What are the Best Paying Federal Government Jobs?

highest paying government jobs

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Government work is a career option that may often be overlooked by students. The pay is generally not quite what they might have if they find jobs in the private sector, it's true, but local, state, or federal government work can be very rewarding and often offers great benefits, not to mention better work/life balance in many cases. Not only does a government worker have an impact on their local, state, or national society but they receive healthy compensation packages that may include comprehensive healthcare coverage, generous time off including maternity and paternity leave, as well as a pension for when they retire.

Since the government is so pervasive, nearly any sort of career found in the private sector has an analogue in government. The government hires doctors, lawyers, engineers, cyber security experts, and even bricklayers. Further, recent changes in government policy enable students to defer their student loan payments if they take a job working for a government agency.

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How to Prepare for a Government Career

A government career is a great way to give back and support your country while also making a great salary that includes generous benefits and a pension plan. The good thing about preparing for a government career is that there are many levels at which a person can begin their career. No matter your level of experience or education, there is likely a government job that needs your work.

With that said, it's best to attain the highest level of education possible. Like the private sector, government jobs pay more for better-trained individuals. While one counter argument here is that government jobs don't pay as well as their private sector equals, they do tend to have better benefits and other perks. One of the biggest perks to working for the government is that, thanks to a plan set in place by President Obama, workers can defer their student loans in return for government work. After enough time, the entire loan may be erased.

Another way to enter government work is by taking a Civil Service Exam. This test, or some variation, is offered at many levels of government. Those who want to work for their city government can take that test while those who are more interested in being a federal employee can take the test. However, 80% of federal government jobs are filled after a review of the applicant's education, experience, and skills.

Government Education and Jobs Outlook

Is There a Degree Focused on Government?

There are many degrees that focus on government to some extent. There are public administration master’s degrees that many use to rise through the ranks of government. There are also political science degrees at every level, which educate students as to the workings of governments. Even accountants can specialize in non-profit or government accounting. Other students may earn degrees in public policy, urban planning, and military schools often offer jobs that focus on the administration of armies and war.

Is it Worth it to Earn a Degree Focused on Political Science?

Government focused degrees are a great idea, and they are definitely worthwhile for the civil service minded student. These degrees are not only great background for students who are interested in working for a government agency but are also good for those who desire a career track that engages with government agencies from a private sector office.

One issue that students may face is the fact that their desired career path may not be available in their local area. Students who are interested in working for federal agencies, for instance, may have to relocate to Washington, DC or some other location. After all, federal agencies have offices in cities and states from coast to coast. Students who are looking for their first job may not have much choice other than to move for their work.

Students might also want to look at the average salary figures for government jobs relative to equivalent jobs in the private sector. Since jobs on the federal payroll, or state or local, tend to offer a lower base average salary, many feel that the jobs aren't worth it. However, students are advised to consider other forms of compensation such as paid time off, sick pay, pension plans, and healthcare benefits. Further, students with loans can defer their payments in return for working in a civil service position.

Job Outlook in Political Science and Government Jobs

As our population continues to grow, so do the government jobs needed to help support the populace. Much like the private sector, however, this growth is likely to occur most in STEM-focused positions. One of the fastest growing jobs in the government is in statisticians. Their field is projected to see a 23% growth rate through 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

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However, the BLS reports that the overall outlook for government careers tends to be on the decline. Administrative positions may be waning, as well as service positions, and even some of the highest paid federal employees. However, this does not mean that hiring will cease or that the current contraction will be permanent. A surge in infrastructure spending, for instance, might result in a need for more managerial and hands-on professions, such as construction workers.

Students who are interested in working for the government, but who may not be able to find the position they desire in a government field should not fret. There may be equivalent positions available for or from government contractors who have privatized many of those government functions. Some of these contractors may also operate as non-profit organizations, a feature that may allow students to continue to defer their student loans.

How to Get a Job in Government

There are many routes to a career in government. However, all students should do their best to first attain the highest possible degree they can, in the field that suits them the best. This applies no matter if the student wants to work as a statistician, administrator, aviation expert, or fire fighter. Having earned academic credentials, as well as any applicable private sector experience, it's time to seek an open entry-level position. Even the highest paid federal employees and other government employees usually started at or close to the bottom.

The federal government makes all their open positions available to the public. Candidates should review these job announcements carefully to determine what is required from an applicant. Some jobs will require scores from the civil service exam but many more, 80%, are filled much as any job in the private sector is, by a manager reviewing one's skills, education, and general background.

Careers that require a civil service exam score include mail handlers, US Customs agents, IRS agents, CIA agents, and Border Patrol workers.

Well-Paying Government Careers

  • Patent Attorney - $272,103:
    This legal career is one of the most highly skilled and well-paid in the industry. Patent attorneys often have degrees in a field such as engineering on top of their legal training so that they can fully understand and identify a unique patent candidate.
  • Senator - $174,000:
    Anyone can become a senator, but few attain the position. A senator needs to attract significant support, not only from the general population but from big-money donors, as well. One way to start a path to the US Senate floor is by starting with an elected position, including the senate, in one's home state.
  • Contracts Administration Director - $171,865:
    This is an incredibly important position that requires that contracts conform to government guidelines and law. Each contract must be scrutinized to ensure a good and equitable deal for the government. The job will require a strong knowledge of contract law and budgetary concerns.
  • Program Manager - $145,418:
    These administrators oversee various projects within their department. They ensure that projects are not redundant and that related projects are able to communicate and share data or other resources. An effective program manager will be able to streamline projects in such a way as to save money that can be rolled into new projects.
  • Data Architect - $145,230:
    This tech position is responsible for the design of their agency's data systems. They may determine how the databases are managed and how data is supposed to flow over the network. Architects also keep their eye on emerging tech solutions for data management including cloud storage, offline storage, and more.
  • Technical Systems Program Manager - $144,110:
    This is an IT position that seeks to synergize various IT projects and programs. The goal is to eliminate redundancy and to ensure a more efficient, budget-friendly outcome for the agency. These professionals must also constantly research new IT solutions that can further enable the goals of each project under them.
  • Government Relations Manager - $141,700:
    This position is often found in private sector firms that interact with the government as a regular course of business. Relations managers may work for government contractors or public colleges and universities that need to maintain friendly relations with elected officials. Knowledge of government and politics, on top of excellent communication skills, are vital to this position.
  • Financial Manager - $131,710:
    These professionals ensure that their agency or department manages its funds in the best and most effective manner possible. Financial managers oversee how money is invested in equipment, personnel, and government contractors. Financial managers need a strong background in governmental accounting and finance.
  • Government Affairs Director - $128,284:
    These professionals typically work with private firms who do regular business with government agencies. A strong knowledge of the relevant governmental structures and excellent communication skills are vital to this position. A strong academic background could include a degree in political science, public administration, or social science, including economics.
  • Air Traffic Controller - $120,830:
    These aviation professionals are of vital importance to air travel. They are responsible for managing air traffic into and out of their home airport. The position can be very stressful, depending on where one works and the conditions on any particular day. Air traffic controllers work under the auspices of the FAA and often receive their training in the military.

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  • Astronomer - $120,817:
    A regular or government astronomer uses science and the scientific method to analyze the movement of various bodies in space. Astronomers typically work as professors in a university or for government agencies, especially NASA. Their work helps us develop a better understanding of the universe in which we live.
  • Dental Officer - $119,798:
    These military officers are trained in dentistry and help fellow soldiers maintain optimum dental health. Their training is much the same as civilian dentists, but their workplace environment can vary from a stateside dental office on a military base, near a warzone, or with the Veteran's Health Administration.
  • Human Resources Manager - $115,778:
    Human resources are the backbone of good companies and government agencies. HR managers help to attract and maintain employees by structuring attractive compensation packages. Government HR professionals may travel to colleges and universities to recruit students to their agency and you can get started with a bachelor's degree.
  • Public Administration - $114,826:
    This career involves working with a state, local, or federal government agency or department. Public administrators often need a degree in political science, public administration, or economics. A background in accounting or budget management may also help.
  • Economist - $109,454:
    To gain a position as an economist, a master’s degree is usually required. Economists review the macro-economic environment to determine the next best steps for their firm or governmental agency. They may also review the internal economics of their department or firm and strive to maximize efficiency.
  • Economic Development Director - $107,578:
    This position usually requires a background in economics, and an MBA may help. Economic development directors review the town, state, or nation under their purview and seek ways to help it develop in the very best ways. These days, an economic developer may look at factors such as environmental sustainability on top of GDP growth.
  • Computer Scientist - $106,097:
    These tech workers focus on computer issues such as cyber security, encryption, artificial intelligence, and emerging technologies like quantum computing. Computer scientists are experts at computer programming and some even work to develop new programming languages.
  • Army General - $104,357:
    This position comes only with extensive experience in the military, specifically the Army. Generals often benefit from combat experience but that is not always the case. In fact, some Generals may spend much of their time working with IT or personnel management.
  • Research Statistician - $95,570:
    This position requires a degree in mathematics or statistics. Success may also hinge on one's ability to work with big data sets with languages such as R and Python. Research statisticians review their data in search of trends that may prove useful to their department or firm.
  • Public Affairs Director - $92,132:
    These government workers strive to maintain strong and healthy relations with the public. Public affairs directors may oversee communicating with the public during emergency situations, such as increasingly extreme weather events and public health concerns. A degree in marketing or public relations is a great background for this position.

Other Political Science Career Options

  • Federal Criminal Investigator - $75,098:
    These criminal justice professionals investigate federal crimes. Many specialize in certain sorts of crime such as tax fraud, violent crimes, and sexual crimes.
  • Securities Compliance Examiner - $73,062:
    This position helps to regulate various exchanges involved with trading securities. Most of this work focuses on equity securities on Wall Street, but may also cover the options exchange, mercantile exchange, or commodity exchange.
  • Mechanical Engineer - $89,161:
    These workers are experts at building and maintaining mechanical devices. Mechanical engineers work in areas that include robotics, manufacturing, automobiles, and materials science.
  • Civil Engineer - $88,004:
    These engineers often work with governmental bodies in the creation of civic structures. We often think of civil engineers as bridge builders, but they may also design and oversee the construction of stadiums, roadways, and airports, to name a few.
  • Government Accountant - $61,603:
    This job involves analyzing the inflows and outflows of money through a given system. Certified accountants are licensed to sign off on tax documents and often work as auditors for corporations or government agencies. To thrive as an accountant, a bachelor's accounting degree is the minimum requirement.
  • Compliance Officer - $90,300:
    These workers deal with matters of law without being attorneys. Compliance officers may work with entities, such as hospitals, which are under tight regulatory and private sector scrutiny to perform within certain strictures.
  • Political Affairs Officer - $91,740
  • Economic Development Manager - $86,788
  • Chief Engineer - $84,637
  • Federal Judge - $81,089
  • Public Policy Manager - $80,488
  • Human Resource Specialist - $78,591
  • Federal Agent - $76,364
  • Policy Advisor - $76,214
  • Policy Analyst - $76,197
  • Budget Analyst - $72,151
  • Attorney - $71,261
  • Administrative Law Judge - $68,512
  • Customs Officer - $67,910
  • Border Patrol Agent - $65,797
  • Medicaid Business Analyst - $64,215
  • Auditor - $63,431
  • Policeman - $60,313
  • Internal Revenue Service, Revenue Agent - $56,152
  • Medical Officer - $51,494
  • Public Service Officer - $37,101