay

    #13. Physics

    Average annual salary (2017): $136,591
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $270,400

    Physicists working for the government usually find themselves in labs and conducting research. It’s an intensive job, but one that can result in incredible, world-changing discoveries. Most have a doctorate or master’s degrees in physics.


     

  • #12. Mathematics
    40/ Peter Rosbjerg // Flickr

    #12. Mathematics

    Average annual salary (2017): $136,934
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $258,616

    Working primarily for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Federal Aviation Administration, National Science Foundation, and National Institutes of Health, federal mathematicians’ duties are varied. They may help research groups process data, analyze statistics, or create models for analysis, among many other things.

  • #11. Patent classifying
    41/ U.S. Nat'l Archives

    #11. Patent classifying

    Average annual salary (2017): $137,809
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $161,900

    Patent classifiers examine patents that come through the Patent and Trademark Office. Not only do they have to be able to review the applications per rules and regulations, but they often need niche technical experience to understand specific types of innovations, from feats of mechanical engineering to medical discoveries.

  • #10. Program management
    42/ Pixabay

    #10. Program management

    Average annual salary (2017): $141,595
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $325,000

    These federal workers oversee an array of departmental projects and programs. They also direct teams and help boost their departments through marketing and other means. This is no small task: Poor program management was largely to blame for issues with HealthCare.gov during its 2013 rollout. Most program managers have some business and budgeting experience, plus expertise in the area their department covers.


     

  • #9. Astronomy and space science
    43/ Bill Hrybyk // NASA Goddard

    #9. Astronomy and space science

    Average annual salary (2017): $141,981
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $181,562

    The majority of the government’s astronomists and space scientists work for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. It takes a lot of skills and training to be paid to discover new parts of the universe; most of these roles require doctorate degrees. Some background in computer science is also helpful.

  • #8. Chief engineer
    44/ U.S. Navy

    #8. Chief engineer

    Average annual salary (2017): $150,803
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $165,164

    Not only do chief engineers carry out feats of electrical and electronic engineering, but they also plan and direct projects as managers. Since most of these engineers work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that typically means repairing ship systems. A background in engineering is required, as is knowledge of marine systems and machine repair.

  • #7. General mathematics and statistics
    45/ DARPA // Wikimedia Commons

    #7. General mathematics and statistics

    Average annual salary (2017): $153,214
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $241,600

    Mathematicians appear on the list again alongside statisticians. Both types of experts crunch data to help solve issues related to engineering, health care, the environment, or even FBI investigations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most mathematicians and statisticians have master’s degrees and have taken significant math courses, though some of these federal jobs only require bachelor’s degrees.


     

  • #6. Technical systems program manager
    46/ F Delventhal // Flickr

    #6. Technical systems program manager

    Average annual salary (2017): $153,430
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $199,548

    There are 551 technical systems program managers, all employed by the Federal Aviation Administration. They’re responsible for a variety of jobs, such as completing and overseeing research on electrical power systems in planes. This typically requires engineering expertise, plus plenty of training on the job and some managerial experience.

  • #5. Patent administration
    47/ Alan Kotok // Flickr

    #5. Patent administration

    Average annual salary (2017): $161,308
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $187,148

    Working for the Patent and Trademark Office, these administrators help support patent attorneys. This may mean drafting patent forms, maintaining electronic filing systems, managing attorney prosecution dockets, providing legal advice, and more. This job requires business and organizational smarts, as well as some legal knowledge.


     

  • #4. Administrative law judge
    48/ Pixabay

    #4. Administrative law judge

    Average annual salary (2017): $163,113
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $183,425

    These judges oversee cases involving the operations and procedures of various government agencies. Though the vast majority of administrative law judges work for the Social Security Administration, they may also work for the Office of the Secretary of Labor, the National Labor Relations Board, or the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. As with any judicial appointment, this job requires a law degree and many years of experience in the field.

  • #3. Nurse anesthetist
    49/ U.S. Air Force

    #3. Nurse anesthetist

    Average annual salary (2017): $167,818
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $207,800

    Perhaps it’s surprising to see a medical job toward the top of this list. These nurses administer anesthesia during surgery, which is known to be a particularly tricky task. Because of this, nurse anesthetists require special training and accreditation in nursing school. All of the nurse anesthetists employed by the federal government work for the Veterans Health Administration.

  • #2. Patent attorney
    50/ Pixabay

    #2. Patent attorney

    Average annual salary (2017): $170,079
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $190,444

    For lawyers who know a ton about intellectual property, filing patent applications and defending patents in court may be their dream job. Not only do patent attorneys have to attend law school and pass the bar exam, they also must pass a federal "patent bar exam.” What’s more, they may be an expert in a specific topic, such as chemistry or computer science.

  • #1. Securities compliance examining
    51/ Scott S // Flickr

    #1. Securities compliance examining

    Average annual salary (2017): $181,013
    Salary for highest-paid individual: $244,184

    The highest-paying government job is with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which works to protect investors and enforce regulations for companies. It’s the job of examiners to take on Wall Street and ensure that companies follow the law. According to the SEC, examiners conduct inspections, review portfolios, look at sales activities, and perform interviews and on-site examinations. The SEC usually looks for hires with a law or business degree, and their pay is high to compete with the private sector.

     

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