If the importance of a position is measured by the paycheck, it makes sense that the President of the United States draws the biggest salary of federal government officials. Using salary as the measure of importance, who would you say is the second-most important person in government? Did you guess the Vice President? Speaker of the House? Chief Justice of the United States? You can send all of these guesses to the Dead Letter Department. The second-highest-paid government official is the Postmaster General of the United States.
Given that the average American doesn’t even know the name of the Postmaster General (it has been Megan Brennan since 2015), it may seem odd that this position earns more than the Vice President or any member of the legislative or judicial branches of government.
The Postmaster General makes $291,650 per year (as of 2019), coming behind the President’s $400,000 salary and just ahead of the Vice President’s wages of $253,500. The compensation was established in 2006 in an attempt to make the position competitive with comparable offices in the private sector.
In reality, the salary only tells a small portion of the story. The Postmaster General also qualifies for bonuses and other benefits. In 2009, for example, the U.S. Postal Service came under criticism for losing $3 billion for the year, but the total compensation for then-Postmaster General John E. Potter totaled more than $800,000. Current Postmaster General Brennan’s salary has remained relatively steady over the years, but she earned incentive and non-deferred bonuses that put her earnings at $578,417 in 2017, $662,804 in 2018, and $362,213 in 2019.
It isn’t just the Postmaster General who stands to bring in a nice penny. The top 25 positions within the U.S. Postal Service can have salaries up to 20% above that of the Vice President. These positions also stand to benefit from bonuses. The organization’s chief financial officer has averaged over $400,000 per year, while the Chief Operating Officer & Executive Vice President earned between $442,623 in 2019 and $836,336 in 2017. (You can find more detail in the USPS Form 10-K for 2019.)
It is difficult to tell what is the basis for awarding these incentive bonuses. Since implementing the bonus options and compensation changes designed to attract the best and the brightest, the Postal Service has not had a single profitable year and has lost, each year, an average of $5.98 billion.
With a profitable year apparently nowhere on the horizon, the top positions at the U.S. Postal Service do seem to be the place to go if you want to be well paid for losing a lot of money. If that isn’t your thing, you might consider the other top-paying government positions, most of which are no strangers to heavy spending.
Top U.S. Federal Government Salaries (as of January 2020)
- President $400,000
- Postmaster General $276,840 (total compensation package: $800,000)
- Chief Justice, Supreme Court $277,700
- Associate Justices, Supreme Court $265,600
- Vice President $253,500
- Speaker of the House $223,500
- Cabinet-level positions — $210,700
- House Majority & Minority Leaders $193,400
- House/Senate Members & Delegates $174,000
UPDATE (August 21, 2020): Thanks to David Thorpe for his comment below that triggered additional information.
It should also be noted that the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) compensation structure is not exactly minimum wage. As a federally-owned corporation that operates off of revenue from the sale of electricity instead of taxpayer money, its employees are not technically federal employees. This is a fine point, considering its board of directors are nominated by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The TVA Act, as amended in 2004, does not tie TVA’s compensation structure to that of the civil service. Instead, it directs the TVA board to pay its employees competitive wages with private industry.
If counted among federal employees, current TVA CEO Jeff Lyash has the biggest paycheck of them all. In 2019, the TVA board approved a salary of $920,000 per year, plus additional pension and performance bonuses that bring the total compensation package to $8.1 million.