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Classification Q & A
  1. What is a position description (PD) and why do Ineed one?
  2. What should be in a PD?
  3. Who determines what duties are to be assigned to a position?
  4. What counts in classifying a position?
  5. What are some issues that are not considered when determining the grade of a position?
  6. How is the position classification (i.e. title, series and grade) of my job determined?
  7. What is a major duty?
  8. When applying the 25 percent rule for determining the highest level of work performed in a position, what does "time" mean? Is it a pay period, a month, a quarter, a year?
  9. What is a career ladder?
  10. Am I guaranteed a promotion to the highest grade in my career ladder?
  11. What is the career ladder for my job?
  12. What are position classification standards, guides, and job family standards?
  13. What is a mixed position?
  14. How long should a PD be?
  15. Who writes the PD?
  16. What is considered an adequate PD?
  17. Can I be assigned work that is not described in my PD?
  18. What do I do when I do not believe my PD is accurate?
  19. What do I do when I do not believe my position is accurately classified as to title, series or grade?
  20. What is a position classification appeal?
  21. What classification issues may be appealed?
  22. Do I have the right to appeal the classification of my position?
  23. How can there be positions with similar work but different classifications?
  24. What is a Standard PD (SPD)?
  25. Are all Federal Employees entitled to a copy of their PD?
  26. Where can I get a hard copy of the Federal classification publications such as the standards and functional guides?
  27. What are Job Grading Standards?
  28. How does OPM change draft classification publications into final, official issuances?
  29. What criteria does OPM use to determine which series or occupation to study?
  30. Can a Federal Wage System (FWS) employee supervise a General Schedule (GS) employee?
  31. Can job titles be changed/modified at the discretion of an agency, office, or individual?
  32. What is OPM's definition of accretion of duties?
  33. Classification and qualifications the same thing?

1. What is a position description (PD) and why do I need one?

The PD is the official record of management assigned duties and responsibilities. It also documents the organizational placement of the position. It is the foundation document used to assign a position's title, series, and grade level. The officially assigned title, series, and grade governs the base pay the employee receives.

2. What should be in a PD?

The PD should describe the regular and recurring major duties and responsibilities assigned to a position. A PD does not spell out in detail every possible activity performed during the work day.

3. Who determines what duties are to be assigned to a position?

Managers and supervisors are responsible for determining what duties and responsibilities are assigned to each position. Work assignments available to be performed by employees within the USGS are directly dependent upon the programs funded through Congressional appropriations and agreements with other Federal agencies, State and local governments, academic institutions and other organizations.

4. What counts in classifying a position?

Position classification is a process through which Federal positions are assigned to a pay system, series, title, and grade or band, based on consistent application of position classification standards.

Classification determinations are based on:

  • the work assigned to positions by the responsible management official;
  • the complexity of the work;
  • the level of assigned responsibility;
  • the outcome of products and/or services;
  • the knowledge and skills necessary to successfully perform the assigned work;
  • the proper application of applicable position classification guidelines such as standards and functional guides.

5. What are some issues that are not considered when determining the grade of a position?

The grade determining factors in position classification do NOT include any of the following:

  • the education and/or certification level of the employee in the position;
  • how well the employee performs the work;
  • the accuracy and honesty required of the employee by the position;
  • the volume of the work produced by the employee in the position;
  • the employee's length of service; or
  • the employee's security clearance.

6. How is the position classification (i.e. title, series and grade) of my job determined?

The major duties and responsibilities of a position are analyzed and evaluated using position classification standards and guides issued by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). These standards and guides are available to all Federal employees at http://www.opm.gov/fedclass/index.htm. Applying OPM principles and rules, the Human Resources (HR) Specialist determines the proper title, series, and grade. When a position includes major duties evaluated at different grade levels, the final title, series, and grade are normally assigned based upon the highest level work assigned to and performed by the employee for the majority of time. In some instances, a major duty that is performed at least 25 percent or more of an employee's work time may be title, series, and grade determining.

7. What is a major duty?

Major duties are statements of the important, regular and recurring duties and responsibilities assigned to a position. A major duty can control the title, series, and/or grade if it is officially assigned to the position on a regular and recurring basis for at least 25% or more of the employee’s work time, and requires a higher level knowledge and skill in order to perform the work. This knowledge and skill requirement would be used as a basis for recruitment if the position were vacant. This concept is informally referred to as the 25 percent rule.

8. When applying the 25 percent rule for determining the highest level of work performed in a position, what does “time” mean? Is it a pay period, a month, a quarter, a year?

When applying the 25 percent rule, the "time" can be a week, a month, a quarter, and even a fiscal year as the work is typically performed for a particular occupation (e.g., an accountant who works 100 percent of the time during one quarter of the fiscal year to close the "books").

9. What is a career ladder?

All positions in the Federal service are assigned a career ladder or what has been referred to in the past as a full performance level (FPL). The grade range assigned to a position’s career ladder is simply a measure of the work typically available in an organization to be performed in order to accomplish the mission. Noncompetitive career ladder promotions may be made up to and through the highest grade level in the career ladder. Movement from a position with one career ladder to a position with a higher career ladder requires open and fair competition, such as a vacancy announcement or comparable competitive process.

10. Am I guaranteed a promotion to the highest grade in my career ladder?

There is no guarantee that any employee will be promoted within or to the highest grade in their career ladder. Many factors affect advancement for employees. These factors range from those that are incumbent-dependent such as the individual?s ability to successfully perform the work to those that are organization-based such as the direction of the bureau programs, available funding, and the need for the work to be performed..

11. What is the career ladder for my job?

The USGS occupational career ladders are found in Instructional Memoranda OOP-03-002, Interim Guidance on U.S. Geological Survey career ladders, April 2003. These career ladders were developed for occupations within the USGS and are generally applicable to most positions within the specific occupations. Individual positions may have career ladders higher or lower than those documented in the Instructional Memoranda based upon the specific nature of the work in the organization where the position is located. If you have questions regarding your career ladder contact your supervisor or your HR Specialist.

12. What are position classification standards, guides, and job family standards?

Position classification standards, guides, and job family standards are the evaluation tools issued by the Office of Personnel Management to be used by the HR Specialist when evaluating the work of positions. Standards and guides document the grade level criteria for work and provide the basis for the assignment of a title, series and grade. A position classification standard typically applies to a single occupation such as Secretary or Contract Specialist. A guide addresses work that is not occupation-specific and applies to work performed by a number of occupations. An example of a guide is the Research Grade Evaluation Guide that is used to evaluate research work regardless of whether the research is being performed by a Biologist, Hydrologist, Geologist, etc. A job family standard addresses a number of related occupations within an occupational family. An example is the Job Family Standard for Technical Work for in the Physical Sciences Group that applies to the following occupations: GS-1311, Physical Science Technician; GS-1316, Hydrologic Technician; GS-1341, Meteorological Technician; GS-1371, Cartographic Technician; and GS-1374, Geodetic Technician occupations.

13. What is a mixed position?

A mixed position has major duties that are covered by more than one position classification standard or guide. A good example is an Administrative Officer position that performs multiple types of work (budget, program analysis, procurement, etc.). Each type of work must be evaluated using the most applicable position classification standard, guide, or job family standard.

Another example found in the USGS is a position that performs research or development work in addition to non-research assignments. In this situation, the research or development component of the employee’s assignment would be evaluated through the panel process using the Research Grade Evaluation Guide or the Equipment Development Grade Evaluation Guide as appropriate. The remainder of the work would be evaluated using the appropriate position classification standard or guide such as the Job Family Standard for the Evaluation of Professional Work in the Physical Sciences.

14. How long should a PD be?

The goal of the USGS is to streamline and simplify our position classification process. With this in mind, a PD that addresses only the major duties and responsibilities of a position should not be more than 2-3 pages in length. Based on the concepts explained above, a PD should describe only major duties. It is not necessary to describe in detail the specific steps or tasks performed to carry out a major duty.

15. Who writes the PD?

Preparation of a PD should be a shared responsibility between the employee and supervisor, but the supervisor is ultimately responsible for decisions on its content. In the USGS the automated position classification system, FastClass, is available to assist managers and supervisors in preparing PDs. FastClass houses the PDBuilder and a Standard PD Library that helps to simplify and streamline the position classification process. FastClass is accessible from the People Web page.

16. What is considered an adequate PD?

A PD is considered adequate if it documents the major duties, responsibilities, and organizational relationships of a job such that an individual knowledgeable of the occupational field, the organization's functions, programs, and procedures, and position classification criteria, principles and policies, can make an informed classification determination. Only major duties, critical skills, and other important aspects of a position that may affect the final classification of a position should be included in the description. Minor duties, those that would not affect the classification of the position, are not usually included in the PD.

17. Can I be assigned work that is not described in my PD?

Yes. All work assignments do not have to be spelled out in a PD. Managers and supervisors have the right to assign work to employees under their supervision, and employees have the responsibility to perform assigned work. Employees frequently perform work that is not described in their PD. However, if the assignment becomes regular, recurring, and a major duty, management is responsible for insuring the activity is properly documented in the official PD.

18. What do I do when I do not believe my PD is accurate?

Employees should work with their supervisor when they feel their PD is no longer accurate. One approach is to draft the proposed revisions to the PD in accordance with the criteria outlined above and provide it to the supervisor.

19. What do I do when I do not believe my position is accurately classified as to title, series or grade?

Employees are frequently assigned new or different work that may or may not change the classification of their position in terms of title, series or grade. Therefore, your first responsibility is to become knowledgeable of the OPM criteria that govern the classification of your position. Your servicing Human Resources Office can provide you or your supervisor with any of the position classification criteria used to determine the final classification of your position, or you can access the information at the OPM Classification web page referenced above. Should you still feel your position is not accurately classified, discuss it with your supervisor. Your supervisor may consult an HR Specialist for advice and/or submit a revised PD to the servicing Human Resources Office for classification.

20. What is a position classification appeal?

A position classification appeal is a written request by an employee to OPM and/or the agency (i.e. DOI) to review his/her pay category, series, and/or grade for his/her position.

Further information on position classification appeals and procedures are available on the DOI web pages at http://www.doi.gov/hrm/pmanager/classfaq.html or OPM Web pages at www.opm.gov.

21. What classification issues may be appealed?

An employee may seek a change in grade, occupational series, and/or pay category. An employee may seek to change his/her pay category in the General Schedule (GS) to the Federal Wage System (FWS) or to change his/her FWS pay category to the GS. An employee may not appeal any of the following:

  • the content or accuracy of their official PD;
  • the accuracy of a classification standard or guide;
  • the classification of positions to which they are not officially assigned; or
  • the classification of positions to which they are detailed or temporarily promoted.

22. Do I have the right to appeal the classification of my position?

Yes. All employees have the right to file a position classification appeal at any time. Under this process an employee may appeal the title, series, grade or pay plan of their current position. You may file an appeal with the USGS, Office of Human Resources, Bureau Human Resources Officer; the Department of Interior, Director of the Office of Human Resources; or the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). You may only appeal to one level within the Department. You may not appeal to the USGS and then later to the Department or vice versa. After appealing to the USGS or the Department, you may also appeal to OPM. If you appeal first to OPM - bypassing Department appeal rights--you may not later appeal to the USGS or the Department since OPM decisions are final and binding.

When filing a classification appeal, a copy of the official PD will be requested along with a statement regarding its accuracy. If the employee believes the PD is not accurate, the employee must provide his or her own description of the work being performed and a statement describing what steps have been taken to have the official PD changed.

23. How can there be positions with similar work but different classifications?

Positions are classified based upon the work assigned. It is important to note that it is the position that is classified, not the person in the job. There are several possible reasons why apparently similar positions are classified differently. The positions are actually different. While the tasks might seem to be similar, the complexity of the work, as well as the level of responsibility, authority, level of contacts, purpose of contacts, and so on, are different and justify different classifications. The description of one of the positions may be inaccurate, outdated or classified incorrectly. As a result, the classification of every position should be based on and comparison with relevant OPM classification standards, not with other positions in the organization.

24. What is a Standard PD (SPD)?

An SPD is used for multiple positions having the same pay plan, series, title, and grade (i.e., classification). SPDs can cover positions in more than one organization and/or in more than one geographical location. When minor differences in actual assignments occur these minor differences can be documented in individual performance plans.

25. Are all Federal employees entitled to a copy of their PD?

Employees typically have ready access to their PD. When a new employee enters on duty or when an employee changes from one PD to another they will receive a copy of the PD attached to the Notification of Personnel Action (SF-50). In addition, the servicing Human Resources Office maintains copies of all active PDs.

26. Where can I get a hard copy of the Federal classification publications such as the standards and functional guides?

OPM no longer publishes hard copy publications. All publications are available on the internet at http://www.opm.gov/fedclass/html/gsclass.htm.

27. What are Job Grading Standards?

Job Grading Standards are position classification standards for the Federal Wage System (FWS). The FWS applies to trades, crafts, and manual labor positions in the Federal Government. Job Grading standards and functional guides are official OPM publications for use in classifying FWS positions. FWS Job Grading Standards cover single occupations and FWS Functional Guides consist of classification guidance that cover multiple occupations These FWS publications are accessible on the OPM web pages at www.opm.gov.

28. How does OPM change draft classification publications into final, official issuances?

OPM distributes draft standards and guides to a wide range of interested parties for review, test application, and comment. These parties include all agencies, unions (at the national level), applicable Government organizations such as the Chief Financial Officers Council and the Chief Information Officer Council, and groups and societies representing Federal occupational interests. Additionally, the OPM Web pages at www.opm.gov contain the draft classification documents for general employee and public comment.

OPM normally receives numerous responses from reviewers. OPM considers and evaluates all comments on draft standard. The OPM web page announces the final publication.

29. What criteria does OPM use to determine which series or occupation to study?

Annually, OPM asks Federal agencies to identify which standards or series need attention and why. OPM considers a number of factors (e.g., population size and degree of technological change) to determine its study schedule. Agencies can bring their special requests for studies to OPM at any time.

30. Can a Federal Wage System (FWS) employee supervise a General Schedule (GS) employee?

Yes. It is not unusual for an FWS employee to supervise a GS employee or vice versa. This practice typically occurs in work situations such as maintenance and facility management.

31. Can job titles be changed/modified at the discretion of an agency, office, or individual?

Classification titles are normally specified in position classification standards. There are, however, a few series (e.g., the GS-0301 series, GS-0303 series, GS-1001 series, GS-1101 series) that permit agencies to another series.

Agencies may use what we call "organizational" titles for internal purposes. For example, a position may have a classification title of Supervisory Hydrologist, but an organizational title of "District Chief".

32. What is OPM’s definition of accretion of duties?

There is no official OPM definition of an accretion of duties. Accretion of duties occurs when the assigned work in a position significantly and permanently changes because of additional new work and responsibilities.

Assignment of work is a management responsibility. Infrequent or occasional assignments of new work and/or responsibilities do not result in a need to reclassify a position. However, when a manager has new work to assign on a regular basis, it is advisable to review the situation and consult with HR officials to discuss:

  • What is the grade level of the new work and impact of that determination;
  • The grade levels of existing positions in the organization;
  • Whether or not the new work could be assigned to another position in the organization;
  • Whether or not competition is appropriate in filling the revised position.
  • Agency employment and merit placement programs prescribe competitive and noncompetitive procedures for hiring, promoting, demoting, detailing, and reassigning employees.

33. Are classification and qualifications the same thing?

"Classification" and "qualifications” are terms people often confuse. Here is a key way to clarify the difference between the terms "classification" and "qualifications".

Classification pertains to a position or job and the evaluation process that determines the appropriate pay system, occupational series, title, and grade/pay band.

Qualifications pertain to a person and describe the knowledge, skills, and/or abilities a person needs to be eligible for and successful in a job/position or a particular occupation. OPM publishes minimum qualifications for white collar jobs in the Federal service in the OPM Operating Manual of Qualifications Standards for General Schedule Positions. For positions in the Federal Wage System (FWS), OPM provides guidance on qualification requirements in The Job Qualifications System for Trades and Crafts Occupations. HR specialists use these manuals to determine whether applicants meet the minimum requirements for positions being filled in the Federal service. These manuals are not intended to provide detailed information about the specific qualification requirements for individual positions. Such information, e.g., a description of the specialized experience requirements for a particular position, is normally included in the vacancy announcement that Federal agencies issue when they have a position to fill.

The OPM web pages at www.opm.gov contain the classification standards and guidance and the various publications dealing with qualification requirements.




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