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Competitive Pay

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Competitive Pay

Forest Service employees are offered competitive pay that is based on government-regulated pay scales. Majority of Forest Service employees are paid according to the General Schedule (GS). However, some are paid based on alternative schedules such as the Federal Wage System or Senior Executive Service.

Your pay will be determined by position type, duty location, length of employment, and other factors. Below is some general information about the pay systems used by the Forest Service.

General Schedule

The General Schedule is the primary federal pay scale, particularly for employees in professional, technical, administrative, or clerical positions. The system has 15 grades, starting at a GS-1 and going up to GS-15—there are 10 steps within each grade.

Grade Levels

  • GS- 1 or GS-2: mostly high school level interns working seasonal positions.
  • GS-3 or GS-4: college level internship positions, student jobs, entry-level technicians or lower level administrative work.
  • GS-5 to GS-7: advanced entry-level administrative positions, technical trainees or technical mid-level trainees, must have 1 year specialized experience or degree.
  • GS-8 to GS-12: mid-level technical positions and first level supervisory positions.
  • GS-13 to GS-15: top-level technical and supervisory positions. 

Step Increases

Each GS grade has 10 steps. Step Increases also known as Within-Grade Increases (WGIs) are periodic increases in a GS employee’s rate of basic pay from one step of the grade to the next higher step of that grade. WGIs only apply to GS employees occupying permanent positions and will be earned upon meeting three requirements established by law:

  1. The employee’s performance must be at an acceptable level of competence. To meet this requirement, an employee’s most recent performance rating of record must be “fully successful” or an equivalent rating.
  2. The employee must have completed the required waiting period for advancement to the next higher step.
    • Steps 1 to 2, 2 to 3, and 3 to 4: 52 weeks (1 year) of creditable service in current step.
    • Steps 4 to 5, 5 to 6, and 6 to 7: 104 weeks (2 years) of creditable service in current step.
    • Steps 7 to 8, 8 to 9, and 9 to 10: 156 weeks (3 years) of creditable service in current step.
  3. The employee must not have received an equivalent increase in pay during the waiting period.

Pay and Cost of Living

Salaries under the GS system have two parts: base pay and locality pay adjustment. The GS base pay is adjusted to accommodate the cost of living in more expensive geographical locations. So, if you were a GS-7 biologist in San Francisco you make more money than a GS-7 biologist in Atlanta because the cost of living is higher in San Francisco.

You may receive additional pay called a locality pay adjustment, depending on where you work in the United States. In some areas such as Alaska, Hawaii and California, locality pay can be 10-25% higher than other locations. You can visit the OPM Salaries & Wages webpage to view the current year's pay tables for your desired career location.

Special Rates

The Forest Service may pay a higher base rate for some jobs to recruit and keep top talent. Often, the base pay is higher for positions that are considered hard to fill, and are mostly in the scientific, technical, and medical fields.

Alternatives Pay Schedules

The Forest Service also uses two other government regulated pay scales:

  • The Federal Wage System (FWS) is a pay plan for people who are usually paid by the hour. The goal of the FWS is to make sure that Federal trade, craft and laboring employees are receiving the same rate of pay as private sector employees in the same locality area who perform similar duties.
  • The Senior Executive Service (SES) consists of executive positions, including managerial, supervisory and policy positions classified above GS grade 15 or equivalent positions in most Executive Branch agencies of the federal government.

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