Annual Salaries of Top US Government Officials

A politician counting money in front of the US Capitol Building
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Traditionally, government service has embodied a spirit of serving the American people with a degree of volunteerism. Indeed, the salaries these top government officials tend to be lower than those for private-sector executives in similar positions.

For example, the $400,000 annual salary of the president of the United States reflects a great degree of “volunteerism” compared to the nearly $14 million average salary of corporate CEOs.

Executive Branch

President of the United States

  • 2021: $400,000
  • 2000: $200,000

The president's salary was increased from $200,000 to $400,000 in 2001. The president's current salary of $400,000 has an additional $50,000 expense allowance.

As commander in chief of the world’s most modern and expensive military, the president is considered the most powerful political figure in the world. Having control of a number of nuclear weapons second only to that of Russia, the president is also responsible for the health of the world’s largest economy and the development and application of U.S. domestic and foreign policy

The salary of the president of the United States is set by Congress, and as required by Article II, Section 1 of the United States Constitution, may not be changed during the president’s term in office. There is no mechanism to automatically adjust the president's salary; Congress must pass legislation authorizing it. Since legislation enacted in 1949, the president also gets a non-taxable $50,000 annual expense account for official purposes.

Since the enactment of the Former Presidents Act of 1958, former presidents have received a lifetime annual pension and other benefits including staff and office allowances, travel expenses, Secret Service protection and more.

Can Presidents Refuse the Salary?

America’s Founding Fathers never intended for presidents to become wealthy as a result of their service. Indeed, the first presidential salary of $25,000 was a compromise solution reached with delegates to the Constitutional Convention who argued that the president should not be paid or compensated in any way.

Over the years, however, some presidents who were independently wealthy when elected have chosen to reject their salaries.

When he took office in 2017, 45th President Donald Trump joined first President George Washington in vowing not to accept the presidential salary. However, neither of them could actually do that.

Article II of the Constitution—through its use of the word “shall”—requires that the president must be paid:

"The President shall, at stated times, receive for his services, a compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that period any other emolument from the United States, or any of them."

In 1789, Congress decided that the president did not get to choose whether to accept the salary.

Trump Keeps Promise to Donate Salary

As an alternative, President Trump agreed to keep $1 of his salary. Since then, he has carried through on his campaign promise by donating his $100,000 quarterly salary payments to various federal agencies, including the National Parks Service and Department of Education. Trump is the first president since John F. Kennedy to donate his salary.

During his four years in office, President Trump donated at least $1.4 million of the $1.6 million he earned as president to various federal agencies.

In 2017, President Trump gave:

  • $78,333 to the Department of Interior’s National Park Service (NPS) for maintenance backlog at historic battlefields. Specifically, the donation went to restore the Newcomer House on the Antietam battlefield and for the replacement of its deteriorated rail fencing.
  • $100,000 to the Department of Education to host a free, two-week space camp for 30 low-income, middle school girls.
  • $100,000 to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for “the planning and design of a large-scale public awareness campaign about the dangers of opioid addiction.”
  • $100,000 to the Department of Transportation to support its programs to “rebuild and modernize our crumbling infrastructure.”

In 2018, President Trump gave:

  • $100,000 to the Veteran’s Administration for “caregiver support in the form of mental health and peer support programs, financial aid, education training, and research.”
  • $100,000 to the Small Business Administration earmarked for a seven-month training program tailored for veteran entrepreneurs.
  • $100,000 to the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  • $100,000 to the Department of Homeland Security.

In 2019, President Trump gave:

  • $100,000 to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for “outreach programs that benefit farmers.”
  • $100,000 to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Surgeon General.
  • $100,000 to the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health to “the ongoing fight against the opioid crisis.”
  • $100,000 to HHS, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health to “confront, contain, and combat Coronavirus.”

In 2020, President Trump gave:

  • $100,000 to HHS to “develop new therapies for treating and preventing COVID-19 so that we can safely reopen.”
  • $100,000 to the NPS in July 2020 to help pay for repairs on national monuments.
  • The recipients of the President's third and fourth quarter 2020 donations remain in question.

Vice President of the United States

  • 2021: $235,100
  • 2000: $181,400

The vice president's salary is decided separately from that of the president. Unlike the president, the vice president gets the automatic cost of living adjustment given to other federal employees as set annually by Congress. The vice president gets the same retirement benefits as those paid to other federal employees under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS).

Cabinet Secretaries

  • 2021: $221,400
  • 2010: $199,700

The salaries of the secretaries of the 15 federal departments that comprise the President’s Cabinet are set annually by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and Congress.

The cabinet secretaries—as well as the White House chief of staff, Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, the U.N. ambassador and the U.S. trade representative—are all paid the same base salary. As of fiscal year 2019, all of these officials were paid $210,700 per year. 

Legislative Branch - US Congress

Rank-and-File Senators and Representatives

  • 2021: $174,000
  • 2000: $141,300

Speaker of the House

  • 2021: $223,500
  • 2000: $181,400

House and Senate Majority and Minority Leaders

  • 2021: $193,400
  • 2000: $156,900

For purposes of compensation, the 435 members of Congress–Senators and Representatives–are treated like other federal employees and are paid according to the Executive and Senior Executive pay schedules administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The OPM pay schedules for all federal employees are set annually by Congress.

Since 2009, Congress has voted not to accept the annual automatic cost of living raise paid to federal employees. Even if Congress as a whole were to decide to accept the annual raise, individual members are free to turn it down.

Many myths surround the retirement benefits of Congress. However, just like other federal employees, members of Congress elected since 1984 are covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System. Those elected prior to 1984 are covered by terms of the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS).

Judicial Branch

Chief Justice of the United States

  • 2021: $280,500
  • 2000: $181,400

Associate Justices of the Supreme Court

  • 2021: $268,300
  • 2000: $173,600 

District Judges

  • 2021: $218,600

Circuit Judges

  • 2021 $231,800

Like the members of Congress, federal judges–including Supreme Court justices–are paid according to the OPM’s Executive and Senior Executive pay schedules. In addition, federal judges get the same annual cost of living adjustment given to other federal employees.

Under Article III of the Constitution, the compensation of the Supreme Court justices “shall not be diminished during their continuance in office.” However, the salaries of lower federal judges may be adjusted without direct constitutional constraints.

The retirement benefits of Supreme Court justices are indeed “supreme.” Retired justices are entitled to a lifetime pension equal to their highest full salary. In order to qualify for a full pension, retiring justices must have served for a minimum of 10 years provided the sum of the justice's age and years of Supreme Court service totals 80.

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Longley, Robert. "Annual Salaries of Top US Government Officials." ThoughtCo, Jun. 2, 2021, thoughtco.com/top-us-government-officials-annual-salaries-3321465. Longley, Robert. (2021, June 2). Annual Salaries of Top US Government Officials. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/top-us-government-officials-annual-salaries-3321465 Longley, Robert. "Annual Salaries of Top US Government Officials." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/top-us-government-officials-annual-salaries-3321465 (accessed June 14, 2021).