Hiring and Placement
The traditional and still the most-used method to enter federal service is by appointment through the competitive examining process. The Office of Personnel Management has delegated authority to agencies to examine and hire for all positions except for administrative law judges, which remains in OPM’s control. However, OPM conducts examinations for agencies under contract, operates a central online portal at www.usajobs.gov for applying for job openings government-wide (see Vacancy Announcements, below) and maintains standing registers from which agencies may hire of candidates for certain common occupations and candidates eligible for hiring priority due to certain disabilities (see Candidate Assessment and Probation, below).
In addition, there are numerous other hiring authorities and processes as explained below.
Recent Hiring Policy Changes—A Presidential memo of May 11, 2010 ordered several changes designed to speed up and simplify hiring practices. It:
• generally barred agencies from requiring that applicants respond to essay-type questions, such as knowledge, skills and abilities questions, as an initial screening tool, although allowing for such a requirement at a later stage of the assessment process;
• required that applicants be allowed to apply for jobs using resumes and cover letters rather than often-lengthy standardized forms;
• ordered the phase-out of the “rule of three” assessment system and replacing it with general use of category rating;
• required that hiring managers be more involved in the hiring process, including planning current and future workforce requirements, identifying the skills required for the job, and engaging actively in the recruitment and interviewing process;
• required that managers be held accountable, through their performance evaluations, for recruiting and hiring highly qualified employees and supporting their successful transition into federal service; and
• required that agencies notify individuals applying for through USAJOBS about the status of their application at key stages of the application process.
Executive Order 13548 of 2010 required executive departments and agencies to improve their efforts to employ workers with disabilities through recruitment, hiring, and retention initiatives. See Hiring of the Disabled under Special Recruitment, Hiring and Placement Programs, below.
In 2011, OPM ordered a series of reporting requirements designed to track agency speed and quality in hiring and to encourage development and sharing of best practices in recruiting. It further discontinued an optional application form because www.usajobs.gov allows applicants to create and submit résumés online.
Executive Order 13583 of 2011 directed agencies to focus on diversity and inclusion as a key component of their human resources strategies, consistent with merit system principles and other law. Under the order, OPM and other central agencies developed a governmentwide plan focusing on diversity, inclusion, and agency accountability and leadership and highlighting strategies for agencies to identify and remove any barriers to equal employment opportunity in their recruitment, hiring, promotion, retention, professional development, and training policies and practices.
That plan, updated in 2016, is at www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/diversity-and-inclusion/reports.
In 2012, OPM revised and re-emphasized entry-level programs for students and recent graduates (see Pathways Program under Special Recruitment, Hiring and Placement Programs, below) and issued guidance requiring agencies to give veterans’ preference to military personnel even before their separation from active duty under certain conditions (see Veterans’ Hiring Preference in Section 8 of this chapter). A joint 2016 memo from OPM and the Office of Management and Budget (M-16-15, at www.whitehouse.gov/omb/memoranda) created the Federal Cyber Workforce Strategy, designed to foster hiring of employees with high-demand cybersecurity skills. The strategy involves identifying needed skills and shortages within an agency; collaborating with academic institutions to increase the numbers of those graduating with those skills; enhancing recruitment efforts through steps including streamlined hiring and security clearance processing and use of authorities allowing for higher compensation; and an increased focus on retention through steps such as enhanced training and career development programs. (Note: The Defense Department has separate hiring, career development and other policies for many of its cybersecurity-related positions called the Cyber Excepted Service. See DoD Instruction 1400.25 Volume 3001 at www.esd.whs.mil/DD.)
P.L. 114-328 required agencies to review and consider merit-based information—such as official personnel actions, performance ratings and disciplinary actions, if any—in a job candidate’s official personnel folder relating to prior government service before deciding whether to hire or reinstate that individual into the competitive service or excepted service. Note: An agency may not agree as part of a settlement agreement to remove information about performance or conduct from an employee’s records. See Alternative Dispute Resolution and Settlements in Chapter 10, Section 7.
Also in 2016:
• OPM launched the Hiring Excellence initiative (www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-information/hiring-excellence) stressing in-person and virtual training on collaboration between hiring managers and human resources staffs; awareness of the various methods of candidate assessment and hiring authorities available; and a data-driven approach to recruitment, including by using data generated by USAJOBS. A November 1, 2016 memo (at www.chcoc.gov/transmittals) set a long-term series of goals for agencies to meet, committed OPM to providing training and other support, and described best practices in recruiting.
• The USAJOBS site was upgraded by adding features that allow the job seeker to: track progress of an application; check on required documents for a position without leaving the application process; save progress on a pending application; add, build, view or delete a resume; attach, view or delete resumes and other required documents; and review the final application before submitting it. Other added features were designed to help job-seekers better identify vacancies for which they are qualified before going through the application process and to stress whether special preferences or restrictions apply that may work to an individual’s advantage or disadvantage.
• National security agencies collectively launched www.intelligencecareers.gov, which lists vacancies in those agencies and includes interactive tools to customize career recommendations by matching education, skills and professional abilities with intelligence community career areas.
• A presidential memo of October 5, 2016 (at www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/10/05/presidential-memorandum-promoting-diversity-and-inclusion-national) ordered steps to promote diversity and inclusiveness in national security agencies, including: collecting and publicly reporting data on the demographics of their workforces; providing professional development and career advancement opportunities; recognizing and rewarding management officials who support those principles; and expanding training on inclusion, unconscious bias and workplace flexibilities.
A general hiring freeze in Executive Branch departments and agencies ordered by a Presidential memo of January 23, 2017 was ended on April 12, 2017 by OMB Memo 17-22. That memo (at www.whitehouse.gov/omb/memoranda) however required that agencies produce plans for reducing their workforces in both the short term and the long term, including through restricted hiring; in response, many agencies have continued to restrict their hiring, in particular for administrative type positions.
An April 3, 2018 memo (at www.chcoc.gov/transmittals) reinforced prior guidance that agencies should keep applicants informed during the hiring process, in particular notifying them of their status on receipt of the application; when qualifications have been assessed and the agency decides which candidates to refer to the selecting official; and when a candidate has been selected.
P.L. 115-232 of 2018 amended 5 U.S.C. Chapter 31, subchapter I to allow agencies to hire, without standard competitive hiring processes, into competitive service professional or administrative positions at GS-11 and below those who have graduated from college within the prior two years (or within two years of completing obligatory military service after college of four years or more) and are deemed qualified. Merit system principles still apply, though, and an agency may use the authority for no more than 15 percent of hiring into such positions per year. The law also allowed agencies to temporarily hire current college students into such positions within the same requirements, with the option to convert them to permanent positions without further competition after they graduate if they have worked at least 640 hours under such a temporary appointment and remain qualified.
Applying for a Federal Job—Applicants for federal jobs—including currently employed federal workers seeking other positions—may submit a résumé or may use any other written format of their choice, including computer-generated forms.
Competitive Examination—Competitive examination typically takes one of two forms: an examination conducted by OPM using a process it has established to create a civil service certificate from which a candidate may be selected, or an examination by an examining unit delegated the authority to create the certificate. Competitive examination generally is open to all qualified U.S. citizens.
For many entry-level positions, competitive examination employs a written test, the Administrative Careers With America exam.
Suitability—Agencies are responsible for ensuring that applicants are “suitable” for federal employment. Every appointment to a position in the competitive service is subject to investigation by OPM, or an agency conducting investigation under delegated authority from OPM, except: promotions; demotions; reassignment; conversion from career-conditional to career tenure; appointment, or conversion to an appointment, involving an employee of an agency who has been serving continuously with that agency for at least one year in one or more positions under an appointment subject to investigation; and transfer, provided the individual has served continuously for at least one year in a position subject to investigation.
These suitability determinations evaluate each individual’s character and conduct and consider such factors as the relevance of any past criminal conduct to the job; the nature, seriousness, recency, and circumstances of any criminal conduct; the age of the individual at the time of the conduct; contributing societal conditions; and whether any efforts have been made toward rehabilitation.
OPM sets standards for sensitivity levels of positions, based on risk levels and other considerations. Rules at 5 CFR 731 cover criteria for determinations, special policies for positions of high public trust, appeal rights, and other issues.
Agencies may not make an unfavorable determination with respect to the suitability of an applicant for federal employment because that applicant: is or was unemployed; or has experienced or is experiencing financial difficulty through no fault of the applicant, if the applicant has undertaken a good-faith effort to meet his or her financial obligations. Agency recruiting and hiring practices must not intentionally or inadvertently place applicants at an undue disadvantage for those reasons. See an October 14, 2014 memo at www.chcoc.gov/transmittals. The policy did not change the authority of agencies to determine eligibility for access to classified information or to occupy a sensitive position (see Security Clearances in Section 4 of this chapter).
A Presidential memo of April 29, 2016 directed agencies to review their procedures for conducting a suitability determination for a job applicant with a criminal record. The memo also ordered agencies with discretion to grant or deny occupational licenses—which are needed to hold certain federal jobs—to revise their procedures, consistent with the need to protect public safety, to ensure that a criminal record is not an automatic disqualifier.
Under implementing rules at 5 CFR 330 and 731, agencies generally cannot make specific inquiries concerning an applicant’s criminal or adverse credit background until after making a conditional offer of employment. Instead, those inquiries generally are left to the suitability and background investigation stages. With OPM approval, agencies can use such questions as an initial screen in occupations, such as some law enforcement positions, in which a clean criminal history is one of the qualifications in light of the duties to be performed and therefore becomes part of the examination for testing applicants. An exception also can be allowed where the potential for wasteful spending is a concern, such as occupations requiring applicants to complete a training regimen and pass an examination based on that training before a job offer can be made. Also see a February 15, 2017 memo at www.chcoc.gov/transmittals.
Involvement with marijuana may be considered when agencies make employment suitability determinations (and in disciplinary actions) even in jurisdictions that have decriminalized the use of marijuana under certain circumstances, including for medical use, under a May 26, 2015 memo at www.chcoc.gov/transmittals. Marijuana remains a controlled drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act, which prevails over any conflicting law, and policies under Executive Order 12564 (see Drug Testing in Section 3 of this chapter) continue to apply.
Under 5 CFR 731.104, a new background investigation to determine suitability of a current federal employee in a covered position (such as competitive service or career SES position) is not required, except when there has been a change in the employee’s public trust risk level or there is a need for reinvestigation under law, rule, or regulation. Specifically, no new investigation is required when a person has been promoted, demoted, reassigned, converted from career-conditional to career tenure, or appointed or converted to an appointment if the person has been serving continuously with the department or agency for at least one year in one or more positions subject to investigation. An investigation also is not required when a person is transferred from another department or agency, provided the person has served continuously for at least one year in a position subject to investigation.
OPM or agencies may debar from employment for up to three years those found unsuitable, including those applying for or who are in positions that can be non-competitively converted to the competitive service. Such decisions may be appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board under 5 CFR 731.501.
For excepted service employees, Executive Order 13488 of 2009 mandates reciprocal recognition by federal agencies of a prior favorable suitability determination when the prior determination was based on equivalent criteria. A September 24, 2009 memo (at www.chcoc.gov/transmittals) contains guidance on issues including the relationship between agency-based and OPM-based standards, information that calls the individual’s suitability into question, and conduct that is incompatible with the core duties of the new position. The order and guidance do not apply to competitive service positions, career Senior Executive Service positions, nor to positions in the intelligence community except those subject to OPM-governed appointing authorities.
Further, agency-specific policies may apply. For example, under annual appropriations laws, before rehiring a former employee, the IRS is required to consider any prior misconduct and personal compliance with tax laws.
Employment Bars—Certain types of criminal conduct render an individual ineligible for federal employment generally, or for work in certain types of positions. For example, an individual convicted of willful and unlawful concealment, removal, mutilation or destruction of public records and materials is barred from all federal employment, as is anyone who had worked as a federal collection or disbursement officer and who was convicted of carrying on any trade or business in the funds or debts of, or in any public property of, the federal government or any state government. Also for example, an individual convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic abuse is barred from being hired into a position requiring the incumbent to possess firearms, and anyone convicted of theft or unlawful concealment of money or other property of value from a bank or safe in a bank that is a Federal Reserve member or is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is barred from employment as a national bank examiner or FDIC examiner.
Citizenship Requirements—The government gives strong priority to hiring United States citizens and nationals, but noncitizens may be hired in certain circumstances. Agencies considering noncitizens for federal employment in the competitive service must follow usual selection procedures and also meet the requirements of immigration law, an appropriations act ban on paying certain noncitizens, and an executive order restriction on appointing noncitizens in the competitive service. See 5 CFR 338.101. In addition, agencies are responsible for applying any citizenship requirements that may appear in their authorization and appropriation laws. Agencies must confirm the employment eligibility of new hires through the Department of Homeland Security-run Employment Eligibility Verification Program.
Qualifications Standards—General OPM policies and instructions regarding qualifications and details on specific policies referenced below are at www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/classification-qualifications.
• Medical Qualifications—Generally, applicants and employees cannot be disqualified on the basis of medical standards, physical requirements, fitness tests, or other criteria that do not relate specifically to job performance. In addition, agencies are required to provide reasonable accommodation to persons with disabilities who demonstrate that they can perform the work of the position to be filled. However, OPM has established medical qualification requirements for certain positions for job-related reasons mainly in the law enforcement, medical and safety fields. In addition, employing agencies have the authority to establish medical standards for positions for which they have 50 percent or more of the employees in the occupational series.
Rules at 5 CFR 339 govern medical evaluation policies and procedures, including standards for requiring medical documentation and examination and/or testing for an applicant or employee whose position may not have medical standards and/or physical requirements. They recommend the establishment of agency medical review boards as pertinent.
• Supervisory Qualifications—The Supervisory Qualification Guide prescribes general guidance when determining requirements for supervisory positions in the General Schedule or equivalent at grades 15 and below. Candidates should possess proficiency or the potential to develop proficiency in these competencies prior to entry into a supervisory position. The competencies are accountability, customer service, decisiveness, flexibility, integrity/honesty, interpersonal skills, oral communication, problem solving, resilience and written communication. Many supervisory positions have specific subject-matter knowledge and skill requirements that candidates must meet. Agencies also may emphasize certain leadership competencies, depending on the job.
• Modification of Qualifications Standards—An agency may determine that an individual can successfully perform the work of a position even though that person may not meet all the requirements in the OPM qualification standard. In that situation, agencies are authorized to modify OPM qualification standards for reassignments, voluntary changes to lower grades, transfers, reinstatements, and re-promotions to a grade not higher than a grade previously held when the applicant's background includes related experience that provided the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary for successful job performance.
• Age Limits—There are no maximum age limits for appointment to most positions. However, under 5 U.S.C. 3307, some jobs in fields such as law enforcement and firefighting have limits—typically 37, so that an employee can accumulate a full 20 years under their special retirement systems before mandatory retirement from those positions at age 57. In addition, the upper age limit for hiring of career Foreign Service officers is 59 so that individuals can accumulate the minimum five years to qualify for any retirement benefit before the mandatory retirement age of 65 under the Foreign Service Act of 1980. Those with veterans’ preference may be eligible for a waiver of maximum entry-age limits under certain circumstances, as described in Veterans’ Hiring Preference in Section 8 of this chapter. See Chapter 3, Section 8 for special retirement policies applying to jobs with mandatory retirement ages.
Former Political Appointees—Although political appointees may not be excluded from consideration for career jobs because of their political affiliation, they also must not be given preference or special advantages. OPM requires agencies to seek approval prior to appointing to a permanent position in the civil service anyone currently a political appointee or who has been one in the last five years. This includes not only competitive appointments but also noncompetitive and direct hire appointments and hiring under various other special authorities. See a February 23, 2018 memo at www.chcoc.gov/transmittals.
Educational Credentials—Agencies examine whether employees have valid educational credentials for basic qualification determinations and other purposes. See Educational Credentials in Section 4 of this chapter.
Security Clearances—Many jobs require that applicants and incumbents hold security clearances. See Security Clearances in Section 4 of this chapter.
The Office of Personnel Management maintains at www.usajobs.gov a comprehensive list of all announcements of vacant positions in the competitive service within each agency that are to be filled by appointment for more than one year and for which applications are being (or will soon be) accepted from outside the agency’s workforce. Note: Agencies may post vacancies for excepted service positions on USAJOBS but are not required to; they typically post those vacancies on their own sites instead of or in addition to posting on USAJOBS.
Vacancy announcements must comply with the mandates of the first merit system principle which states: “Recruitment should be from qualified individuals from appropriate sources in an endeavor to achieve a workforce from all segments of society, and selection and advancement should be determined solely on the basis of relative ability, knowledge, and skills, after fair and open competition which assures that all receive equal opportunity.”
“Fair and open competition” requires that vacant positions be publicized for a period of time that gives job seekers the opportunity to apply for positions that they are interested in and for which they qualify. It also requires that applicants be informed of the basis on which they will be rated or assessed. While posting vacancy announcements is the required method of notification, agencies also use recruiting methods including paid advertising, contract recruiting firms, job fairs, and visits to schools and college campuses to inform potential applicants about federal jobs and the organizations offering them.
Vacancy announcements are used to solicit information for the purpose of assessing candidates’ qualifications to do the job. The announcements are also a means by which certain groups of applicants—such as veterans, displaced federal employees, or people with disabilities—are informed of special hiring authorities designed to help them find federal employment and how they can exercise their right to be considered through the special hiring authorities that apply to them.
When a vacancy is open to “all sources,” anyone may apply. Although there are no restrictions on candidates who may apply to these types of announcements, in most cases U.S. citizenship is required. A vacancy limited to “status applicants” is open only to current federal employees who hold non-temporary appointments in the competitive service and to certain former employees who have reinstatement rights.
Internal merit promotion announcements may limit who is considered. For example, an announcement may be open to displaced or about-to-be-displaced employees or to agency employees only, or may be extended to employees from other agencies but only within the commuting area.
When soliciting applications from federal employees outside their own workforce, agencies also are obliged to accept applications from military veterans who are eligible under the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act.
Applicants from outside the government are referred to as “external” or “non-status” applicants. This category also includes federal employees serving on temporary appointments or appointed in positions outside the competitive service. Current and former federal employees also may apply under competitive examining. When they do, all the laws and regulations that govern competitive examining apply to them.
Vacancy announcements typically require an applicant to submit:
• an application (an online résumé service is available at www.usajobs.gov);
• proof of military service, if claimed;
• proof of service-connected disabilities or certification of disabilities, if claimed;
• proof of federal service, if claimed;
• a copy of the most current performance appraisal if the applicant is a current federal employee;
• college transcripts, including certification of U.S. equivalency if the education was obtained in another country; and
• a letter showing that the applicant is a federal employee due to be displaced, or proof of displacement if the applicant is claiming priority placement under the government’s career transition assistance programs.
Agencies may also ask for additional documentation depending on the assessment method they use and the proof they need to determine eligibility to apply. Under an OPM memo of July 7, 2009 (at www.chcoc.gov/transmittals), agencies may not require applicants to submit official documents as part of their application package when copies are sufficient. This includes college transcripts, proof of disability documentation, DD 214 Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, SF 50 Notification of Personnel Action, and similar documents. An unofficial transcript or a list of courses, grades earned, completion dates, and quarter and semester hours earned can be used as a substitute for the official transcript at the time the person applies for a job opening. Once selected and prior to appointment, applicants must provide official documentation—for example, an official college transcript if they qualified based on education.
The government generally no longer requires narrative responses to knowledge, skills, and abilities requirements as an initial screening tool, although such requirements still can be imposed later in the process as described below.
Candidate Assessment and Probation
The government primarily hires through “case examining,” which entails advertising and filling jobs one at a time. Other options are available as described in Special Recruitment, Hiring and Placement Programs, below. In addition, many agencies have specialized hiring authorities under demonstration projects and other alternative personnel practices (see Section 7 in this chapter).
Agency “delegated examining units” decide what assessment tools to use and how to use them, subject to Office of Personnel Management regulations. OPM maintains registers covering more than a dozen occupations with high hiring volumes across the government, most commonly at entry levels. These “shared registers” give applicants an opportunity to be considered for jobs at multiple agencies in multiple locations. Further information, including a listing of the occupations and locations covered, is in an April 9, 2010 memo at www.chcoc.gov/transmittals. OPM also maintains a database of candidates eligible to be hired through the Schedule A authority for people with disabilities as described under Types of Appointments, below. Note: OPM’s traditional practice of creating and maintaining a central register for administrative law judge positions ended effective July 10, 2018, under Executive Order 13843. See Special Recruitment, Hiring and Placement Programs, below.
OPM also operates employment service centers, which assess and refer candidates for agencies for a fee.
There are three basic approaches to pre-appointment applicant assessments:
• written and performance tests;
• a review of each applicant’s training and experience (done manually or via an automated system); and
• interviews and reference checks.
Federal managers and human resources staffs in the delegated examining units typically use some combination of these three methods.
Traditionally, candidate assessment focused on the extent to which individuals possessed the knowledge, skills, abilities and other attributes required in the job, commonly called KSAs. However, due to a view that broadly requiring KSAs for initial screening was an unnecessary burden on applicants and slowed the hiring process, a Presidential memo of May 11, 2010 ordered that such essay-type questions generally not be required at the initial application stage, while allowing for their use as a further screening tool later in the process.
Also traditionally, most candidate assessment in competitive hiring was based on the “rule of three” under which the examining office determined the three highest-rated candidates and presented that list to the hiring manager who typically had to choose from among them. However, that same Presidential memo phased out the rule of three in favor of the category rating approach to assess and select job applicants for positions filled through competitive examining (numeric ranking still is in some use but under P.L. 115-232 of 2018, agencies using it may determine how many candidates are to be referred, with a minimum of three, by using a cut-off score or similar mechanism).
Category rating authority, in 5 U.S.C. 3319, had existed governmentwide previously but had been in only limited use. Qualified applicants are assigned to a category—for example, basically qualified, well qualified, or highly qualified. The law requires two or more categories to be used. The categories must be distinct from one another and clearly differentiate between the relative quality of candidates in each. Those deemed to be not qualified are not placed in a category; there is no “not qualified” category. For each position to be filled, the vacancy announcement must clearly define the categories each applicant will be assessed against based on the job requirements. Agencies may use test scores as part of the criteria used to place candidates into categories.
See Veterans’ Hiring Preference in Section 8 of this chapter for information on how veterans’ preference applies.
The top category is for candidates who possess the type and quality of experience that substantially exceeds the minimum qualifications of the position, including all selective placement factors and quality ranking factors. Such candidates are considered by the human resources office and the selecting official as being highly proficient in all the requirements of the job and can perform effectively in the position almost immediately or with a minimum amount of training and/or orientation. The next lower category is for candidates who meet the minimum qualifications of the position and are proficient in some, but not all, of the requirements of the position. Such candidates may require extensive training and/or orientation in order to satisfactorily perform the duties of the position.
There is no limit to the number of candidates who may be placed in the top category, and within the policies described below, any person in the top category may be selected. Agencies must send all eligible candidates in the highest category on the Certificate of Eligibles or equivalent to the selecting official. If the top category has fewer than three candidates, managers may consider any of the candidates in a merged group composed of the top two categories. There is no general requirement that hiring managers interview all candidates; policies vary by agency.
An “appointing authority,” meaning an agency, may select from another’s Certificate of Eligibles an individual who was not hired by the first under certain conditions: the selection must be within 240 days of issuance of the certificate; the position with the second appointing authority must be in the same occupational series as the position for which the certification was issued and at a similar grade level; the announcement of the original position must provide notice that the resulting list of eligible candidates could be used by another appointing authority and give applicants the opportunity to opt out of having their application shared; and the receiving appointing authority must provide notice of the available position to its employees, give them up to ten days to apply, and review their qualifications before it can make a selection from a shared certificate. Note: Prior to amendments made in 2016 to 5 U.S.C. 3318 and 3319, sharing of certificates was allowed within a department or agency but not among them. Also see a January 11, 2018 memo at www.chcoc.gov/transmittals.
If using OPM’s standing registers, agencies must follow OPM’s quality categories for each register.
Each agency is required to have an appeal/reconsideration procedure in place for applicants wishing to challenge their rating. The agency must explain to the applicant why the applicant was placed in a particular category. Rules are at 5 CFR 300.104(b).
Ethics Notice—Under 5 CFR 2638, written offers of employment for positions covered by the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch must include notices of the ethical obligations associated with the positions, including requirements of those standards as well as criminal conflict of interest laws and any financial disclosure requirements (see Chapter 10, Section 5). This notice may be provided in the body of the offer or as an attachment to it and must include how to obtain further information on those requirements and a notice of the time frame for any applicable ethics training after starting on the job. This requirement also applies to an offer of a first supervisory position for a current employee and must include a notice of the heightened ethical responsibilities of such positions.
Probation—If you are newly hired into a competitive service position, you are subject to a probationary period, typically one year although there are exceptions allowing for different (usually longer) periods; the standard period at the Defense Department is two years, as described below. This post-appointment assessment approach involves observation of performance on the job. Note: For excepted service positions, the law does not require a probationary period per se, but an agency may terminate an employee during the first two years with no advance notice and no right of appeal.
Executive Order 13839 of 2018 stressed to agencies that the probationary period “should be used as the final step in the hiring process of a new employee. Supervisors should use that period to assess how well an employee can perform the duties of a job.”
During probation, you have only limited rights to challenge job decisions up to and including removal. If the basis for removal is unacceptable performance or conduct, advance notice of the agency’s intent is not required. However, you must be informed in writing of the reason. If the basis is pre-employment issues, you must be given advance notice, an opportunity to provide an explanation of the events and an agency decision. In either case, probationary employees have limited appeal rights, and also have equal employment opportunity rights to challenge an action that is believed to have been taken for a discriminatory reason. An employee may also seek corrective action with the Office of Special Counsel if he or she believes the action was taken because of a prohibited personnel practice.
If you are a current federal employee who is appointed to a supervisory or managerial position for the first time in the competitive service, you are required to serve a new probationary period. This period is not to be used to assess technical ability or program knowledge not directly related to supervisory or managerial performance. Individual agencies may set the length of the probationary period, so long as it is of reasonable fixed duration, appropriate to the position, and uniformly applied. Most agencies use a one-year probationary period for supervisory and managerial positions. Managerial and supervisory probation are distinct; an agency may require a managerial probationary period even for someone who has successfully completed supervisory probation. Prior service may be creditable toward the completion of managerial or supervisory probation. If you complete a supervisory/managerial probationary period, you may not be required to serve another such probationary period regardless of the number of agencies, occupations, or positions in which you serve. If you don’t complete the period satisfactorily, the agency may remove you from that position and return you to a position of no lower grade and pay than the previous position. That action generally is not appealable.
See 5 CFR 315.901-905.
An initial career Senior Executive Service appointment becomes final only after a one-year probationary period. If an agency finds the probationer’s performance unacceptable, it may consider whether to take remedial action such as specialized training or assignment to other SES duties. If remedial action is not considered appropriate or proves unsuccessful, the agency may remove the employee from the SES. Those who were appointed without a break in service from a career or career-conditional appointment or one of equivalent tenure are guaranteed placement in a position at GS-15 or higher with equivalent tenure to that of the prior position. Those not meeting those standards may be removed from federal employment.
Removal of a probationary career SES appointee for performance reasons is not appealable to the MSPB, although appointees do have rights to equal employment opportunity appeals processes and to assert to the Office of Special Counsel that the action involved a prohibited personnel practice.
Also see a January 17, 2017 memo at www.chcoc.gov/transmittals and see Jurisdiction in Chapter 10, Section 3.
Defense Department Probationary Policy—A two-year probationary period applies to those hired into permanent positions in the competitive service at the Defense Department, and to anyone receiving career DoD appointments in the Senior Executive Service, under amendments to 10 U.S.C. 1599 made by P.L. 114-92. The policy doesn’t apply to those hired into the excepted service nor to a supervisory probationary period, although those newly appointed to a supervisory position who are required to serve both a supervisory probationary period and a separate probationary period must serve both concurrently.
The department and its components may extend a covered employee’s period past two years at their discretion. An employee transferring to DoD from another agency and who has already completed a required probationary period there under an initial appointment in the competitive service does not have to serve additional probationary time. However, an employee transferring from another agency who receives a career appointment in the SES in the DoD must serve a two-year probationary period. An employee transferring from another agency who has not completed a probationary period may be required to complete a new probationary period. Credit for prior service toward completion of a period may apply.
Types of Appointments
Individuals are hired—formally, “appointed”—into government jobs through a number of different authorities. The type of appointment in turn can affect employee rights in some areas, particularly rights to appeal adverse personnel actions (see Chapter 10, Section 3). The category of appointment is designated on the employee’s form SF 50, kept in the personnel file.
Competitive Service—In general, the competitive service (see 5 CFR 212) covers all civil service positions except those:
• specifically excepted from the competitive service;
• to which appointments are made by nomination for confirmation by the Senate; or
• in the Senior Executive Service.
In addition, some career positions in government outside the Executive Branch may be designated as competitive service by statute. The typical method to enter competitive service positions is by appointment through the competitive examining process. Jobs announced under this process are open to the public.
Competitive service status confers certain advantages in job competitions and protections. Under 5 CFR 315 subparts D and E, current career and career-conditional employees (see below) may be appointed by transfer. Former career and career-conditional employees may be appointed by reinstatement, but time limits may apply. Note: Under P.L. 115-46, the Veterans Affairs Department may non-competitively rehire into the competitive service former career or career-conditional employees within two years of their separation at up to one grade higher than the position they left, if their separation was voluntary (or they were involuntarily separated due to reduction in force) and they had a satisfactory performance record in the former position.
Transfer and reinstatement eligibles may be required to compete under the merit promotion program (see 5 CFR 335). Competitive service employees in general gain the right to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (see Chapter 10, Section 3) after completing probation as described above.
Career-conditional Status—Competitive service employees with fewer than three years of creditable service are in career-conditional status. After that time they are converted to career status, commonly called “permanent” employees. Note: The three years need not be continuous or even substantially so; guidance on what counts as creditable service is in an April 6, 2018 memo at www.chcoc.gov/transmittals.
Even while in career-conditional status, job appeal rights apply once probation is completed. The main difference between the two involves reductions in force: career-conditional employees are ranked below career employees in determining retention standings based on tenure (see Retention Registers, Competitive Service in Chapter 9, Section 1), and career-conditional employees who do not have veterans status have reinstatement eligibility for only three years after release (see Reinstatement Rights, below).
Excepted Service—Under 5 CFR 213 and 302, certain positions are excepted from the competitive service by law, by executive order, or by OPM, typically on grounds that it is not appropriate to conduct examinations for such positions. Appointments to such positions do not confer competitive status.
• Schedule A is for positions for which it is not practical to hold any examinations, such as attorney, chaplain, law clerk trainee, physician, dentist, and some others. Other Schedule A exceptions enable agencies to fill any job under special circumstances, such as a critical hiring need to fill a short-term job or to fill a continuing job pending completion of examining, clearances, or other procedures; a temporary or part-time job in a remote or isolated location; hiring a noncitizen because no qualified citizen is available; or to quickly staff a temporary board or commission.
Schedule A also provides for 30-day “critical needs” appointments and for non-competitive appointments of those who have a permanent, severe physical, psychiatric, or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, called “targeted” disabilities. See Hiring of the Disabled under Special Recruitment, Hiring and Placement Programs, below.
• Schedule B is for positions for which competitive examinations are impractical. Applicants must meet the qualification standards for the job. Under some authorities, appointees are eligible for non-competitive conversion to career status on satisfactorily completing a designated period of service. Note: Executive Order 13842 of 2018 put deputy U.S Marshals and criminal investigators of the U.S. Marshals Service under Schedule B; upon completion of three years of substantially continuous, fully satisfactory service, they may be converted non-competitively to career appointments, provided they meet the qualifications and other requirements.
• Schedule C is for positions that are of a policy-determining nature or that involve a close personal relationship between the incumbent and an agency’s head or key officials. No examinations are given for Schedule C positions.
Generally, the authority to fill a Schedule C job is revoked when the incumbent leaves, and agencies need approval from OPM to re-establish the position. In addition, OPM approval is needed for a conversion of such employees to competitive service or excepted service status, including as an appointment to the Senior Executive Service. See an August 11, 2016 memo at www.chcoc.gov/transmittals.
• Schedule D is for appointments into the Pathways Program (see Special Recruitment, Hiring and Placement Programs, below).
• Schedule E is for hiring into administrative law judge positions (see Special Recruitment, Hiring and Placement Programs, below).
In addition to those distinctions, some positions are designated as excepted on grounds that the individual in the position could not establish ability to perform the job through testing but can establish competency through actual on-the-job performance. This authority most commonly is used for those with certain disabilities. See Hiring of the Disabled, under Special Recruitment, Hiring and Placement Programs, below.
Some agencies are entirely excepted service. These agencies have their own hiring systems that establish the evaluation criteria they use in filling their internal vacancies. In many cases these procedures parallel those commonly used for competitive service hiring.
Major excepted service agencies include the Agency for International Development, Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, Department of State Foreign Service positions, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Reserve System, Government Accountability Office, National Security Agency, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Postal Board of Governors, Postal Regulatory Commission, Tennessee Valley Authority, U.S. Postal Service, and the United States Mission to the United Nations.
In addition, Legislative and Judicial Branch employment falls under the excepted service, as does employment in certain medical positions in the Department of Veterans Affairs and with international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund, United Nations agencies and the World Bank. Excepted service employees who are not veterans may not appeal adverse personnel actions against them to the Merit Systems Protection Board unless they have completed two years of current continuous service under other than a temporary appointment limited to two years or less. Service in temporary appointments may not be combined with permanent excepted service to meet this requirement. See Veterans’ Hiring Preference in Section 8 of this chapter for rules regarding veterans’ preference in excepted service hiring.
Appointment as an Expert or Consultant—Under 5 CFR 304 an agency may grant an excepted service appointment to a qualified expert or consultant for a position that requires only intermittent or temporary employment. The appointments are excepted from competitive examination, position classification and pay rules. A temporary appointment may be for up to one year; an intermittent appointment has no time limit.
Agencies may not use the authority to make appointments to a position requiring Presidential appointment, to the Senior Executive Service, to perform managerial or supervisory work (with limited exceptions), to make final decisions on substantive policies or otherwise function in the agency chain of command, to do work performed by the agency’s regular employees, to fill in during staff shortages, or solely in anticipation of giving that individual a career appointment.
Rates of pay are determined by the head of the agency, generally subject to a daily and biweekly cap of the GS-15, step 10, rate of the General Schedule base pay table. An employing agency may change the rate of pay after an initial appointment, subject to those limitations.
Those appointed under this authority are considered to be federal employees for purposes including laws related to compensation and therefore may be entitled to earn overtime pay and other premium payments. Those who have a regularly scheduled tour of duty are subject to leave provisions and are entitled to paid holidays on the same basis as other federal employees. Those employed on an intermittent basis are excluded from leave coverage and are not entitled to paid holidays.
These appointments are distinct from personal services contract-type arrangements; in addition, a special expert hiring authority applies at the Defense Department (see below). Also see the fact sheet at www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/pay-administration.
Appointments Leading to Noncompetitive Conversion—Several governmentwide appointing authorities permit agencies to noncompetitively convert employees to career or career-conditional appointments from excepted or temporary appointments under certain conditions. These include:
• Veterans Recruitment Appointments (see Noncompetitive Appointments in Section 8 of this chapter);
• appointment of persons with certain severe disabilities (see Hiring of the Disabled under Special Recruitment, Hiring and Placement Programs, below); and
• Pathways Program appointments (see Special Recruitment, Hiring and Placement Programs, below).
In addition, certain authorities as described below provide for noncompetitive conversions after pertinent requirements have been met.
Temporary and Term Appointments—Federal agencies may make temporary or term appointments for relatively short-term needs. For both, agencies can use competitive examining procedures, direct hire authority, or other applicable noncompetitive appointments for which applicants are eligible. Appointees do not obtain competitive status or reinstatement rights, and they cannot be noncompetitively converted to a permanent position.
Term appointments under 5 CFR 316 may be made for nonpermanent work that will last for more than one but not more than four years. However, OPM may extend term appointments beyond the four-year limit when clearly justified. Appointees are eligible for benefits including retirement, leave accrual, health benefits, and life insurance. They also are eligible for within-grade increases and may be promoted, demoted, or reassigned to another position within the existing term project.
The first year is a probationary period in which the agency can terminate the employee at will. Afterward, adverse actions must be taken under the standard disciplinary procedures of 5 U.S.C. 4303 or 7511. Term appointees are covered by reduction in force procedures; they are placed in tenure group III.
See Temporary Positions, below, for additional information about those appointments, which typically are for up to one year but can be extended for up to another year and longer in certain circumstances.
Special Recruitment, Hiring and Placement Programs
Acquisition Management Intern Programs—The governmentwide Acquisition Management Intern Program is a full-time program designed to employ contract specialists and to develop them into procurement professionals. Some individual agencies have similar programs. See www.fai.gov/drupal/careers/internships-acquisition.
Administrative Law Judges—Administrative law judges (ALJs) preside at formal adjudicatory and rule-making proceedings conducted by Executive Branch agencies. Executive Order 13843 of July 10, 2018 created a new excepted service Schedule E for hiring into those positions and gave agencies full responsibility for filling their vacancies. That replaced the traditional hiring process under which the Office of Personnel Management periodically conducted competitive examinations and ranked applicants according to their qualifications and skills, and agencies selected candidates from a register OPM maintained.
As of that date, an appointment of an ALJ by reinstatement or by interagency transfer is no longer allowed, as those are competitive service appointment methods. ALJs in the competitive service as of that date remain in the competitive service as long as they remain in their position; those who accept a new appointment after that date move from the competitive service to the excepted service.
Like other excepted service appointments, new ALJ appointments are generally subject to investigation, a determination of fitness, a determination of eligibility for access to agency systems and facilities, and, where applicable, a determination of security clearance eligibility.
Individual agencies determine examination and rating requirements within minimum qualifications set by OPM. Candidates must possess a professional license to practice law and be authorized to practice law under the laws of their U.S. jurisdiction. Judicial status is acceptable in lieu of “active” status in jurisdictions that prohibit sitting judges from maintaining active status to practice law; being in “good standing” also is acceptable in jurisdictions where the licensing authority considers good standing as having a current license to practice law. Agencies may prescribe additional qualification requirements as they deem necessary and are to follow the principle of veterans preference as far as administratively feasible.
Regardless of whether ALJs are in the competitive service or the excepted service, OPM’s regulations govern some aspects of ALJ employment, including those related to reassignments, intra-agency details, interagency loans and reductions in force. Rights to appeal certain adverse personnel actions to the Merit Systems Protection Board apply equally to those in either the competitive service or excepted service. See a July 10, 2018 memo at www.chcoc.gov/transmittals.
For information about ALJ pay policies, see Other High-Level Systems in Chapter 1, Section 1.
Affirmative Action—Under the Federal Equal Opportunity Recruitment Program (5 CFR 720) each executive agency must conduct a continuing program for the recruitment of members of minorities for positions in the agency to eliminate under-representation of minorities in the various categories of civil service employment within the federal service, with special efforts directed at recruiting in minority communities, in educational institutions, and from other sources from which minorities can be recruited. Where an agency or OPM has determined that an applicant pool does not adequately provide for consideration of candidates from any underrepresented group, the agency or agency component must take one or more of the following actions:
• expand or otherwise redirect their recruitment activities in ways designed to increase the number of candidates from underrepresented groups in that applicant pool;
• use selection methods involving other applicant pools which include sufficient numbers of members of underrepresented groups;
• notify the office responsible for administering that applicant pool, and request its reopening of application receipt in support of expanded recruitment activities or certifying from equivalent registers existing in other geographic areas; and/or
• take such other action consistent with law which will contribute to the elimination of under-representation in the category of employment involved.
Each agency must have an up-to-date equal opportunity recruitment program plan covering recruitment for positions at various organizational levels and geographic locations within the agency. Agency plans must include annual specific determinations of under-representation for each group and must be accompanied by quantifiable indices by which progress toward eliminating under-representation can be measured.
Affirmative action is a recruitment program, not a selection program.
See Rehabilitation Act in Chapter 10, Section 2 for affirmative action requirements under that law.
Direct Hire Authority—Under 5 U.S.C. 3304(a) agencies may hire candidates directly for certain positions for which there is a shortage of qualified candidates or a critical hiring need, without regard to general provisions of hiring law.
OPM may decide, on its own, that a severe shortage of candidates or a critical hiring need exists, either governmentwide or in specified agencies, for one or more specific occupational series, grades (or equivalent), or geographic locations. Direct hire authority has been granted governmentwide to hire:
• GS-0647 diagnostic radiologic technologists, GS-0602 medical officers, GS-0610 and GS-0620 nurses, and GS-0660 pharmacists, at all grade levels;
• veterinarian medical officer positions at the GS-701-11/15 grade levels;
• certain acquisition positions, if the agency certifies that a shortage of highly qualified individuals exists;
• positions involved in Iraqi reconstruction efforts that require fluency in Arabic or other related Middle Eastern languages at all Federal Wage System levels, single-grade interval occupations in the General Schedule, and two-grade interval GS occupations at GS-9 and above;
• information security GS-2210 positions at the GS-9 level and above;
• economist, biological science, fishery biologist, general engineer, physical science, actuary, mathematics, mathematical statistician and statistician and acquisition positions at grades GS-11 through -15; and
• computer engineers, computer scientists and electronics engineers in cybersecurity, and information technology cybersecurity specialists at grades GS-12 through -15.
In addition, some agency-specific authorities have been set by law. For example, the Defense Department has direct hire authority for certain positions in: science and technology reinvention laboratories, research and engineering laboratories, industrial facilities and major range and test facilities; childcare services; financial management, business transformation/management innovation, maintenance, depot maintenance, cybersecurity, acquisition, science, technology and engineering; and students and recent graduates. The Department of Veterans Affairs may use the authority to hire directors of medical centers and directors of Veterans Integrated Service Networks.
Other authority is granted at times in certain occupations and agencies, commonly to meet compelling or quickly arising hiring needs. In 2016, authority was granted for prevention and response efforts related to the Zika virus to the U.S. Agency for International Development for emergency management and information technology specialists; to the State Department for medical officers and nurses; and to the Health and Human Services Department for microbiologists and epidemiologists. In 2017 OPM granted direct hire authority to the Department of Homeland Security to fill mission-critical positions at various grade levels along the Southern border and in Florida and Caribbean duty stations in Customs and Border Protection; and nationwide in Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In 2018 OPM granted direct hire authority to the State, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services Departments for positions involved in response to opioid drug abuse.
OPM can delegate to agencies the authority to determine that there is a shortage or that a critical need exists; rules are at 5 CFR 337.
To demonstrate that a severe shortage of candidates exists for a position or group of positions, an agency must provide information showing that it is unable to identify candidates possessing the competencies required to perform the necessary duties of the position despite extensive recruitment, extended announcement periods, and use of hiring flexibilities such as recruitment and relocation incentives. To prove that a critical hiring need exists, an agency must demonstrate that it has a critical need to fill the position or positions to meet mission requirements brought about by an exigency such as a national emergency, threat or potential threat, environmental disaster, or other unanticipated or unusual event or mission requirement. A critical hiring need may also be triggered by the need to conform to requirements of law, Presidential directive or administration initiative, or a congressional or other mandate to meet new or expanded mission requirements by a particular date.
Agencies may give eligible individuals competitive service career, career-conditional, term, or temporary appointments, although they must adhere to the public notice requirements in 5 U.S.C. 3327 and 3330 and to Interagency Career Transition Assistance Plan requirements (see Chapter 9, Section 2). The authority does not apply to hiring into excepted service or Senior Executive Service positions. However, an agency may use it to appoint a qualified employee from an excepted service or time-limited appointment to a permanent career or career-conditional appointment.
Agencies using direct hire must to identify and use proper assessment tools for the positions to determine who is qualified. They must request an applicable pre-employment background investigation at the appropriate tier to establish whether candidates are suitable for federal employment, may be credentialed in accordance with government-wide credentialing standards, and if they can hold a position that is national security sensitive (including but not limited to those requiring eligibility for access to classified information) at the appropriate level if required for the position.
However, agencies are not to conduct additional ratings to determine relative degrees of qualifications. They must assess applicants in the order in which the applications were received, and select any qualified applicant in an order that approximates order of receipt. Veterans preference does not apply although qualified candidates with preference are to be selected as they are found, just as any qualified non-preference eligible candidate would be.
Those hired must serve a probationary period unless they have previously completed one. There is a three-month restriction on movement after hiring into a competitive position.
OPM periodically conducts reviews to ensure that an agency is using the authority properly and to determine if its continued use is supportable.
Also see www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-information/hiring-authorities.
DoD Expert Hiring Authority—Under 5 U.S.C. 9903, the Department of Defense may employ up to 2,500 experts with specialized knowledge in fields of critical importance.
DoD defines a qualified expert under the authority as one possessing uncommon, special knowledge or skills in a particular occupational field beyond the usual range of expertise, and who is regarded by others as an authority or practitioner of unusual competence or skill. The expert knowledge or skills must be generally not available within the department and must be needed to satisfy an emerging and relatively short-term, nonpermanent requirement. Critical occupations are those necessary to promote the department’s national security mission, as determined by the responsible agency official. Individuals employed under the policy are given excepted appointments of up to five years, with the possibility of a one-year extension. Pay under such appointments may range up to the Executive Schedule Level III rate. In addition, additional payments used as recruitment or relocation incentive or to recognize performance may be made, up to half the employee’s annual rate of basic pay or $50,000, whichever is less.
Emergency Situations—Agencies may make various types of special short-term appointments in response to severe weather or other emergencies (see Severe Weather and Other Emergencies in Section 2 of this chapter) ).
Fellowship, Scholarship, and Similar Programs—Rules at 5 CFR 213.3102(r) provide an excepted service appointing authority for filling positions from limited applicant pools under hiring and operating procedures established between a federal agency and a nonfederal organization, such as a university. Appointments cannot exceed four years and have no conversion privilege. Programs may require that the student actively pursues a degree, certificate, or diploma (high school to doctorate) or is a career professional (teaching faculty to lead scientist). Students need to be in good academic standing at their schools and able to meet security requirements. Check with the individual agency regarding requirements and availability.
P.L. 114-328 authorized a public-private talent exchange in which a private sector employee can be appointed to work within the Defense Department or elsewhere in the civil service upon approval of the Secretary of Defense, while continuing to receive pay and benefits from their private employer. Private sector employees appointed under this authority are considered DoD employees for purposes of the Ethics in Government Act and the criminal conflict of interest laws. They are prohibited from having access to any trade secrets or to any other nonpublic information of commercial value to the private sector organization from which they are assigned.
P.L. 115-46 authorized the VA to make excepted service appointments leading to conversion of career conditional employment of a student or recent graduate of an educational institution it deems qualifying, who: have graduated from such an institution and are under 30 years old; have competed a qualifying internship or fellowship program at the department; or have performing duties similar to those of such programs on a volunteer basis or under a contract with an external nonprofit organization.
The CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service program, www.sfs.opm.gov, is designed to increase and strengthen the cadre of professionals who protect the government’s critical information infrastructure. This program provides scholarships that fully fund the typical costs that students pay for books, tuition, and room and board while attending an approved institution of higher learning. Additionally, participants receive stipends. While still in school, students funded for more than a year also serve a paid internship at a federal agency. The agency may offer students other paid employment while they are on scholarship provided it does not interfere with their studies. In exchange for the scholarship (including the stipend), students agree to work for the federal government for a period equivalent to the length of the scholarship or one year, whichever is longer. Numerous avenues are available to appoint SFS students to internship or long-term positions; however, hiring most commonly is done under the authority for hiring individuals in fellowship and intern programs at 5 CFR 213.3102(r).
Executive Order 13750 of 2016 allowed the non-competitive appointment in the competitive service for certain participants in State Department student scholarship programs including the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, and the Critical Language Scholarship Program. Under a January 11, 2017 memo (at www.chcoc.gov/transmittals) agencies must use standard non-competitive hiring authorities before making such appointments, including applicable qualification standards, public notice requirements, and job placement rights of displaced employees.
The White House Fellows Program (www.whitehouse.gov/participate/fellows) offers a small number of fellowships at the GS-14 level in Cabinet-level agencies, the Executive Office of the President or the Vice President’s office for those demonstrating academic and/or professional excellence. The fellowships are for one year and primarily go to those relatively early in their working careers.
Foreign Service Employees—Agencies may noncompetitively appoint current and former Foreign Service employees who:
• have served in the Foreign Service under an unlimited, career-type appointment;
• immediately before separation from that appointment, have completed at least one year of continuous service without a break of a work day under one or more non-temporary Foreign Service appointments, which may include the service that made the employee eligible for career-type appointment;
• meet the qualification standard and other requirements governing appointment to the competitive service, except they are not required to compete in a competitive examination, or under internal merit staffing procedures unless an agency’s policies require them to do so; and
• are appointed to the competitive service within three years of separation from a Foreign Service career-type appointment, but the time limit does not apply to a person entitled to veterans’ preference or one who has completed three years of substantially continuous service under one or more non-temporary Foreign Service appointments immediately before separation from unlimited, career-type appointment.
Also, Executive Order 13749 of 2016 allowed the non-competitive appointment into the competitive civil service for persons who had served on a limited, non-career appointment in the Foreign Service for 48 months with performance ratings of at least satisfactory. Under a January 11, 2017 memo (at www.chcoc.gov/transmittals) agencies must use standard non-competitive hiring authorities before making such appointments, including applicable qualification standards, public notice requirements, and job placement rights of displaced employees.
For information about initial hiring into the Foreign Service, see Foreign Service, below in this section.
Foreign Service Family Members—The State Department uses several special hiring mechanisms to employ family members in positions at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad (see 3 FAM at https://fam.state.gov). These include: the “family member appointment” for spouses or children between the ages of 18 and 21 who are on orders accompanying a career Foreign Service or civil service employee; temporary appointments of up to one year for the same persons; and “personal service agreements” for the same persons and certain other eligible persons. Eligibility for benefits varies according to the type of appointment and, in some cases, by the individual hired. Other agencies with Foreign Service personnel abroad commonly use personal services contracts for certain family members; those contracts are subject to government contracting authorities and typically do not confer benefits.
Hiring of the Disabled—The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (P.L. 93-112, as amended) requires federal agencies to develop plans for the hiring, placement, and advancement of persons with disabilities.
To facilitate employment, agencies may use either competitive or special appointing authorities. Realistic standards, based on the tasks of a position, require that applicants possess only the qualifications necessary for safe and efficient performance of the essential duties of a particular position. Reasonable accommodation also must be considered in determining an applicant’s ability to perform the essential duties of a job.
Persons with disabilities may be considered under special hiring programs for disabled veterans, if eligible, Schedule A hiring, student employment programs and other authorities, in addition to standard hiring into competitive service positions.
Agencies generally may not use any employment test or other selection criterion that tends to screen out qualified individuals with disabilities or any class of individuals with disabilities. They also generally may not conduct a pre-employment medical examination and may not ask an applicant whether the applicant has a disability or inquire into its extent or nature.
An agency may, however, make pre-employment inquiries into an applicant’s ability to meet the essential functions of the job, or the medical qualification requirements if applicable. Agencies may condition a job offer on the results of a medical exam if all entering employees are subject to such exams. An agency may invite applicants for employment to indicate whether and to what extent they have disabilities for purposes of generating records for its affirmative action program. An agency may not discriminate against applicants or employees due to the inaccessibility of its facility.
Schedule A appointing authority for those with certain physical, mental and psychiatric disabilities, also known as “targeted” disabilities, is at 5 CFR 213.3102(u). Agencies may hire upon determining that the person is “likely to succeed” in performing the duties of the position, a decision that can be based on any relevant work, educational or other experience. Agencies may also make temporary (for positions not expected to last more than one year), time-limited and permanent appointments. Persons successfully completing two years in a continuing position under this authority may be noncompetitively converted to a competitive appointment on the recommendation of their supervisors.
The Rehabilitation Act requires agencies to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees or applicants with disabilities, unless doing so would cause an undue hardship to the agency. A reasonable accommodation is any change to a job, the work environment, or the way things are usually done that allows an individual with a disability to apply for a job, perform the essential job functions, or enjoy equal access to benefits available to other individuals in the workplace; this may involve providing personal assistance services to employees who require help with activities of daily living required to perform the job. An undue hardship means that a specific accommodation would require significant difficulty or expense.
Executive Order 13164 of 2000 requires agencies to have written procedures for providing reasonable accommodation. Contact the agency’s personnel office, reasonable accommodation coordinator, civil rights office, or EEO office to request a copy.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Management Directive 715 sets standards for the hiring, placement, and advancement of people with disabilities. Agencies must annually conduct an internal review and analysis of the effects of all policies, practices, procedures, and conditions that directly or indirectly relate to the employment of people with disabilities. EEOC encourages agencies to evaluate themselves against the workforce profile of the federal government overall, as well as that of agencies ranked highly in EEOC reports. When an agency’s self-assessment indicates that qualified individuals with disabilities may have been denied equal access to employment opportunities, the agency must take steps to identify and eliminate the potential workplace barriers.
Further, EEOC requires agencies with 1,000 or more employees to maintain a special recruitment program for people with certain “targeted” disabilities as described above, and to establish specific goals for their employment and advancement. All agencies, regardless of their size or ranking, must ensure that goals are set and accomplished in a manner that will affect measurable progress from the preceding fiscal year. See www.eeoc.gov/federal/directives.
EEOC’s Leadership for the Employment of Americans with Disabilities initiative seeks to increase the population of individuals with disabilities employed by the federal government, in particular employment of those with “targeted” disabilities. The initiative involves educational events, focus groups and other efforts designed to educate hiring officials and applicants about the special hiring authorities available, and provide information and resources on reasonable accommodation. See www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/initiatives/lead.
Also see Rehabilitation Act in Chapter 10, Section 2.
Executive Order 13548 of 2010 reiterated the government’s commitment to be a model employer of the disabled and instructed agencies to improve their recruitment, hiring, and retention efforts. It ordered: creation of model recruitment and hiring strategies; mandatory training programs for both human resources personnel and hiring managers; development of agency-specific plans for promoting employment opportunities, including performance targets and numerical goals; expanded use of the Schedule A hiring authority for “targeted” disabilities; and appointment of senior-level agency officials responsible for enhancing employment opportunities. The order also required development of strategies for retaining workers with disabilities, including increased use of training and accommodations such as assistive technologies and accessible workspaces. Guidance on hiring through the Workforce Recruitment Program, a listing of candidates with disabilities who are eligible to be hired through the Schedule A hiring appointment, available training and other aspects of the initiative are in January 12, 2012 and July 22, 2014 memos at www.chcoc.gov/transmittals. (Note: The order also required greater efforts to return to work employees injured on the job; see Chapter 5, Section 5.)
Interchange Agreements—OPM and an excepted service agency having an established merit system may enter into an interchange agreement prescribing conditions under which employees may be moved from one system to the other.
To be eligible for career or career-conditional appointment under an interchange agreement, you must:
• be currently serving under an appointment without time limit in the other merit system or have been involuntarily separated from such appointment without personal cause within the preceding year;
• be currently serving in or have been involuntarily separated from a position covered by an interchange agreement (some agreements do not cover all positions of the other merit system); and
• have served continuously for at least one year in the other merit system prior to appointment under the interchange agreement,
See Types of Appointments at www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-information/competitive-hiring.
Hispanic Employment Initiative—The Hispanic Council on Federal Employment (www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/diversity-and-inclusion/reference-materials/hispanic-council) advises OPM on employment practices for use by all agencies to remove barriers to the recruitment, hiring, retention and advancement of Hispanics in the federal workplace. Members include representatives from Hispanic organizations and agencies that have the most experience on issues affecting Hispanic communities. A January 18, 2017 memo, at that same online address, encouraged agencies with 1,000 or more employees to conduct a barrier analysis on Hispanic/Latino employment at the GS-12 through SES levels at the component reporting level and to develop strategies to strengthen developmental pipelines and improve retention and upward mobility for Hispanic/Latino employees.
National Service Program Participants—A July 15, 2013 Presidential memo called for improving federal recruitment of people who have participated in national service programs. OPM guidance of November 15, 2013 and July 22, 2014 (at www.chcoc.gov/transmittals) listed steps for agencies to take including expanding outreach efforts, using special hiring authorities, and emphasizing the value of national service in job vacancy announcements, for example by specifying that pertinent volunteer work can be credited as qualifying experience.
Military Spouse Hiring—Under 5 CFR 315 and 316, agencies may make a noncompetitive appointment to any position in the competitive service, for which the individual is qualified, of an individual who is:
• the spouse of a member of the Armed Forces serving on active duty pursuant to orders that authorize a permanent change of station move (not for training), if the spouse relocates to the member's new permanent duty station;
• the spouse of a 100 percent disabled service member or retiree who was injured while on active duty; or
• the unremarried widow or widower of a member of the Armed Forces killed while performing active duty.
However, there are no enforceable rights to such appointments.
For those eligible under the first category, preference is limited to only one noncompetitive appointment per move and is restricted to the geographic area specified in the service member’s permanent change of station orders and the surrounding area from which people can reasonably expect to travel daily to and from work. Those restrictions do not apply under the latter two categories.
P.L. 114-328 of 2016 extended eligibility for the duration of the military member’s change of station when the spouse relocates, ending a prior two-year limit. Those hired under the authority automatically acquire competitive status on completion of probation. Only one such appointment is allowed lifetime.
Guidance is in an August 8, 2017 memo at www.chcoc.gov/transmittals; also see www.fedshirevets.gov/hiring-officials/strategic-recruitment-and-hiring/military-spouses-family.
Executive Order 13832 of 2018 ordered agencies to actively advertise and promote the military spouse hiring authority and actively solicit applications from military spouses for posted and other agency positions and to make clear in job vacancy announcements that they will consider candidates under that authority in addition to other candidates. That order also required the Office of Personnel Management to educate agencies regarding the use of the authority and to increase awareness among the military community of the opportunities it creates.
In addition, the Defense Department operates the Military Spouse Preference Program, also called Program S, which applies to competitive service positions in the U.S. and its territories and possessions. To be eligible, spouses must be married to their military sponsor prior to the reporting date of the sponsor’s new assignment. They can apply at any human resources office within the commuting area of the sponsor’s permanent duty location. When a military spouse applies under an OPM announcement or delegated examining or direct hire procedures, The hiring official must offer the job to the spouse first if the spouse: is within reach for selection; certifies in writing to the employing activity that he or she is entitled to spouse preference; and the selection is not blocked by an applicant with veterans’ preference.
See the Priority Placement Program Handbook at www.cpms.osd.mil—search for that title.
Pathways Program—The Pathways Program (www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-information/students-recent-graduates) consists of three parts: the Internship Program, the Recent Graduates Program, and the Presidential Management Fellows Program.
Pathways Program appointments must follow merit-based procedures, equal employment opportunity, and veterans’ preference laws. Appointees are eligible to enroll in the Federal Employees Health Benefits program, Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance Program and the Federal Dental and Vision Insurance Program if their appointment is scheduled to last at least 12 months and they are scheduled to be in pay status for at least a third of the working time in that period. Coverage continues while in non-pay status as long as the individual is in the program. The Internship Program is designed to provide students in high schools, community colleges, four-year colleges, trade schools, career and technical education programs, and other qualifying educational institutions and programs with paid opportunities to work in agencies and explore federal careers while still in school.
Agencies must provide interns with meaningful developmental work and set clear expectations regarding the work experience of the intern. Agencies may convert interns who successfully complete program and academic requirements to any competitive service position for which the intern is qualified, but they are not required to do so.
Agencies may continue to use interns provided by third parties such as internship placement agencies and should treat such interns in the same way as interns placed by the agency itself, under an October 19, 2012 memo (at www.chcoc.gov/transmittals). Such interns who graduate further are eligible to be hired into an agency’s Recent Graduates program.
Note: In general, interns working for federal agencies on a volunteer basis are not subject to ethical restrictions such as the standards of conduct, conflict of interest laws and financial disclosure requirements. However, those working under formal appointment authorities generally are subject to those laws while fewer apply to “special government employees.” See OGE Legal Advisory 17-09 at www.oge.gov.
The Recent Graduates Program provides individuals who have recently graduated from qualifying educational institutions or programs with developmental experiences in the federal government intended to promote possible careers in the civil service.
Participants must have obtained a qualifying degree or have completed a qualifying career or technical education program within the preceding two years; however, veterans who were precluded during that period due to their military service are eligible for six years. Appointments typically last two years. Agencies may convert Recent Graduates Program participants who successfully complete the program to competitive service jobs, but they are not required to do so.
The Presidential Management Fellows Program, www.pmf.gov, is designed to attract outstanding master’s and doctoral-level students to the federal service, as well as those who have, through extensive work experience, demonstrated exceptional leadership or analytical ability and a commitment to excellence in public service.
Students who complete a graduate degree (master’s or doctoral level) from an accredited college or university are eligible to be nominated by their schools as fellows. They are placed in jobs at GS-9 through GS-12 or their equivalents. During the two-year fellowship, agencies arrange for on-the-job training and other developmental opportunities such as seminars, briefings, conferences, and rotational assignments. A subsidiary program, the PMF STEM Track, is for those with degrees in certain scientific, technical, engineering and mathematical fields and/or relevant work experience. Senior fellows may be recruited from within or outside the government. They can be appointed at GS-13 through GS-15 or their equivalents in positions where their expertise is needed. Senior fellows are assigned a Senior Executive Service member as a mentor.
All fellows have individual development plans and have their performance evaluated annually. They earn annual leave and sick leave, are paid for federal holidays, are covered for retirement, and may elect insurance and Thrift Savings Plan options. Upon successful completion of the program, fellows may be converted to competitive service jobs.
Re-Employment of Annuitants—Rehired federal retirees generally are subject to an offset between salary and annuity but exceptions are allowed in some circumstances. See Chapter 4, Section 4.
Veterans Hiring Programs—There are several special hiring authorities for veterans as described in Noncompetitive Appointments in Section 8 of this chapter.
Other Authorities—Various other special authorities allow an agency to appoint an eligible individual to any position for which the person meets the qualification standard and other requirements governing appointment to the competitive service, except they are not required to compete in a competitive examination. They are not required to compete with career and career-conditional employees under internal merit staffing procedures unless an agency’s policies require it. These authorities include:
• 39 U.S.C. 3604(e), which permits appointment without a break in service of a single day of an employee or officer of the Postal Regulatory Commission serving under an appointment without time limit. Based on agreement between OPM and the Postal Regulatory Commission, an employee must have completed probation (one year) under a Postal Regulatory Commission career service appointment.
• 31 U.S.C. 732(g), which permits appointment of a current or former Government Accountability Office employee who has completed at least one year of continuous service under a non-temporary appointment.
• 28 U.S.C. 602, which permits appointment of a current or former Administrative Office (AO) of the U.S. Courts employee, except employees appointed to a high-level position under 28 U.S.C. 603 or a position of a confidential or policy-determining nature. An employee must have completed at least one year of continuous service under a non-temporary AO appointment.
• Under Executive Order 12721 of 1990, a United States citizen who is a family member of a federal civilian employee, of a non-appropriated fund employee, or of a member of a uniformed service, may be eligible for a noncompetitive appointment to the competitive service based upon service performed overseas. The individual must have been employed overseas within the prior three years in an appropriated-fund position as a local hire for at least 52 weeks (26 weeks under certain circumstances) with at least a fully successful rating. The preference applies for three years after return from overseas. An employee’s same-sex domestic partner meeting certain qualifications (see Domestic Partners in Section 4 of this chapter) qualifies under this authority.
• An individual who has returned from satisfactory service as a Peace Corps volunteer can be noncompetitively appointed into the competitive service within one year of the individual’s return from volunteer service.
• Agencies including Customs and Border Protection, the Internal Revenue Service and the Library of Congress have authority to convert employees who served under limited appointments to permanent appointments in the competitive service under certain circumstances.
For More Information—Guidance on many of these authorities is at www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-information/hiring-authorities.
Under 5 CFR 316, an agency may make a temporary appointment to: fill a short-term position that is not expected to last longer than one year; meet an employment need that is scheduled to be terminated within 24 months for such reasons as abolition, reorganization, contracting of the function, anticipated reduction in funding, or completion of a specific project or peak workload; or fill positions temporarily when the positions are expected to be needed for the eventual placement of permanent employees who would otherwise be displaced from other parts of the organization. Temporary employees can work on a full-time, part-time, seasonal, or intermittent basis.
Note: The Office of Personnel Management may grant agencies authority to make excepted service temporary appointments for responding to emergencies such as natural disasters. Public notice of vacancies is not required in such situations but agencies must apply veterans’ preference, must have procedures in place for acceptance of applications, and if seeking to select a non-preference eligible over a preference eligible must follow pass-over procedures described in Veterans’ Hiring Preference in Section 8 of this chapter.
Agencies can use competitive-examining procedures, direct hire authority, or other applicable noncompetitive temporary appointments for which applicants are eligible. Appointees do not obtain competitive status or reinstatement rights, and they cannot be noncompetitively converted to a permanent appointment. Appointees are not eligible for within-grade increases and may not be promoted, demoted, or reassigned to another position. They also are not protected by due process rights or reduction in force procedures.
Agencies are prohibited from using temporary employees to avoid the costs of employee benefits or ceilings on permanent employment levels. Federal employers also cannot use temporary employment as a tryout or trial period prior to permanent employment. In addition, they cannot circumvent the competitive examining process by appointing an individual on a temporary basis when that individual is not among the list of qualified applicants certified for permanent appointment and generally cannot use a temporary appointment to refill positions that were previously filled with such an appointment for an aggregate of 24 months over the preceding three years.
OPM rules generally set a two-year limit for individual temporary appointments in both the competitive and excepted service. To extend a temporary appointment in the same position beyond two years, agency officials must request and obtain approval from OPM. In addition, OPM regulations provide an exception to the two-year maximum continuous employment time limits for work that is expected to last less than six months each year. This exception allows for multiple renewals of the temporary appointment authority, as long as the appointment is expected to last less than six months each year.
Temporary employees can serve for continuous years under different temporary appointments or in the same appointment without an extension from OPM. If it involves a break in service of three days or less, an agency can reappoint or convert a temporary employee from one temporary appointment to another temporary appointment many times over a period of years and not conflict with OPM’s regulations. In addition, after three days have elapsed after a temporary appointment ends, an agency can rehire the employee using a new temporary appointment as long as it does not involve the same basic duties, the same major subdivision of the agency, and the same local commuting area as the original appointment.
Seasonal and intermittent positions are exempt from the time limits of temporary appointments.
Pay and Benefits—Temporary employees, like permanent employees, receive salary based on the grade and step of the position they occupy, annual pay adjustments, and overtime and premium pay. Those in the General Schedule are not eligible for within-grade increases if the appointment is limited to one year or less, even if the appointment later is extended beyond one year. However, some Federal Wage System temporary employees are eligible for within-grade pay increases.
As a temporary employee, you generally earn annual and sick leave; however, if you work part-time you earn them on a prorated basis, and are not eligible for military leave or family and medical leave. See FEHB Eligibility and Enrollment Rules in Chapter 2, Section 1 for policies regarding health insurance. If you are eligible to participate in the FEHB, you may also participate in the Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program and the Federal Dental and Vision Insurance Program and may have a health care flexible spending account.
As a temporary employee, you contribute to Social Security and Medicare, but federal employee retirement and Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance program benefits are not provided to you, nor can you participate in the Thrift Savings Plan. However, past temporary employment time is creditable toward a CSRS annuity if you were later appointed to a position under CSRS and make a deposit into the retirement fund to cover that time. If you had a period of temporary employment and were later appointed to a position under FERS, crediting is available only for service before 1989; a retirement deposit must be made. Non-deduction service performed in or after 1989 is not creditable for any retirement purpose nor may a deposit be made to get credit for that time. See Non-Deduction Service in Chapter 3, Section 3.
Seasonal and Intermittent Employment
Seasonal and intermittent employees can be either permanent or temporary.
Seasonal Positions—Regulations at 5 CFR 340.401 define seasonal work as annually recurring but do not specify the duration of a season. In general, seasonal employment is used when the work is expected to last at least six months during a calendar year. Recurring work that lasts less than six months typically is performed under temporary appointments as described in Temporary Positions, above.
As a seasonal employee, you can work full-time or part-time. When not working, you are placed in non-duty/non-pay status. You are recalled to duty in accordance with pre-established conditions of employment.
The regulations require agencies to execute an individual employment agreement with you prior to your entry onto duty, informing you that you are subject to periodic release and recall as a condition of employment. As a seasonal employee, your release in accordance with those conditions does not constitute an adverse action furlough appealable to the Merit Systems Protection Board. However, if you are released at a time or in a manner inconsistent with the agreement, the release constitutes a furlough and may be challenged if the agency fails to comply with the requirements of 5 U.S.C. 7513. Whether the release constitutes an adverse action furlough thus turns on your reasonable expectations when you agreed to work subject to the conditions of employment.
Current and former temporary competitive service seasonal employees of the Forest Service, Land Management Bureau, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Indian Affairs Bureau and Bureau of Reclamation who have at least 24 months of satisfactory service without a break of two or more years may be considered for permanent positions in the competitive service in any land management agency when that agency is otherwise accepting applications only from individuals inside its own workforce under merit promotion procedures, or in any agency that is accepting applications from outside its own workforce, under 5 U.S.C. 9602.
Intermittent Positions—Intermittent positions are positions in which work recurs at sporadic or irregular intervals; agencies commonly use this authority in emergencies or when a work schedule is difficult to define. Because intermittent employees have no fixed work schedule, they generally are ineligible for federal employee benefits. although Federal Employees Health Benefits program coverage is available to intermittent employees whose work schedules meet certain criteria. See FEHB Eligibility and Enrollment Rules in Chapter 2, Section 1.
Benefits—See FEHB Eligibility and Enrollment Rules in Chapter 2, Section 1 for policies regarding health insurance. If you are eligible to participate in the FEHB, you may also participate in the Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program and may have a health care flexible spending account. However, seasonal or intermittent employees are not eligible for the Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance program or the Federal Dental and Vision Insurance Program regardless of FEHB eligibility.
Permanent part-time employees are those workers who have career or career-conditional appointments (or permanent appointments in the excepted service), work less than full-time schedules each week under a prearranged schedule, and are eligible for benefits. By law (5 U.S.C. 3402), nearly every federal agency is required to have a program for part-time employment. Implementing rules are at 5 CFR 340.
Part-time work schedules are set by management to meet the agency’s needs. Agencies can vary a part-time schedule as necessary to meet workload requirements.
Under 5 CFR 340.202, if you are a permanent part-time employee, you generally must have a work schedule of from 16 to 32 hours per week (or from 32 to 64 hours per pay period if you are permitted to work under a flexible or compressed work schedule). In special circumstances, agencies can employ you for less than 16 hours per week. Agencies can increase the hours worked above 32 for a limited time to meet workload or training needs but your schedule must remain at 32 hours per week or less.
In most agencies, temporary variations in the arrangement of workdays or hours are handled by an agreement between you and the supervisor. In such cases, there is usually no requirement that a new personnel action form (SF 50) be issued. The number of hours worked each day would merely be reflected on your time and attendance record.
If a position with the desired number of hours is available, subject to managerial approval you can switch from a part-time to a full-time schedule (or the reverse) noncompetitively, by requesting a change in your work schedule, or by filing under merit promotion procedures, if required by the agency’s promotion plan.
Other employment issues involving part-time workers include:
Pay—Your part-time work gross pay is computed by multiplying your hourly rate by the number of hours worked during the pay period. Pay adjustments and withholding amounts are generally prorated according to the amount of gross pay. As a part-time employee, you generally are entitled to receive overtime pay for work totaling more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week. Compensatory time may also be granted in such situations. If a holiday falls on a day you are scheduled to work, you are paid for the number of hours you normally would be scheduled to work.
Leave—As a part-time employee, you earn annual leave according to the number of hours you work per pay period. If you are a regularly scheduled part-time employee with less than three years’ service, you earn one hour of annual leave for each 20 hours in a pay status. If you have between three and 15 years of service, you earn one hour of annual leave for each 13 hours in pay status. With 15 or more years’ service, you earn one hour for each 10 in pay status. Sick leave accrues at the rate of one hour for each 20 hours in a pay status. Hours in a pay status include non-overtime hours up to 80 hours in a biweekly pay period. Any excess balance in these multiples is carried over to the next pay period.
If a holiday falls on a day you normally work, you are paid for the number of hours you were scheduled to work, not to exceed eight hours, except if you are on a compressed work schedule. As a part-time employee, you are not entitled to a holiday which falls on a day you are not normally scheduled to work.
Service Credits—As a permanent part-time employee, you receive a full year of service credit for each calendar year worked for the purpose of retirement eligibility, date of career tenure, completion of probationary period, within-grade pay increases, change in leave category, and time-in-grade restrictions on advancement. Part-time work is prorated, however, to determine experience for qualification requirements.
Retirement—Annuities are based on your length of service and the highest average annual pay received for any three consecutive years. See Computing Annuities that Include Part-Time Service in Chapter 3, Section 4.
Insurance—As a permanent part-timer, you are eligible for the Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance program. The amount of insurance for which you are eligible is based on your annual salary, but not less than $10,000. Your part-timer annual salary is the amount of hours you are scheduled to work times your pay rate.
Federal Employees Health Benefits program coverage is the same as that provided for full-time employees but the government contribution is prorated according to the number of hours you are scheduled to work. For example, if you are scheduled for 20 hours a week, you will pay your share of the premiums plus one half the government’s share.
If you are eligible to enroll in the FEHB, you are also eligible to enroll in the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program and the Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program.
Appeal Rights—As a part-time employee, you have the same rights as a full-time employee if disciplinary action is taken against you. A reduction in scheduled hours is not subject to adverse action procedures.
Classification and Job Grading Standards
Position classification standards and guides developed by OPM determine the series and grade and, therefore, the basic pay for General Schedule positions. See Chapter 1, Section 11 for current rates, see Pay Banding in Chapter 1, Section 5 for information about classification in those systems, and see Section 7 of this chapter for special rules in agencies using alternative personnel policies.
Position classification standards are developed for broad occupational groupings. These standards are called “job family standards.” Some of them cut across occupational fields and provide guides for the classification of categories of work, such as that performed by supervisors or research scientists.
Position classification standards exist in three basic formats:
• The Factor Evaluation System (FES). Under the FES, grades are assigned to positions based on a comparison of a position’s duties and responsibilities to nine evaluation factors. These are knowledge required, supervisory controls, guidelines, complexity, scope and effect, personal contacts, purpose of contacts, physical demands, and work environment. Position grades are determined by the sum of point values assigned to the nine factors as they occur in a specific job.
• The Point-Factor Format. Like the FES, under this format, grades are assigned to positions based on a comparison of a position’s duties and responsibilities to a given set of classification factors. Each factor has prescribed progressive levels with corresponding points. Position grades are determined by the sum of point values assigned to the factors.
• The Narrative Format. Under this format, the 15 grade-level concepts are described in terms of the nature of the position’s assignment, level of responsibility, and certain subfactors, for example, originality required, supervision received, scope of assignments, etc. Most position classification standards in the narrative format also contain illustrations of actual work situations at various grade levels.
Job grading standards, also developed by OPM, are the basis for grading trade and labor positions under the Federal Wage System. Salary levels for the various grades are determined for each local wage area by a survey of private-sector rates in that area. Job grading standards are developed for separate occupations, such as aircraft mechanic, machinist, and electrician, and for jobs that cross occupational lines, such as trades helper and supervisor. Also see www.opm.gov/services-for-agencies/classification-job-design.
For information on how to appeal a job classification, see Chapter 10, Section 1.
Holding More Than One Job
Additional Federal Job—In limited situations, you can hold more than one federal job. See 5 U.S.C. 5533 and 5 CFR 550 subpart E. The law allows you to have more than one federal appointment but limits the pay you can receive from multiple federal civilian jobs except when:
• the work schedules of all jobs total no more than 40 hours of work a week, Sunday to Saturday (excluding overtime); or
• an authorized exception exists.
This means that if you are on leave without pay from one position you may be paid for another. Paid leave, however, counts toward the 40-hour-per-week limitation. Authorized exceptions to the limitation on paying you for more than 40 hours a week include:
• exceptions in law—for example with the agency’s approval a civilian employee can work for the U.S. Postal Service (39 U.S.C. 1001(d));
• emergency services relating to health, safety, protection of life or property, or national emergency;
• expert and consultant jobs when working different hours as an intermittent employee; and
• fees paid on other than a time basis (for example, lump-sum pay for a report, research product, or service not based on the hours or days worked).
Also, in unusual circumstances, federal agencies can make exceptions to obtain required personal services when they cannot be readily obtained otherwise (see 5 CFR 550.504).
Note: Office of Management and Budget memo M-18-26 of 2018 encouraged agencies to permit their employees to take second jobs related to the 2020 Census, so long as such jobs do not interfere with employees’ responsibilities or performance in their primary positions. Employees are not eligible to earn additional benefits for retirement or insurance in conjunction with temporary census appointments.
Additional Nonfederal Job—Under 5 CFR 2635 subpart H, you may not engage in outside employment or activities that conflict with official duties and responsibilities. Many federal agencies have written policies that allow outside employment, especially when it is not related to the federal work and will not result in, or create the appearance of, a conflict of interest. Agency policies may require you to receive prior approval for outside employment even when co-workers have similar outside jobs. Check with your supervisor, agency ethics official, and agency personnel office. Also see Chapter 10, Section 5.
Nepotism is prohibited by administrative statutes and ethical conduct regulations and, in some circumstances, criminal law.
Under 5 U.S.C. 2302(b)(7), a federal official is not permitted to appoint, employ, promote, or advance, or advocate for appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement any individual who is a relative. Under 5 U.S.C. 3110, additional personnel actions involving relatives are prohibited, including decisions about pay, benefits, awards, duties, responsibilities, and working conditions.
“Relative” for the purpose of these restrictions means a father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, first cousin, nephew, niece, husband, wife, father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, stepfather, stepmother, stepson, stepdaughter, stepbrother, stepsister, half brother, or half sister.
The penalties for violations include, but are not limited to, removal, suspension, demotion, and debarment from future federal employment. Agencies are authorized to address nepotistic misconduct through their disciplinary authority to prevent damage to the efficiency of the service. Nepotism as defined in section 3110 is a prohibited personnel practice, which also may give rise to the Office of Special Counsel seeking disciplinary action before the Merit Systems Protection Board (see Prohibited Personnel Practices in Chapter 8, Section 4).
In addition, the regulations for ethical conduct by federal employees at 5 CFR 2635 (see Chapter 10, Section 5) require that they act impartially and not give preferential treatment to any individual, or even create the appearance that they are violating the law or ethical standards. Individual agency policies might set further restrictions. A charge of unethical conduct or conduct unbecoming a federal employee can be the basis for an agency to impose an adverse action, up to and including removal, regardless of whether that conduct qualifies as a particular prohibited personnel practice.
Further, under 18 U.S.C. 208, it is a crime for an employee to act “through decision, approval, disapproval, recommendation, the rendering of advice, investigation, or otherwise,” in a matter in which the employee, employee’s spouse, or employee’s minor child has a financial interest. When this occurs, the individual is subject to a fine of up to $50,000 and/or up to five years of imprisonment.
In addition to what an official cannot do, there is a restriction against benefitting from nepotism; even if a person hired did not commit an offense, an appointment that violated the nepotism statute will not be allowed to stand.
Exceptions may be allowed for temporary employment of otherwise prohibited persons in the event of emergencies resulting from natural disasters or similar unforeseen events or circumstances, or when barring their hiring would violate veterans’ preference law. Such appointments are temporary and may not exceed 30 days, but the agency may extend such an appointment for one additional 30-day period if the emergency need still exists at the time of the extension.
If you were involuntarily separated from the federal government for various reasons not relating to performance or conduct, you have certain rights under 5 CFR 330 to re-enter the competitive service workforce without competing with the public and to apply for federal vacancies open only to “status” candidates.
If you have held a career or career-conditional appointment at some time in the past, there is no time limit on reinstatement eligibility for those who:
• have veterans’ preference; or
• acquired career tenure by completing three years of substantially continuous creditable service.
If you do not have veterans’ preference or did not acquire career tenure, you may be reinstated within three years after the date of your separation. Reinstatement eligibility may be extended by certain activities that occur during the three-year period after separation from your last career or career-conditional appointment. Examples of these activities are:
• federal employment under temporary, term, or similar appointments;
• federal employment in excepted, non-appropriated fund, or Senior Executive Service positions;
• federal employment in the Legislative and Judicial Branches;
• active military duty terminated under honorable conditions;
• service with the District of Columbia government prior to January 1, 1980 (and other service for certain employees converted to the District’s independent merit system);
• certain government employment or full-time training that provided valuable training and experience for the job to be filled; and
• periods of overseas residence of a dependent who followed a federal military or civilian employee to an overseas post of duty.
To be reinstated, you must you must depend mainly on your own efforts to locate vacancies for which you are qualified. You also must meet the time-in-grade restrictions on promotion if you are reinstated in a position paid under the General Schedule and you served in a non-temporary General Schedule position any time within the previous 52 weeks before reinstatement. Additionally, if the reinstatement is to a higher-grade job or to a position with more promotion potential, you must rank among the best qualified under merit promotion procedures.
Reinstatement eligibility does not guarantee you a job offer. Hiring agencies have the discretion to determine the sources of applicants they will consider.
Individuals usually apply to agencies in response to vacancies announced under the merit promotion program. Some agencies accept applications only when they have an appropriate open merit promotion announcement, while others accept applications at any time. If you are seeking a higher grade or a position with more promotion potential than you previously held, generally you must apply under a merit promotion announcement and rank among the best-qualified applicants to be selected. Status applicants include individuals who are eligible for reinstatement.
To establish your reinstatement eligibility, you must provide a copy of your most recent SF 50, Notification of Personnel Action, showing tenure group 1 or 2, along with your application. You may obtain a copy of your personnel records from your former agency if you recently separated.
The National Personnel Records Center’s Federal Records Center is the depository for official personnel folders of persons no longer in the federal service. Federal agencies generally transfer employment records to the Federal Records Center within 120 days after the employee has been separated from service. Requests for this information should be directed to: National Personnel Records Center, 1 Archives Drive, St. Louis, MO 63138, phone (866) 272-6272, www.archives.gov/st-louis.
Such inquiries should include your full name under which formerly employed, Social Security number, date of birth, and to the extent known, former federal employing agencies, addresses and dates of such employment.
You must meet the qualification requirements for the position. You also must meet the suitability standards for federal employment. If you were removed for cause from your previous federal employment, it will not necessarily bar you from further federal service. Note: Some federal positions are reserved for veterans; see Veterans’ Hiring Preference in Section 8 of this chapter.
If you are a former employee who did not complete a required probationary period during previous service under the appointment upon which your eligibility for reinstatement is based, in most cases you must serve a complete one-year probationary period after reinstatement.
Special rules apply if you are seeking reinstatement after being called to active military duty, returning after recovery from a work-related illness or injury or were separated in a reduction in force.
If you are a career or career-conditional employee, you may transfer, without a break in service of a single work day, to a competitive service position in another agency without competing in a civil service examination open to the public. You may transfer to a position at the same, higher, or lower grade level.
Generally, you must be in the competitive service or excepted service operating under merit systems approved by OPM for an interchange agreement (see Special Recruitment, Hiring and Placement Programs, above).
If you want to transfer to another agency, you must locate vacancies for which you are qualified. As a transfer-eligible employee. you may apply under vacancy announcements open only to “status” candidates—that is, those who already have civil service status. Transfer eligibility does not guarantee a job offer. Hiring agencies have the discretion to determine the sources of applicants they consider.
You usually will apply to agencies in response to vacancies announced under the merit promotion program. Some agencies accept applications only when they have an appropriate open merit promotion announcement, while others accept applications at any time. If you are seeking a higher grade or a position with more promotion potential than you have previously held, you generally must apply under a merit promotion announcement and rank among the best-qualified applicants to be selected.
Eligibility—As a present federal employees who is serving in the competitive service under a career or career-conditional appointment, you have eligibility for transfer to a position in the competitive service. To transfer, you must meet the qualification requirements for the position.
You must be found suitable for employment in competitive service positions. If a current appointment is subject to a suitability investigation, that condition continues after a transfer.
Generally on transfer, if you are a career employee, you remain a career employee, and if you are a career-conditional employee, you remain a career-conditional employee.
As an employee with career or career-conditional tenure, you need not be on a civil service register (list of eligibles for a certain kind of position) to be considered for a transfer. You may be transferred to other jobs in the competitive service without again taking a competitive examination. You must meet qualification standards and requirements applied in making noncompetitive actions and depending upon the job, you may have to rank among the best qualified under merit promotion procedures. You must also meet the time-in-grade requirements when a higher grade job under the General Schedule is involved.
The general rule is that you may transfer or be promoted or reassigned within three months after your latest career or career-conditional appointment from a list of eligibles except to a position at the same or a lower grade, in the same line of work, and in the same geographical area. OPM may waive the restriction against movement to a different geographical area consistent with the principles of open competition.
Probationary Period—You are not required to serve a new probationary period after transfer. However, you continue to serve the remainder of any probationary period ongoing at the time of transfer.
Positions Restricted to Veterans—Some federal positions are reserved for veterans entitled to preference as long as they are available (see Veterans’ Hiring Preference in Section 8 of this chapter). However, this restriction does not apply to the filling of such positions by the transfer of a non-veteran already serving in a federal agency in a position covered by the same generic title.
Effect on Pay—When your official worksite is changed, your rate of basic pay must be converted to the pay schedule, if different, in the new location based on your current position of record. This geographic conversion is processed after any simultaneous general pay adjustment, but before any other simultaneous pay action (such as a promotion). A reduction in your rate of basic pay resulting from a move to a lower-paid locality is not a basis for entitlement to pay retention.
Effect on Benefits—You are not eligible to change Federal Employees Health Benefits program or Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program benefits elections simply because of a transfer. However, if you move between the United States and overseas or out of the servicing area of a regional plan, you may elect a new plan. In addition, if you have a qualifying life event in connection with the transfer, you may be able to change your coverage under either program. See Chapter 2, Sections 1 and 4.
You may not enroll in or elect additional Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance coverage based on a transfer.
Contributions toward retirement, the Thrift Savings Plan, flexible spending accounts and deductions for Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program coverage will continue unchanged upon a transfer. If you are paying FLTCIP premiums via payroll deduction and transfer to a new agency, you should contact LTC Partners as soon as you know where and when you will be transferring in order to arrange payroll deductions there. Depending on the timing of the premiums and the payroll cycles, a payment might be missed; in that case LTC Partners will bill you directly. Payroll deductions cannot be adjusted to catch up for missed payments. See Chapter 2, Section 3.
Accumulated annual and sick leave also transfer.
As a transferred employee, you should check your leave and earnings statements after the transfer to make sure your allocations, contributions and leave crediting are proper.
Non-Appropriated Fund Employees—Under 5 U.S.C. 5334(f), if you are an employee of a non-appropriated fund instrumentality (a self-funding operation such as a post exchange of the Defense Department or Coast Guard) and move voluntarily to a General Schedule position in the same agency without a break in service of more than three days, you may (at the employing agency’s discretion) have the GS rate set at the lowest step rate that equals or exceeds the former NAFI rate.
Implementing rules, which cover issues such as the differences between voluntary and involuntary moves, are at 5 CFR 531.216.
Transfer of Function (When Jobs Move)
A transfer of function takes place when a function ceases in one competitive area and moves to another competitive areas which does not perform the function at the time of transfer. The gaining competitive area may be in the same or a different agency. A transfer of function may be intra- or interagency. The transfer of function regulations, 5 CFR 351 subpart C, use the same procedures for both types.
A transfer of function also takes place when the entire competitive area moves to a different local commuting area without any additional organizational change. A transfer of function does not take place when after transfer the gaining competitive area performs the work through contract employees, a reimbursable agreement with a different competitive area, or by members of the Armed Forces. The movement of work solely within a competitive area is deemed a reorganization, not a transfer of function.
If you are identified with the transferring function, you have the right to transfer only if faced with separation or downgrading in the competitive area that is losing the function. An agency may always direct a reassignment to another position (regardless of location) in lieu of transfer of function rights. The vacant position may be in the same or in a different classification series, line of work, and/or geographic location.
The losing competitive area must use adverse action procedures to separate you if you choose not to transfer with the function to a different geographic location unless the losing competitive area at its option includes you in a concurrent reduction in force. If you choose not to transfer with the function, the losing competitive area may not separate you sooner than it transfers employees who do go to the gaining area.
See Transfer of Function in Chapter 9, Section 1, for information about reduction-in-force procedures in these situations.
Federal employees can request hardship transfers to move for personal reasons such as caring for sick parents, being closer to children after a divorce, gaining access to medical facilities for specific treatments and other circumstances that create hardships for the employee or family. These transfers can only happen if there is an open position or anticipated vacancy in the desired location. Further, agencies are not obliged to offer hardship transfers. There is no governmentwide hardship preference. Check with your agency to see if it has a hardship transfer policy.
Official Duty Station
Your official duty station is the duty station that is documented on the most recent notification of personnel action (for example, SF 50) for your position of record. Normally, your duty station is the city/town, county, and state where you regularly work, as determined by the employing agency. As a rule, this will be the location of your regular worksite—that is, the place where your activities are based, the location of your desk or work station, or the place where you normally perform your duties.
The location of your official duty station affects location-based entitlements including locality pay, special salary rates, law enforcement officer geographic adjustments and post differentials. You are entitled to receive the location-based pay entitlements associated with your documented official duty station for your position of record.
If you are reassigned (temporarily or permanently) to a new work location and receive relocation benefits for moving to the new location, your agency must change your official duty station to the new location. You will receive the location-based entitlements associated with the new location.
If you are temporarily detailed to a position in a different duty station or are in a temporary duty travel status (receiving temporary duty travel allowances, such as per diem), your official duty station remains the location of the old or permanent worksite for your position of record.
When your official worksite is changed, your rate of basic pay must be converted to the new pay schedules in the new location based on your current position of record. This geographic conversion is processed after any simultaneous general pay adjustment, but before any other simultaneous pay action (such as a promotion). A reduction in your rate of basic pay resulting from geographic conversion is not a basis for entitlement to pay retention.
The location of your official duty station may affect other benefits, including travel, transportation, and relocation benefits and entitlements, and entitlements to overseas allowances and benefits, if applicable. The Duty Station Locator System at https://apps.opm.gov/dsfls contains the codes used to identify duty stations used in processing personnel actions and reporting to the Central Personnel Data File.
Telework—If you are covered by a telework agreement, your agency determines your official duty station on a case-by-case basis using the following criteria:
• Your official worksite when you are covered by a telework agreement is the location of the regular worksite for your position (the place where you would normally work absent a telework agreement), as long as you are scheduled to report physically at least once a week on a regular and recurring basis to that regular worksite.
• If your telework location varies on a daily basis, you need not report at least once a week to the regular worksite established by the agency, as long as you are performing work within the geographic area designated as your regular worksite for the purpose of a given pay entitlement. For example, if you are a telework employee with a varying work location who works at least once a week on a regular and recurring basis in the same locality pay area in which the established official worksite is located, you need not report at least once a week to that official worksite to maintain entitlement to the locality payment for that area.
• Your official worksite if you are covered by a telework agreement and are not scheduled to report at least once a week on a regular and recurring basis to the regular worksite is the location of the telework site (the home, telework center, or other alternative worksite), except in certain temporary situations. In certain temporary situations, an agency may designate the location of the regular worksite as your official worksite if you telework on a regular basis at an alternative worksite, even though you are not able to report at least once a week on a regular and recurring basis to the regular worksite. The intent of this exception is to address certain situations where you are retaining your residence in the commuting area for the regular worksite but are temporarily unable to report to the regular worksite for reasons beyond your control. The fact that you may receive lesser pay or benefits if the official worksite is changed to the telework location is not a justification for using this temporary exception.
Also see Worksite for Location-Based Pay Purposes in Chapter 1, Section 2.
Reassignment is the change of an employee, while serving continuously within the same agency, from one position to another without promotion or demotion.
An agency may reassign you when it has a legitimate organizational reason for the reassignment, and the vacant position is at the same grade, or rate of pay (that is, if the movement is between pay systems such as from a General Schedule position to a Federal Wage System position) as your present position. The agency’s right to direct reassignment includes the right to reassign you from a special rate position to a non-special rate position at the same grade, or to a position with less promotion potential than your present position. (Reassignment to a position with more promotion potential than the present position requires competition under the agency’s merit staffing plan.) The position to which the agency reassigns you may be located in the same or a different geographic area.
An agency may reassign you without regard to your reduction in force retention standing, including your veterans’ preference status. A reassignment to a vacant position at the same grade is not a reduction in force action even if the agency abolishes your former position.
At its option, an agency may select you for reassignment on the basis of considerations such as retention standing, total service with the agency, length of time in a position or in the organization, etc. An agency also may canvass its employees to determine whether an individual employee would prefer reassignment to a specific location, a new organization, and/or to a position with different duties and responsibilities.
The agency must use the 5 CFR 752 adverse action regulations when separating you if your decline a directed reassignment to a position in a different geographic area. If it does, you are potentially eligible for most of the benefits that are available to a displaced employee separated by reduction in force (intra- and interagency hiring priority, severance pay, discontinued service retirement, etc.). If you decline reassignment to a position in the same geographic area as the present position, you are not eligible for any career transition assistance or other benefits. You are generally eligible for relocation expense allowances for a directed reassignment that requires relocation to a different geographic area.
Regulations at 5 CFR 335.102 cover reassignment of competitive service employees, while regulations at 5 CFR 302.102(a)) cover reassignment of excepted service employees.
Many federal jobs overseas are filled by U.S. citizens, the rest by citizens of the host nations. Most jobs overseas are with the Defense and State Departments. See 5 CFR 301 and https://iocareers.state.gov.
The Department of State Standardized Regulations (DSSR) are the overriding regulations for allowances and benefits available to civilians assigned to foreign areas. Employees should check agency-implementing regulations because they may be more restrictive than the DSSR but cannot go beyond the scope of the DSSR. Foreign affairs agencies’ implementing regulations are in section 3200 of the Foreign Affairs Manual at https://fam.state.gov.
A Foreign Transfer Allowance is available when transferring from the U.S. to a foreign area or between foreign areas. It includes a miscellaneous expense portion, a wardrobe expense portion, a pre-departure subsistence expense portion, and a lease penalty expense portion.
Other special benefits of overseas employment may include:
• Advance of Pay of up to three months’ salary (minus certain deductions as designated by the agency) may be advanced when assigned to a foreign area or for medical emergencies;
• Separate Maintenance Allowance paid to help maintain family member(s) at other than the foreign post of assignment;
• Foreign Travel Per Diem Allowances consisting of a lodging portion and a meals and incidental expense portion;
• Temporary Quarters Subsistence Allowance to assist with temporary lodging, meals, laundry and dry cleaning in the foreign area prior to occupying permanent quarters or upon final departure from the foreign post after vacating permanent quarters;
• Living Quarters Allowance provided for private leased quarters in lieu of government provided housing intended to cover most if not all expenses for rent, utilities and other allowable expenses;
• Extraordinary Quarters Allowance provided when employee and family members must partially or completely vacate permanent quarters during foreign tour due to circumstances which cause the kitchen or entire home to become uninhabitable;
• Post (“Cost of Living”) Allowance based on a percentage of spendable income which varies depending on salary and family size if the overall cost of goods and services for the foreign post are at least 3 percent above the same goods and services in the Washington, DC, area;
• Education Allowance to provide for education costs (grades K-12) which would normally be free of charge in the U.S.;
• Educational Travel, which allows for one round trip annually between a school attended in the U.S. and the foreign post of assignment;
• Post (“Hardship”) Differential, a percentage of basic compensation (up to 35 percent) for environmental conditions significantly worse than the U.S.;
• Danger Pay, a percentage of basic compensation (up to 35 percent) paid for imminently dangerous conditions when the official U.S. community is the target of political violence;
• Difficult to Staff Incentive Differential, a percentage of basic compensation (15 percent) for serving at an agency-determined difficult-to-staff post which has a Post Differential above 15 percent;
• Evacuation Payments paid when an employee/family member(s) are authorized or ordered to evacuate a foreign post;
• Representation Allowance for furthering the interests of the U.S. government in foreign areas including costs for entertainment and customary gifts or gratuities;
• Official Residence Expenses to reimburse for the “unusual” expenses at foreign posts due to occupancy of official residences; and
• Home Service Transfer Allowance paid when transferring from a foreign area back to the U.S. as long as the employee agrees to work 12 more months for the government and to family members who relocate to the U.S. following the death of the employee assigned to the foreign area.
Note: Same-sex domestic partners are eligible for certain benefits and allowances provided for family members of Foreign Service officers assigned to overseas posts as described in section 1600 of the Foreign Affairs Manual at https://fam.state.gov. To qualify for these benefits and allowances on behalf of a same-sex domestic partner, an employee must file an affidavit certifying to eligibility requirements described there.
Tax Treatment of Allowances—Under 5 CFR 531, a locality rate of pay is considered basic pay for the purpose of computing danger pay allowances under 5 U.S.C. 5928 and post differentials under 5 U.S.C. 5925(a) for certain employees temporarily assigned to work in foreign areas for which the Department of State has established danger pay allowances.
The incentive allowances (post differential, difficult-to-staff incentive differential and danger pay) are additional compensation and are included in gross income for federal income tax purposes. Other allowances under the DSSR are considered “reimbursements” for the extra expense due to a foreign assignment and are not taxed.
Combat Zone Assignments
Special pay and benefits apply to eligible employees assigned in their civilian duties in combat zones (for information about benefits for employees assigned to such zones when activated for military duty, see Employment Rights of Those on Military Duty in Section 8 of this chapter). Pay and benefits may vary depending on the employee’s pay system, assignment location, scope and nature of duties, and nature of assignment.
Agencies may waive premium pay and aggregate pay limitations for work overseas under certain conditions as described in Pay Caps in Chapter 1, Section 2.
Agency heads have the discretion to provide employees assigned or detailed to a combat zone allowances, benefits, and gratuities comparable to those provided to members of the Foreign Service under Section 413 (death gratuities) and Chapter 9 (travel, leave, and associated benefits) of Title I of the Foreign Service Act of 1980. Separate but parallel authority applies regarding employees assigned to Pakistan. See Overseas Employment, above. The Defense Department separately may provide certain Foreign Service-equivalent benefits for its employees under certain circumstances under 5 U.S.C. 9904.
Agencies may provide incentive payments to address difficulties in recruiting or retaining employees in certain circumstances, including assignment to combat zones. See Recruitment, Relocation and Retention Payments in Chapter 1, Section 5.
Benefits potentially available under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act include medical and wage loss benefits, schedule awards for permanent impairment due to loss of hearing, vision or certain organs, vocational rehabilitation for injured employees; and survivor benefits if an employee is killed in performance of duty or if an employee later dies from a covered injury. See Chapter 5, Section 5. Other benefits may include:
• eligibility to make enrollment changes under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (see Chapter 2, Section 1), Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance Program (see Chapter 2, Section 2) and Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (see Chapter 2, Section 4);
• eligibility for danger pay and post differentials (see Chapter 1, Section 4);
• eligibility to carry 45 days of unused annual leave from one leave to the next rather than the standard 30 days (see Annual Leave Accrual and Accumulation Chapter 5, Section 1); and
• eligibility for death gratuities (see Benefits Upon Death in Service in Section 4 of this chapter).
Under 5 U.S.C. 7906, each agency must assign a point of contact to ensure that employees who incur a qualifying injury, disability, or illness while performing civilian duties in a war-risk hazard assignment receive the benefits to which they are entitled. Guidance on “post-combat care coordinators” and positions of similar responsibility is in Benefits Administration Letter 13-201 at www.opm.gov/retirement-services/publications-forms/benefits-administration-letters.
Also see www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/pay-administration—select “special-status foreign areas.”
Foreign Service officers help formulate and carry out U.S. foreign policy. They serve at diplomatic posts worldwide, including embassies, consulates and U.S. missions, and also in the United States, mostly in Washington, DC.
Examination and Appointment—Application for Foreign Service positions is a multiple-step process, beginning with registration and proceeding on to the taking of the Foreign Service Officer test, which is offered during eight-day windows at various testing centers several times a year. The next step is scrutiny by a qualifications review panel, followed by an oral assessment, medical and security clearance and a final review panel. Successful candidates are then put on a rank-ordered list, grouped by career track.
Note: The upper age limit for career hiring into the Foreign Service is 59, since an applicant hired beyond that age would not accumulate enough years of service to be vested in retirement benefits by the mandatory retirement age of 65 under the Foreign Service Act of 1980. Further information, including the locations and dates of tests, is at https://careers.state.gov/work/foreign-service/officer.
Pay and Benefits—A Board of Examiners and the staff of the State Department’s Office of Recruitment, Examination, and Employment determine a Foreign Service officer career candidate’s entry salary based on education and/or experience. If the candidate’s current salary exceeds that amount, the starting salary may be raised to the step in the grade for which the candidate is qualified that is closest to the current salary. See the Foreign Service Schedule in Chapter 1, Section 11 for rates.
Foreign Service officers are eligible to participate in the government’s insurance plans under generally the same terms as civil service employees and are eligible to receive Social Security and Medicare benefits once they meet the age and contribution requirements of those programs.
Members of the Foreign Service first hired after 1983 participate in the Foreign Service Pension System, under which Foreign Service officers who have reached the age of 50, and who have served for 20 years or more, are eligible for retirement with a full annuity. Officers who have served for 10 years and are at least 57 years of age (55-56 years of age under certain conditions) are eligible to retire with a reduced annuity. Retirement at 65 is mandatory.
The Foreign Service Pension System is a three-tiered program much like the Federal Employees Retirement System. It consists of Social Security coverage, Thrift Savings Plan participation on the same terms as FERS employees, and a Foreign Service basic benefit. The latter is determined by multiplying the number of years of service by 1.7 percent for the employee’s first 20 years of service, and by 1.0 percent for each year of service in excess of 20 years. Foreign Service officers who retire before their 62nd birthday, and who are otherwise eligible for a full annuity, may be eligible to receive an annuity supplement. This supplement is roughly equivalent to the Social Security benefits the retiree would receive if he or she met the age requirement.
Foreign Service officers get the same federal holidays and annual and sick leave benefits as civil service employees. In addition, they are eligible for home leave—time to be spent in the United States—which accrues at the rate of 15 workdays per year spent on overseas assignment. The government also pays for travel of the officer and his or her family to the officer’s home in the United States and provides various allowances, including post allowances, post differentials, living quarters allowances, shipment and storage expenses, and others (see Overseas Employment, above).
Details on these and other policies are at https://careers.state.gov/work/benefits.
Senior Foreign Service—The Senior Foreign Service is a cadre similar to the Senior Executive Service. It consists of three classes: career minister, whose pay ranges from 100 percent of the minimum rate of basic pay for senior level positions to 100 percent of the rate payable to Level II of the Executive Schedule; minister-counselor, whose pay ranges from 100 percent of the minimum rate of basic pay for senior level positions to 107 percent of the rate payable to Level III of the Executive Schedule; and counselor, whose pay ranges from 100 percent of the minimum rate of basic pay for senior level positions to 102 percent of the rate payable to Level III of the Executive Schedule. SFS employees receive raises upon a determination by the head of their department or agency that their performance or contribution to the mission of the agency so warrant.
Judicial/Legislative Branch Employment
Positions in the Judicial Branch and the Legislative Branch share many of the same benefits as Executive Branch workers. Employees of those two branches generally are covered under the federal retirement systems, insurance programs, leave and holiday rules, workers’ compensation, unemployment compensation, flexible spending accounts, the Thrift Savings Plan and many other Executive Branch policies.
However, where most Executive Branch employees have the right to appeal removals and other disciplinary and administrative actions against them, legislative and judicial workers generally do not.
Judicial Branch—Judicial Branch employees are employed as “excepted service” workers as defined in 5 U.S.C. 2105(a)—that is, they serve at the pleasure of the courts and therefore can be, as a general rule, fired “at will.” By statute, employees of a district court clerk’s office are appointed and removed by the clerk with approval of the court (28 U.S.C. 751(b)). Law clerks and secretaries to district judges are appointed by the individual judge (28 U.S.C. 752).
Most court employees are covered under the Court Personnel System, which has 12 pay bands, each with a developmental range and a full performance range. Separate systems apply to some positions; see www.uscourts.gov/careers/compensation.
In general, the courts are not subject to civil rights laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Nor are the courts covered by rules issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Judicial Conference of the United States, however, has adopted some rules modeled after these laws, although appeal rights are not provided to court workers. See www.uscourts.gov/careers.
Legislative Branch—Legislative Branch positions generally fall into one of two categories: positions filled by elected representatives on their personal staffs and in the congressional committee structure, and positions in legislative support agencies and other offices supporting the general structure of Congress. Positions in the latter category typically carry somewhat greater protections. See https://www.compliance.gov.
Employment decisions regarding personal staffs of members of Congress, including hiring, pay setting, promotion and removal are at the discretion of the elected member, typically acting through a chief of staff or administrative assistant. Individual members also set their own office’s policies on leave and other benefits, often tracking Executive Branch policies, if only loosely. There is some informal coordination of benefit policies among those offices through internal Capitol Hill organizations. See FEHB Eligibility and Enrollment Rules in Chapter 2, Section 1 for policies regarding health insurance coverage for personal staff.
Positions on congressional committee staffs are similarly controlled by the committee chairman, typically acting through the committee staff director, and by members of the committee. The allocation of positions generally tracks the membership split on the committee between the parties, which in turn reflects the split in the chamber as a whole.
Positions in legislative support agencies such as the Architect of the Capitol, Library of Congress and Government Accountability Office also are excepted service positions, although they tend to track Executive Branch policies more closely and most of those positions are career in nature. Hiring typically is done through personnel offices much like the ones in the Executive Branch.
Non-Appropriated Fund Positions
Non-Appropriated Fund (NAF) positions are those in which the salaries and benefits are not paid from the Treasury. Most such positions are in self-funding “morale, welfare and recreation” operations at Defense Department bases—such as officers’ and enlisted clubs, post exchanges and recreational facilities—although there are also some in other agencies, primarily the Coast Guard and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Because of this funding arrangement, NAF employment is generally not considered to be federal service for purposes of laws administered by the Office of Personnel Management. NAF employee benefits, including retirement and insurance coverage, are not subject to requirements applicable to civil service positions, although in practice many of those benefits parallel those for “appropriated fund” positions. NAF service generally is not creditable for purposes of civil service benefits, nor is service in an appropriated fund position creditable for purposes of NAF benefits. However, P.L. 101-508, Section 1043, as amended by P.L. 104-106, granted civil service retirement credit for certain NAF service for those who move without a break in service of more than three days between NAF positions and positions covered by a civil service retirement program. Also, P.L. 107-107, Section 1131, removed the requirement for an employee to be vested in the retirement plan the employee left in order to continue retirement coverage after moving between civil service and NAF positions, and Section 1132 permitted employees in the Civil Service Retirement System or Federal Employees Retirement System to use prior NAF service to qualify for immediate retirement. In addition, an employee who moves between a DoD NAF position and a DoD appropriated fund position with a break in service of three days or less is eligible for a range of pay and benefit protections. Public Law 101-508 permits eligible employees to transfer annual, sick, and home leave balances between the two employment systems; receive service credit for annual leave accrual and reduction-in-force purposes; and have their highest previous rate of pay considered when applying for a job in the other employment system. DoD regulations also permit service credit for severance pay purposes, and authorization for travel, transportation, and relocation allowances. Most NAF employees are paid under a locality pay system similar to that applying to Federal Wage System jobs. See Transfers, above, for rules regarding how pay is set in transfers involving NAF employees. Employees who move between the NAF and appropriated fund systems should consult the human resources offices of both to ensure that pay and benefits are handled appropriately.
Personal Services Contracts
Some federal agencies use personal services contracts to fill special needs, particularly those requiring special expertise and that involve consulting type work. In many cases, federal annuitants are re-employed under such arrangements.
Personal services contracts generally are subject to Office of Management and Budget policy requiring that “inherently governmental” functions be performed only by federal employees (OFPP Policy Letter 11-01) and Federal Acquisition Regulation 37.104, which states that the government in general is required to obtain its employees by directly employing them. Personal services contracts allowable under that guidance are characterized by performance on a government site with equipment furnished by the government and supervision by government employees, and a need for the service for more than one year. In addition, some agencies may award personal services contracts under separate laws, and agencies may have their own regulations for approving, overseeing, and administering such contracts.
A personal services contract may create varying types of relationships between the government and the individual, acting either as a sole agent or as an employee of a contractor. The terms of the contract, and in some cases the manner of its administration, determine the level of compensation and the length of the expected relationship. In general, those hired under personal services contracts are not eligible for federal benefits unless explicitly authorized by statute and by the contract’s terms.
Under the terms of most buyout authorities, if you took a buyout separation incentive payment, you must repay the entire pretax amount plus accrued interest if you return to work for the government within five years, including as a personal services contractor. Unlike the rules governing re-employment as an appointed federal employee, there is no provision for waiver of this requirement.