Evaluation and Advancement
Performance Appraisal Systems
Federal employees are subject to periodic appraisals of their job performance under 5 CFR 430. These performance appraisal procedures can have an impact on a wide variety of personnel decisions. Under the performance management rules, agencies must establish performance appraisal systems that:
- provide for periodic appraisals of job performance;
- encourage employee participation in establishing performance standards; and
- use appraisal results as a basis for personnel actions affecting employees.
The performance appraisal systems set up and used by agencies must be designed to:
- establish performance standards that will permit accurate evaluations of job performance on the basis of objective criteria related to the job;
- communicate to each employee the performance standards and critical elements of the employee’s position with respect to initial appraisal periods, and thereafter at the beginning of each following appraisal period;
- evaluate each employee on such standards during the appraisal period;
- recognize and reward employees whose performance so warrants;
- assist employees in improving unacceptable performance; and
- reassign, demote, or remove employees who continue to have less than acceptable performance, but only after such workers are given an opportunity to demonstrate performance at a level above unacceptable. The appraisal systems must be based on objective, job-related criteria and performance standards must be developed for each element of the job on which an employee is to be evaluated.
Note: Special policies apply to senior executives (see Determining Pay in Section 9 of this chapter) and may apply in alternative personnel systems (see Section 7 of this chapter).
Performance standards are the expressed measure of the level of achievement established by management for duties and responsibilities of a position or group of positions. Performance standards may include, but are not limited to, elements such as quantity, quality, timeliness, and manner of performance. Agencies are encouraged to have employees participate in establishing their standards.
Managers and supervisors will rate subordinates on the elements of the job. Employees who perform at an unacceptable level in one or more of the critical elements will be given the opportunity to improve, with supervisory help. If adequate improvement does not occur, the agency may take action to remove or reduce the grade of the employee.
If an employee’s most recent rating of record (formal summary rating) is below Fully Successful (level 3), the agency is required to deny the employee’s within-grade increase.
Employees have the right to be consulted regarding the setting of performance standards and critical elements and unions have the right to negotiate procedures under which bargaining unit employees are consulted. However, the final determination of what job performance standards and critical elements will be set for a job is not a negotiable issue between unions and an agency, and management has the right to set the performance standards and critical elements as it sees fit. Of course, should removal or demotion result from application of employees’ job performance standards, they would have regular appeal rights to the Merit Systems Protection Board or through their unions via a negotiated grievance procedure, if applicable.
Each department and agency sets up its own performance appraisal system based on OPM’s general regulations.
When an employee fails to meet an acceptable level of performance on a critical element, the first steps an agency must take are corrective in nature. These could include counseling, remedial training, and more direct supervision. When employees fail to improve their performance with respect to one or more critical elements, and after having been given a reasonable time to demonstrate acceptable performance, an agency may take action to remove or reduce the grade of such workers.
Employees so affected are entitled to 30 days advance written notice that identifies the specific instances of unacceptable performance and the critical elements involved in each instance. The employee is also entitled to be represented by an attorney or other representative; a reasonable time to answer orally and in writing; and a written decision within 30 days after the expiration of the notice period. Agencies may extend the initial notice period as circumstances warrant.
At the point where the agency decides to take adverse action, employees have the right to appeal to the MSPB based on the nature of their appointment and the type of position occupied. Employees represented by unions that have negotiated grievance procedures in their contracts may elect to file a grievance under the negotiated grievance procedure rather than appeal to MSPB, but not both.
OPM periodically reviews performance evaluation systems.
Additional information is at http://apps.opm.gov/perform/clearing.
Training and Professional Development
Training and professional development can be an essential element of a federal employee’s career advancement. Agencies keep records of approved training in their training files, procurement records, and electronic personnel records. Agencies use their records for planning and evaluation purposes. You also should keep your own record of any significant programs, whether sponsored by your agency or taken on your own.
General rules governing training are at 5 CFR 410. Agencies may:
- pay training and education expenses from appropriated funds or other available funds for training needed to support program functions;
- reimburse employees for all or part of the costs of training or education;
- share training and education costs with employees;
- pay travel expenses for employees assigned to training;
- adjust an employee’s normal work schedule for educational purposes not related to official duties;
- use funds appropriated for travel expenses to pay for employees’ expenses to attend meetings, if the meetings concern functions or activities for which the appropriation is made, or will contribute to improved conduct, supervision, or management of the functions or activities;
- allow employees to accept payment, or reimbursement, of travel, subsistence and other expenses incident to attending meetings from a non-profit organization; and
- pay an employee’s membership fee in a professional organization if the membership in the association is an incidental by-product of meeting attendance that the agency pays, or purchase an organizational membership in the association or society.
The Government Employees Training Act (Public Law 85-507, codified in Title 5, United States Code, Chapter 41), makes available to most federal agencies the authority to train employees, thereby recognizing that investments in workforce development are essential to achieving an agency’s mission and performance goals by improving employee and organizational performance.
Under the training law, department and agency heads are required to regularly assess the workforce’s needs for skills essential to meet mission and performance requirements. The review is an ongoing assessment process that is an integral part of human resource planning. Its purpose is to help ensure that the expenditure of public funds to develop an organization’s human resources is directly linked to: (a) fulfilling the organizational mission, (b) improving productivity, and (c) providing quality products and service to the public.
The Federal Workforce Restructuring Act of 1994 amended the Government Employees Training Act to expand the definition of training from that of directly related to the performance of “official duties” to any training that is “mission-related.”
The Federal Workforce Flexibility Act of 2004 required agencies to: develop a comprehensive management succession program; evaluate training programs on a regular basis and ensure alignment with strategic goals; and train new supervisors within one year of appointment, and retrain them at least every three years, in areas including strategies for mentoring employees, improving performance management and productivity, and conducting performance appraisals. In addition, the law set certain standards for SES candidate development programs. See Executive Development in Section 9 of this chapter.
Under a December 23, 2014 memo (at www.chcoc.gov/transmittals), agencies must include programs such as individual development plans, rotational assignments and innovation projects among their efforts to improve employee engagement with their jobs.
Annual appropriations laws prohibit use of appropriated funds for training that is offensive to federal employees and unnecessary in the execution of their official duties. This includes training associated with religious or quasi-religious and “new age” belief systems, training that induces high levels of stress unrelated to the employees’ work environments, and training meant to change employees’ personal values or lifestyle outside the workplace.
Workforce development needs may be met through an agency’s own facilities, other government facilities such as interagency or shared training, or nongovernment facilities, whichever is found to be most effective. Agencies are required to open their training programs to employees of other agencies when the sharing of training would result in better training, improved service, and savings to the government. This includes agency sharing of technology-based learning programs.
Travel, per diem, and transportation are training expenses governed by 5 U.S.C. 4109(a)(2)(A) and (B). The provisions in law that pertain to paying all or some of the costs of tuition and other training expenses apply to paying travel expenses. This means that the agency decides which travel expenses it will pay for employees assigned to training.
Leadership Development—Under 5 CFR 412, agencies must support initial and ongoing training and development of both current and future leaders. Office of Personnel Management guidance states that agencies must, at a minimum, incorporate these components into their leadership development approaches:
- methods for identifying potential leaders with options for management nomination and for self-nomination;
- initial and periodic assessment of the leadership competencies of each supervisor, manager, and executive, ideally with multiple sources of input;
- plans tailored to the individual’s level of management;
- training for new supervisors and managers to ensure they have completed development of basic supervisory skills, including communicating expectations, and managing, evaluating, improving and rewarding employees’ performance;
- periodic evaluations to determine how a program accomplishes or effectively promotes the agency’s specific performance plans and strategic goals; and
- use of a broad range of learning methodologies.
Agencies are encouraged to include practices such as: active involvement of the leader’s supervisor, coach, mentor, peer group, or management consultant; feedback; learning activities that integrate individual learning with team or organizational learning; structuring development challenges into future assignments; and attention to government-specific issues of concern, such as procurement integrity and ethical standards, or to areas of increasing responsibility, such as managing employees with nontraditional career patterns or managing a multi-sector workforce.
In drafting the required written policy (5 CFR 412.103), agencies must ensure the following criteria are met:
- clear linkage to organizational strategy, goals, and values and to governmentwide leadership competencies and executive core qualifications as well as to agency-specific core requirements;
- top-level commitment as demonstrated by dedicating adequate resources, active involvement of higher-level officials in the development of their managerial subordinates, and by serving as positive role models, mentors, and teachers for leadership;
- integration with other related human capital management processes, such as succession planning, talent management, and performance management;
- needs analysis based on an identification of competency gaps and current mission or business goals and challenges; and
- systematic evaluation of the extent of learning and where feasible, its return on investment.
Also see www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/training-and-development/leadership-development.
LEAD Certificate—The Leadership Education and Development Certificate Program is designed for current and aspiring government leaders. Participants must complete five seminars within three years in one of the four levels of leadership: project/team lead, supervisor, manager or executive. Participants register for courses individually. To receive a LEAD certificate, they must submit to OPM a list of completed courses and a paper detailing lessons learned and practical application on the job. A list of requirements with links to pertinent courses is at http://leadership.opm.gov/certificates/LEAD.
Meeting Learning Needs—An employee’s performance-based learning needs may be met by planned work experience, details, and developmental assignments; on-the-job-learning and supervised practice; training and education provided through agency facilities, other government facilities, and nongovernment facilities; coaching and mentoring; and self-study.
Emphasis is placed on using the most economical means available to satisfy agency needs for performance improvement. Interagency training is used instead of internal training when this would result in better training, improved service, or savings to the government. Emerging technologies are used to deliver just-in-time learning and performance support.
Each agency is required by law to have a process in place for determining its performance improvement needs and for administering its human resource development program.
Human Resource Development Programs—Human resource development programs may be authorized to:
- orient employees to the federal service, their agencies and organizational assignments, and conditions of employment;
- guide new employees to effective performance during their probationary period;
- provide knowledge and skills to improve job performance;
- prepare employees with demonstrated potential for increased responsibility in meeting future staffing requirements;
- provide continuing professional and technical training to avoid knowledge/skill obsolescence (for example, keeping current the skills of scientists, doctors, engineers, lawyers, registered nurses, computer programmers, procurement specialists, plumbers, electricians, and clerical employees);
- implement reorganizations, changing missions, and administration initiatives;
- develop the managerial workforce focusing on competencies identified as essential to effective performance at supervisory, managerial, and executive levels (for example, communication, interpersonal skills, human resource management, technology management, financial management, planning and evaluation, and vision);
- provide education leading to an academic degree if necessary to assist in the recruitment or retention of employees in occupations in which there are existing or anticipated shortage of qualified personnel, especially in those areas requiring critical skills; and
- provide for the career transition, training, and/or retraining of employees displaced by downsizing and restructuring.
Training Related to Official Duties—Agencies are authorized to pay, or reimburse you for, all or a part of the necessary expenses of training related to official duties. This includes tuition, books, supplies, and travel. It also means that you can share with your agency costs of training that benefit both the agency and you. For example, the agency could pay half the cost of a college course, while you pay the other half. However, the agency may not pay for training that is unrelated to your official government duties.
Your agency also may approve a meeting or conference as a developmental activity if the content is pertinent to your official functions and activities and it is evident that you will derive developmental benefits by attending.
A wide variety of basic education, skills development, and career enhancement programs are tailored to agency needs and resources. Some of these are adult basic education programs; the Veterans Recruitment Appointment program; apprenticeship programs; administrative, technical, and professional career ladder programs; and career transition programs.
Agencies may provide training in basic job-related skills. They can also sponsor training courses in local schools under the adult basic education program. These courses may be given at government expense either during or after working hours.
Although training must be related to your official duties, your agency can prepare you for anticipated future assignments or to accomplish special agency initiatives. You can receive training leading to promotion if you were competitively selected for training under your agency’s merit promotion program.
Your agency may pay for training that prepares you for an examination, if the training is relevant to improving your performance. Under Public Law 107-107, an agency may at its discretion pay for expenses for employees to obtain professional credentials, including expenses for professional accreditation, state-imposed and professional licenses, professional certification, and examinations to obtain such credentials.
Your supervisor may adjust your customary workweek to allow you to take courses not sponsored by the agency if additional costs to your agency will not be incurred, completion of the course will better equip you for work in the agency, and there will not be appreciable interruption of work.
Normally you are in full pay status while participating in agency or interagency training programs. However, training law prohibits paying overtime to Title 5 employees who are in training or while they are traveling to training. If salary payments continue during the training period, the annual and sick leave regulations apply. Normal workdays falling within academic recess periods should be charged to leave unless you devote such periods to study or research or unless you are returned to a work status.
If you feel you have been unjustly denied permission to attend training, you may use your agency’s procedures if the matter cannot be resolved at the supervisory level and your agency has not set up a separate system for this purpose.
When you are assigned to training, your agency may require that you sign an agreement to continue employment in your agency for a period of time. If you do not complete the agreement, you may have to repay the agency for your training expenses.
Some agencies provide individual learning accounts, expressed in terms of dollars or hours or both, for employees to use for personal learning and development and/or to meet workforce needs. See www.opm.gov/hrd/lead/ILA/ilarpind.htm and check with your agency regarding availability.
Under 5 CFR 410.501, agencies may allow their employees to accept reimbursement or waiver of tuition fees from nonprofit organizations for training so long as it does not compromise the integrity of the employee or represent a payment for services rendered to the organization prior to the training. Prior approval from a designated agency official is required.
Training Centers—The Federal Executive Institute (FEI) and the Management Development Centers work to develop career leaders for the federal government. The facilities offer residential learning environments and are staffed with program directors, seminar leaders, and facilitators.
The goals of the management development centers are to create, share, and apply knowledge and skills to address the challenges faced by public sector organizations and develop the values and competencies that are the foundation of public service, transcending individual professions and missions. Trainees, primarily supervisors, managers, and executives, study at the centers for between several days to four weeks. The centers also offer customized programs either on-site or at agency locations, as well as consulting services for identifying and addressing organizational challenges.
Eastern Management Development Center
999 North Capitol St.
Washington, DC 20002
Phone: (202) 606-2005
Western Management Development Center
Byron Rogers Federal Building1961 Stout St., Suite 16-111 Denver, CO 80294 Phone: (303) 671-1010
Byron Rogers Federal Building
1961 Stout St., Suite 16-111
Denver, CO 80294
Phone: (303) 671-1010
The FEI serves as the government’s development center for senior executives. FEI brings SES members and GS-15s together for courses that help executives develop broad corporate viewpoints, understand their constitutional roles, and enhance skills.
Trainees work individually, in teams, and as a group with FEI faculty. The FEI faculty comprises a wide range of professionals from academia and private consulting and training organizations, along with executives in residence—senior government leaders on special assignment at the Institute.
Federal Executive Institute
1301 Emmet St.
Charlottesville, VA 22903
Phone: (434) 980-6200
Course catalogs and other information about these training centers are at www.leadership.opm.gov.
USALearning—USALearning, www.usalearning.gov, is designed to provide one-stop access to e-training. The site contains free courses ranging in topics from communication to project management, along with additional products and services, some free and some for a fee.
Meetings Related to Agency Functions or to Improve Conduct of Agency Activities—Training law provides an exception to the prohibition in 5 U.S.C. 5946(1) on using appropriated funds to pay employee expenses for attending professional meetings. Under 5 U.S.C. 4110 an agency may use funds appropriated for travel expenses to pay for employees’ expenses to attend meetings if the meetings concern functions or activities for which the appropriation is made, or will contribute to improved conduct, supervision, or management of the functions or activities.
Memberships in Professional Organizations—Statute (5 U.S.C. 5946(1)) prohibits using appropriated funds to pay for individual employee memberships in professional associations and societies. However, association membership is often included in registration fees for a conference or meeting. If the agency pays the registration fees, the employee’s membership in the association is considered an incidental by-product of meeting attendance. In addition, agencies may purchase an organizational membership in the association or society for a specific agency position and the incumbent in that position may use that membership.
Reimbursement of Meeting Expenses—A provision of training law (5 U.S.C. 4111) allows agencies to establish procedures under which employees may accept payment, or reimbursement, of travel, subsistence and other expenses incident to attending meetings from a non-profit organization. Accepting meeting expenses must not compromise the integrity of the employee or represent a payment for services rendered to the non-profit organization prior to the meeting. Prior approval from a designated high level agency official is required, often following a consultation with, or review by, the designated agency ethics official.
Academic Degrees—Under 5 U.S.C. 4107 (5 CFR 410, subpart C), an agency may select and assign an employee to academic degree training and may pay or reimburse the costs of the training from appropriated or other available funds. The training must contribute significantly to meeting an identified agency training need, to resolving an identified agency staffing problem, or to accomplishing goals in the agency’s strategic plan; be part of a planned, systematic, and coordinated agency employee development program linked to accomplishing the agency’s strategic goals; and be accredited and provided by a college or university that is accredited by a nationally recognized body.
In exercising the authority, an agency must, consistent with the merit system principles at 5 U.S.C. 2301(b)(2) and (7), consider the need to maintain a balanced workforce in which women, members of racial and ethnic minority groups, and persons with disabilities are appropriately represented in government service and provide employees effective education and training to improve organizational and individual performance. The agency also must assure that the training is not for the sole purpose of providing an employee with an opportunity to obtain an academic degree or to qualify for appointment to a particular position for which the degree is a basic requirement; and assure that no authority is exercised on behalf of any employee occupying or seeking to qualify for a non-career appointment in the Senior Executive Service; or appointment to any position that is excepted from the competitive service because of its confidential policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character. The agency must, to the greatest extent practicable, facilitate the use of online degree training.
Agencies that pay or reimburse employees for academic degree training generally must require the employee to enter into a continued service agreement with the agency prior to attending the training. Continued service agreement requirements apply to both tuition reimbursement programs and academic degree training programs.
Training Unrelated to Official Duties—Agencies may adjust an employee’s normal work schedule for educational purposes. This authority allows the employee to take courses not related to his or her official duties. A special tour of duty is permissible if the following conditions are met:
- It will not appreciably interfere with work accomplishment.
- The agency incurs no additional personnel services costs.
- Course completion will equip the employee to more effectively work in the agency.
- The employee receives no premium pay while on the special tour of duty, even if premium pay would be otherwise payable.
Intergovernmental Personnel Act—The Intergovernmental Personnel Act of 1970 and Title VI of the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act authorized the temporary assignment of employees between the federal government and state, local and Indian tribal governments, institutions of higher education and certain other organizations. Assignments are arranged by individual employing agencies.
An employee may be assigned for up to two years, which may be extended for up to two more years if the parties agree, with a six-year lifetime maximum and a minimum one-year wait after any assignment lasting four years. The employee must agree, as a condition of accepting an IPA assignment, to serve with the federal government upon completion of the assignment for a period equal to the length of the assignment. An employee who fails to carry out that agreement must reimburse the agency for its share of the costs of the assignment, exclusive of salary and benefits. An agency head has discretion to waive reimbursement.
At the end of the assignment, the employee must be allowed to resume the duties of the position or must be reassigned to another position of like pay and grade. Assignees continue to encumber the positions they occupied prior to the assignment, and the position is subject to any personnel actions that might normally occur. Employees on an IPA assignment are on detail or leave without pay. The assignee remains an employee of his or her original organization and retains the rights and benefits attached to that status. The position is subject to any personnel actions that may occur. Rules on the program are at 5 CFR 334. See www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-authorities/intergovernment-personnel-act.
IT Employee Interchange Program—Rules at 5 CFR 370 provide authority for information technology employees and managers in General Schedule grades 11 and above, and members of the Senior Executive Service who are under a career or career-conditional appointment or an appointment of equivalent tenure in the excepted service, to work for between three and 15 months at private sector companies for professional development purposes. On such an assignment you would continue to receive your federal salary and benefits and would not lose employment-related rights, including consideration for promotion, leave accrual, continuation of retirement and insurance benefits, and pay increases you otherwise would have received.
Before the detail begins, you and your agency must enter into a written agreement that must specify the terms and conditions of the detail, whether you will be supervised by a federal or private sector employee, the requirement for you to remain in the civil service upon completion of the assignment for a period equal to the length of the assignment including any extension, and the obligations and responsibilities of all parties.
Only employees rated at the highest levels of the applicable performance appraisal system are eligible. Eligible companies are those defined as profit-making businesses in the Central Contractor Registration Database, which generally excludes academic institutions and non-profits (similar assignments may be available under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act—see above). Check with your employing agency for availability.
National Security Professional Development Program—Executive Order 13434 of 2007 created the National Security Professional Development Program to prepare national security professionals to carry out coordinated operations with their counterparts in other federal agencies and in non-federal organizations. Under a June 15, 2016 memo to agencies: those rotational assignments are be handled in the same manner as other interagency details; agencies may authorize the rotations as reimbursable or non-reimbursable details, depending upon the circumstances; employees participating in the program may be given assignments for periods of up to 120 days and the assignments may be extended in 120-day increments; and agencies to follow the procedures detailed in their established performance appraisal system and apply that policy to NSPD participants. While participating in the program the employee’s position of record does not change and at the end of the detail, the employee returns to his or her original position at the home agency.
A separate memo of that date contains guidance on giving preference to employees who completed the program when they apply to senior level positions, including Senior Executive Service positions, as required by section 1107(e) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013.
The memos are at www.chcoc.gov/transmittals.
International Organizations—Under 5 CFR 352 subpart C, an agency may detail or transfer an employee to an international organization deemed eligible by the State Department. A detail or transfer normally may not exceed five years but may be extended three additional years upon the approval of the head of the agency and the State Department. A transferred employee is entitled to be re-employed in his or her former position or one of like status within 30 days of his or her application for re-employment. Information about appointments, pay setting, performance management, promotions, reimbursements, position changes and other rules governing these details and transfers is at www.opm.gov/employ/internat. A list of such organizations and information about working for them is at http://intlorganizationjobs.state.gov/iva.
A promotion is a change to a higher grade separate from within-grade increases or quality step increases, which provide salary increases within the scheduled rates of the grade (see Chapter 1, Section 4). Opportunities for advancement often occur when new positions are established because of reorganization, added program responsibilities or when an employee vacates a position. Competition among employees is generally required. In addition, there are “career ladder” promotions (see below) in which no further competition is required once the employee meets certain requirements.
General rules governing promotion are at 5 CFR 335.
For promotion from one General Schedule position to another in the competitive service, the employee must also meet time-in-grade requirements. Generally, for advancement to positions at GS-12 or above, the candidate must have completed a minimum of 52 weeks in a position no more than one grade lower than the position to be filled. For advancement to positions at GS-6 through GS-11, candidates must have completed a minimum of 52 weeks in a position no more than two grades lower when the position is classified at two-grade intervals; no more than one grade lower when the position is classified at one-grade intervals; or no more than one or two grades lower when the position is classified at one-grade intervals but has a mixed interval promotion pattern.
Advancement to positions up to GS-5 have no time restrictions if the position to be filled is no more than two grades above the lowest grade the employee had held within the preceding 52 weeks. Employees in competitive service GS positions at grades 5 and above must serve 52 weeks in grade before becoming eligible for promotion to the next grade level.
Each agency is required to have a merit promotion plan conforming to OPM requirements and detailing how promotions are made in the agency. To be eligible for promotion, employees generally must meet the position’s qualification requirements and, if applicable, time-in-grade requirements, the time-after-competitive-appointment restriction, and requirements for fully successful performance. Awards can be part of promotion consideration.
Promotions are made either competitively or noncompetitively. Examples of noncompetitive promotions are situations where employees are promoted because (a) they are in a career ladder that provides for successive promotion up to an established full performance level, or (b) their position is reclassified at a higher grade due to the addition of higher-level duties and responsibilities.
Merit Promotion—The purpose of the federal merit promotion policy is to ensure the selection of the best qualified candidates through a system of open competition based on relative ability, in accordance with the requirements of the merit system principles in Title 5, United States Code. Responsibility for the day-to-day operation of the merit promotion program rests primarily with individual agencies, but is subject to requirements prescribed by OPM. These requirements apply only to the competitive civil service and describe when competition is required and how it is to be carried out.
The rules that government agencies must use in deciding whom to promote or hire for a vacant position are provided in Section 335.103 of 335 of Title 5, Code of Federal Regulations. These regulations require that each agency adopt and administer a program designed to ensure a systematic means of selecting for promotions according to merit. As part of the program, agencies must develop merit promotion plans that cover all positions to which promotions are made. Each agency is also responsible for ensuring that its merit promotion plans operate compatibly with each other. The plans must be in writing with copies available to all job candidates.
In addition to specifying the positions that are covered, agency merit promotion plans must establish areas of consideration that are sufficiently broad to ensure the availability of high-quality candidates, taking into account the nature and level of the positions to be filled. Additionally, under the Veterans Employment Act of 1998, preference eligibles or veterans who have been separated under honorable conditions from the Armed Forces after three or more years of continuous active service may compete for vacancies under merit promotion procedures when an agency accepts applications from individuals outside of its own workforce.
Agency merit promotion plans also specify the methods that will be used to evaluate applicants for promotion as well as to select employees for training that leads to promotion. Moreover, these plans outline management’s right to use selection procedures to select or not select from among any particular group of best-qualified candidates. This right includes the right to select from other appropriate sources, such as re-employment priority lists, reinstatements, transfers, applicants with disabilities, or applicants from outside the government who are certified as eligible by agency delegated examining units or OPM.
By regulation, in deciding which source or sources to use, agencies are responsible for determining which source is the most likely to provide candidates who will best help the agency meet its mission objectives and affirmative action goals. Areas of consideration are sometimes affected by negotiated agreements between agencies and employee unions. These agreements may place limits on the area of consideration that can be used to fill vacancies under certain conditions.
Most often, vacancies are filled in one of three ways. If a current employee is chosen to fill a vacancy and the selection involves an increase in the selectee’s grade level, then the process is governed by the competitive merit promotion regulations. If the person selected is already at the grade level of the job being filled or was once at that grade level, that person can be noncompetitively selected for the job. If the selectee is not a federal employee, competitive procedures that are in most ways analogous to those used in the merit promotion process govern the selection process. In actual practice, a number of basic steps typically occur whenever an agency has a vacancy to fill.
Position Reclassifications and Grade Change—Occasionally, federal employees may be given work assignments that change the level of difficulty, responsibility, or qualification requirements of their positions. When this change in duties is recognized as a continuing assignment, the affected employee’s position description normally is rewritten and the position is analyzed and evaluated. If this process determines that the employee’s new assigned duties are sufficiently different, the worker’s position may be reclassified.
When a position is changed and placed in a higher grade in this way, the incumbent may be eligible for a noncompetitive promotion in accordance with the agency’s merit promotion plan.
Alternative Promotion Methods—In settings such as demonstration projects that feature integrated job classification, performance management, and pay banding systems, changes in an employee’s compensation may be based upon his or her contribution to meeting organizational goals. An employee’s movement both within a given pay band and between pay bands is determined by his or her contributions, as scored under the performance evaluation system in place. Employees who have made significant contributions to organizational performance can be moved to higher pay bands without the need for formal competitive merit promotion processes.
Career Ladder Promotions
A career ladder promotion occurs when competitive hiring procedures are used to select someone to fill what is often a lower level trainee position with the purpose of developing the person to fill a higher level full-performance position. It is also a merit promotion in the sense that the individual must meet certain performance criteria to gain the promotion.
Although career ladders are typically found in the General Schedule, they are not restricted to that salary system. They are found throughout the federal workforce in professional, administrative, and support occupations. They may be but are not typically in trades, craft and labor jobs.
Agencies set their own policies on career ladder promotions in accordance with 5 CFR 335, generally in their merit promotion plans and collective bargaining agreements, if applicable.
For example, an agency might establish a management analyst position as a career ladder, GS-9/11/12. The employee is selected at the GS-9 level with a full performance level, or career ladder, to the GS-12 level. The employee is eligible for promotion to GS-11 after meeting the qualification requirements of OPM’s Operating Manual: Qualifications Standards for General Schedule Positions (or an agency-specific qualification standard approved by OPM, if applicable), time-in-grade restrictions under 5 CFR 300, subpart F, and having a performance rating of record of fully successful (or equivalent) or higher with no critical element of the performance standard being rated at less than fully successful (required by 5 CFR 335.104). The employee should discuss what is required for promotion with his/her supervisor.
Once the employee competes for and is placed in the career ladder position, there is no additional competition as the employee progresses through the grade levels of the ladder. A higher level position is not created for the employee as he or she progresses; it is the same position with the employee now compensated at the higher grade and taking on additional responsibilities to reflect the additional proficiencies and skills.
Employees do not have a “right” to a career ladder promotion. Although the employee might meet the eligibility requirements for promotion to the next grade of the ladder, the agency determines when to effect the promotion, unless the agency has an established policy or a collective bargaining agreement stipulating when career ladder promotions are effective upon meeting eligibility requirements.
The agency may choose not to effect a career ladder promotion for a variety of reasons, including for budgetary or program reasons, unless the agency has an established policy or collective bargaining agreement provision stipulating when career ladder promotions are effected.
The determinations to create a career-ladder position, the grade levels of the progression, the duty criteria, the qualification standards, and performance levels required for the career ladder progression are not negotiable, as these are management rights and/or prescribed by law or regulation. The procedures that an agency is required to follow in implementing these determinations might be negotiable, depending on the proposal.
An employee may grieve an alleged failure to comply with a law, rule, regulation, or bargaining agreement provision through a negotiated grievance procedure if one is available, provided the action is not specifically excluded from the grievance procedure by its terms, if “but for” that violation, the agency would have promoted the employee.
If covered under an agency administrative grievance procedure, failure to be promoted could be raised under such a procedure. Failure to be promoted is not an adverse action, and absent a claim of discrimination or whistleblower reprisal it could not be appealed to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or Merit Systems Protection Board.
Note: This information pertains only to positions subject to Chapters 51 and 53 of Title 5, United States Code. Positions exempt from these chapters by statute—for example, certain alternative personnel systems (see Section 7 in this chapter)—establish their own systems under their specific statutory authority.
Executive Core Qualifications
The Executive Core Qualifications (ECQ) are required for entry to the Senior Executive Service (SES) and are used by many departments and agencies in selection, performance management, and leadership development for management and executive positions. Thus, developing skills in these areas can be crucial for individuals who aspire to the SES ranks. They are:
- Leading Change—The ability to bring about strategic change, both within and outside the organization, to meet organizational goals. Inherent to this ECQ is the ability to establish an organizational vision and to implement it in a continuously changing environment.
- Leading People—The ability to lead people toward meeting the organization’s vision, mission, and goals. Inherent to this ECQ is the ability to provide an inclusive workplace that fosters the development of others, facilitates cooperation and teamwork, and supports constructive resolution of conflicts.
- Results Driven—The ability to meet organizational goals and customer expectations. Inherent to this ECQ is the ability to make decisions that produce high-quality results by applying technical knowledge, analyzing problems, and calculating risks.
- Business Acumen—The ability to manage human, financial, and information resources strategically.
- Building Coalitions—The ability to build coalitions internally and with other federal agencies, state and local governments, non-profit and private sector organizations, foreign governments, or international organizations to achieve common goals.
In addition, a set of competencies is considered fundamental to the SES. These are interpersonal skills, oral communication, integrity/honesty, written communication, continual learning and public service motivation.
Also see www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/senior-executive-service.