Question: Which federal agencies pay the best?

Answer: Federal salaries are set by scales reflecting the occupation and the level of the work, not the agency. However, various exceptions are allowed for paying more if needed to attract and keep employees.

That’s true of the two highest-paying agencies, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which compete for workers with the high-paying businesses they oversee. Workers’ average annual salaries as of last September were $184,817 and $145,430, according to a recent report.

Following them were agencies with high percentages of jobs in the high-demand science, technical engineering and mathematics fields: Nuclear Regulatory Commission, $130,076; NASA, $122,767; Energy Department, $115,600; and Environmental Protection Agency, $115,600. The lowest-paying — again, reflecting the nature of their work — were the Air Force, $75,897; Agriculture Department, $76,144; and Department of Veterans Affairs, $77,525.

The government-wide average was $85,284, up from $83,072 in 2016.

Remember, the federal workforce does not mirror the overall U.S. workforce, making comparisons of average salaries between the two misleading. Federal workers on the whole are older and have more experience in their fields, are more concentrated in professional occupations, and are better educated — all associated with higher salaries.