What Is the General Schedule?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2019
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The General Schedule is a term that is often used to describe the civil service pay scale that is utilized in the United States. Other nations have their own versions of this type of pay scale for governmental and government-related employees, making it somewhat easier to establish wage grades based on the type of position, levels associated with that position, and even the expertise of the individual employee. One of the main benefits of the General Schedule is to establish some degree of uniformity in how civil servants are compensated for their efforts, while still allowing for some consideration of duration of service and degree of education and expertise.


The focus of the General Schedule in the United States is to provide a logical and somewhat uniform method of compensating federal employees who are considered white-collar personnel. This classification would include all professional and technical employees, as well as employees who are assigned responsibilities that are categorized as clerical or administrative. Within the scope of classes for each of these types of employees, there may also be differences in pay grade or ranking that also impact the actual salary and benefits enjoyed by a specific employee. Factors such as the length of time that the employee has been part of the governmental system, the duration of employment in the current position, and the level of expertise and experience of the employee may also play a role of determining the total compensation package, within the limitations inherent in the General Schedule.

Use of the General Schedule is somewhat different from the use of schedules used by non-governmental entities, in which the level of salary and other benefits are often different from one company to the next, even in the same industry. While companies in general must meet basic employment criteria set by the federal government, the assigning of a particular salary level is somewhat more subjective than is the case for government employees. From this perspective, the General Schedule does provide a more uniform basis for compensating employees based on the appropriate pay grades and how well those employees comply with other requirements necessary to successfully secure access to a higher pay grade.

The vast majority of federal civilian employees in the United States are paid based on the provisions found in the General Schedule. The remainder of government employees are covered under other types of schedules, such as the Federal Wage System or the Executive Schedule. As is true in many parts of the world, many military employees are compensated under the terms of a schedule that is unique to the types of services they provide in relation to their positions within the military.


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