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Human Resources and Organizational Management

 

Human Resources and Organizational Management

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Federal Pay Grades

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is the government department responsible for managing payments and benefits for all federal employees. It guarantees fairness in compensation by using the same pay tables for all jobs in a particular area. These tables generally divide wages into grades, which depend on an employees experience and education. Within each grade are steps, which represent periodic increases that move workers closer toward the next level.

General Schedule (GS) Standards & Grades

The General Schedule employs Grades to ensure that similar work receives similar pay. Grades are determined (classified) by comparing the work done to one or more official Standards.

The majority of position classification standards are developed by OPM and are applicable to occupations common to many or all Federal agencies. Standards for positions existing in one or a few agencies may be developed by OPM, or by a lead agency, under the guidance of OPM. All position classification standards are formally issued by OPM and distributed by the Government Printing Office, through subscription, to Federal agencies and other subscribers. Published standards remain in effect until they are abolished or replaced by OPM.

Classification standards usually include a definition of the kind of work covered by the standard; background information, such as descriptions of typical kinds of assignments found in the occupation(s) covered and definitions of terms; official titles; and criteria for determining proper grade levels. Some standards, usually referred to as series coverage standards, do not contain specific grade level criteria and refer the user to other standards or guides for grading guidance. Some broad standards are issued as grade level guides, which provide criteria for determining the proper grade level of work in a number of occupational series. There are a number of possible ways of presenting, for purposes of analysis and classification, the essential characteristics of work. For this reason, classification standards and guides have different formats and include a variety of evaluation elements.

For a more complete understanding of the content and use of classification standards in determining grade levels, please consult the OPM document, Introduction to the Position Classification Standards.

By factoring in the relative difficulty of nine areas of concern (work knowledge, level of supervision, detail of guidelines, complexity of work, impact, personal contacts and purpose, physical demands, and work environment), a determination can be made regarding the difficulty of the position, and, therefore, the appropriate pay grade level (01-15).

The GS-01 through GS-07 range generally marks entry-level positions, while mid-level positions are in the GS-08 to GS-12 range and top-level positions (commonly front-line or mid-level supervisors, high-level technical specialists, or physicians) are in the GS-13 to GS-15 range. A new GS employee is normally employed in the first step of their assigned GS grade, although the employer has discretion to, as a recruiting incentive, authorize initial appointment at a higher step (other agencies may place the employee at a higher grade).


Within-Grade Steps

Each General Schedule (GS) grade has 10 steps. Within-grade increases (WGIs) or step increases are periodic increases in a GS employee's rate of basic pay from one step of the grade of his or her position to the next higher step of that grade.

WGIs apply only to GS employees occupying permanent positions. "Permanent position" means a position filled by an employee whose appointment is not designated as temporary and does not have a definite time limitation of 1 year or less. "Permanent position" includes a position to which an employee is promoted on a temporary or term basis for at least 1 year.

Employees who occupy permanent positions earn WGIs upon meeting the following three requirements established by law:

  • The employee's performance must be at an acceptable level of competence. To meet this requirement, an employee's most recent performance rating of record must be at least Level 3 ("Fully Successful" or equivalent).
  • The employee must have completed the required waiting period for advancement to the next higher step.
  • The employee must not have received an "equivalent increase" in pay during the waiting period. (See 5 CFR 531.407.)

 

Required waiting periods for within-grade step increases can be found on the OPM website .

In addition to WGIs, Federal employees may also qualify for Quality Step Increases (QSI). A QSI is a faster-than-normal WGI used to reward employees at any GS grade level who display high quality performance. To be eligible for a QSI, employees must:

  • be below step 10 of their grade level;
  • have received the highest rating available under their performance appraisal system;
  • have demonstrated sustained performance of high quality; and
  • have not received a QSI within the preceding 52 consecutive calendar weeks