General schedule step scale increases work by dividing white-collar civilian employees of the federal government into 15 pay grades and each pay grade into 10 steps to standardize salary increases for qualified workers. Advancement through the various steps is based on job competency and the number of years an employee has worked.
The GS step scale applies only to those employees with permanent positions. A new employee receives a pay grade appropriate to the job for which he is hired. As long as he remains competent, he advances from one step to the next after he serves the designated amount of time. As of 2014, advancement from step one to step two, step two to step three and step three to step four takes place after 52 weeks each. The next three steps each take 104 weeks, and the last three steps each take 156 weeks. An employee typically advances from step one to step 10 in 18 years.
Exemplary employees may be eligible for a maximum of one extra step increase per year. If an agency has an urgent need or an employee comes to the job with outstanding qualifications, a newly hired worker may be considered for a higher step rate. Promotions also enable employees to advance to higher grades. Besides the GS step scale, yearly wage adjustments and locality pay affect the salaries of federal employees.