What Is a Federal Civilian Employee?

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You probably run into federal civilian employees daily. The postal worker, the nurse at the Veterans’ Administration hospital or the clerk who answers the phone if you call about Social Security benefits for a parent – all are federal civilian employees.

Is a TSA Agent a Federal Civilian Employee?

Because Congress made special rules about the Transportation Security Administration when it was created, there is sometimes confusion about whether TSA screeners are federal civilian employees: they are. Like the majority of federal civilian employees, they do not carry guns as part of their job.

TSA screeners do not have the same procedural protections against firings as other federal employees do. Congress initially did not allow TSA employees to join a union, which most federal employees can do. That changed in 2011, but TSA agents still do not have the same rights to appeal firing and demotions that most federal employees do.

Who Is Considered a Government Employee?

People who work directly for a federal agency are government employees, which means the same thing as “federal civilian employee.” All the branches of the military employ people in non-combat, civilian jobs. One well-known group of civilian employees in the military is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

But federal civilian employees are not the only people who work at a federal agency. The federal government also hires private companies to do specific projects such as designing and maintaining large, complex computer systems for an agency. Those companies are called government contractors. Government contracting companies then hire people to work on their contracts. Often, those contract workers sit in the same office spaces as federal employees. But make no mistake, they aren’t government employees.

The federal government does not track how many contract employees work in agencies, but researchers peg the number at around 3.7 million.

How Many Civilian Federal Employees Are There?

According to the Office of Personnel Management, federal agencies (excluding the U.S. Postal Service) employed a total of 2,087,747 people throughout the United States, in U.S. territories and in foreign countries in 2017.

The United States Post Office employs an additional 644,124 people, bringing the grand total of federal civilian employees to 2,731,871. That’s more than the population of New Mexico, the 36th most populous state in the country.

While many people assume that most federal civilian employees work in the Washington, D.C. area, that’s not so. Only 21 percent of the federal workforce is there. California, Georgia, Maryland, Texas and Virginia are the top five locations for federal employees.


  • Federal civilian employees work directly for a federal agency, such as the Social Security Administration. The military employs civilians for non-combat work, and they are also considered federal civilian employees.

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