Survey Manual

370.410.2 - Career Development Program

This chapter provides policy and guidance for managers, employees, and servicing personnel offices regarding the USGS Career Development Program.

4/12/02

OPR: Office of the Director, Office of Human Resources

1. Purpose. This chapter provides policy and guidance for managers, employees, and servicing personnel offices regarding the USGS Career Development Program.

The USGS Career Development Program is a unique training program that enables managers to provide career change opportunities to Department of Interior and/or USGS employees who are in positions at the GS-9 through GS-15 levels (or equivalent wage grade). The bureau benefits by gaining greater flexibility in meeting its staffing needs through the reassignment of personnel skilled in certain occupational series into other occupational series for which they can be trained and the bureau has a need. Employees benefit by having the opportunity to acquire different skill sets and continue their careers in different fields.

Through the Career Development Program, eligible employees apply for entry trainee positions. If selected, they are placed in the entry position and receive training specifically designed to qualify them for the target position at the completion of the training period. Upon successful completion of the training program, the employee is reassigned or promoted to the target position. If the target position has a career ladder, the employee may then be promoted non-competitively to the next grade in the career ladder when eligible up to the highest grade level of the career ladder.

Additional objectives of the Career Development Program are:

  • Provide employees an opportunity to obtain the qualifications needed for successful performance in a different career field.
  • Assist managers and supervisors in fulfilling USGS strategic and workforce restructuring goals, organization staffing plans, and position management responsibilities.
  • Help USGS adapt its workforce to changes resulting from reorganizations, restructuring, delayering, reclassification, and transfer of functions.
  • Ensure the best possible utilization of the existing USGS Federal workforce in meeting current and projected staffing needs.
  • Offer a broader base for selection of personnel for occupations, enhance diversity, assist with excessive turnover in a particular occupation, help with recruitment for specific occupations that usually have a shortage of qualified candidates, and serve as a retention tool.
  • Provide opportunities for employees who would otherwise be separated because of reductions in force and/or help minimize the need for grade and pay retention.
  • Motivate employees and create a climate conducive to higher morale and productivity.
  • Further the goals established by the USGS Affirmative Action Plans for women, minorities, and people with disabilities.

2. Authority. This program is based on 5 CFR 410.

3. Effective Date. This chapter supersedes all other USGS policies, procedures, and guidance on the same subject and remains in effect until superseded.

4. Definitions.

The entry position is the Career Development Program opportunity for which the employee applies for and will be placed during the training period.

A bridge position is the position a trainee will be placed in if he/she does not meet the OPM positive education requirements for the entry/target positions. To use the bridge position option, the career development training opportunity must lend itself to a bridge position and there must be a reasonable likelihood that during the training period the applicant can obtain the remaining formal education needed to qualify for the target position upon completion of the Program. Therefore, a minimum level of target position coursework may be required for consideration for the bridge position.

For example, a Cartographer opportunity lends itself to a bridge position of Physical Scientist. The entry position will be advertised as both a Cartographer and a Physical Scientist. 
The vacancy announcement may look like:

Entry Position: Cartographer, GS-1370-9/11
Bridge Position: Physical Scientist, GS-1301-9/11
Target position: Cartographer, GS-1370-11/12
Career Ladder: Cartographer, GS-1370-13

Consideration for the Bridge Position: Applicants who do not meet the full positive education requirements for the entry position of Cartographer, GS-1370-9/11, but possess at least 24 semester hours of the required Cartographer coursework may be considered for the bridge position of Physical Scientist, GS-1301-9/11, provided that they possess the following Physical Scientist qualification requirements: (a) a degree in physical science, engineering, or mathematics that included 24 semester hours in physical science and/or related engineering science such as mechanics, dynamics, properties of materials, and electronic; or a combination of education and experience-education equivalent to one of the majors shown in (a) that included at least 24 semester hours in physical science and/or related engineering science, plus appropriate experience or additional education; and (b) one year of specialized experience equivalent to the next lower grade.

The target position is the position for which the trainee is developed and will be reassigned or promoted to upon successful completion of the training period. The target position can only be one grade interval higher than the entry or bridge grade at which the candidate is selected.

The career ladder of the target position identifies the range of grades to which the employee may be promoted non-competitively after being placed in the target position.

The entry position, bridge position, target position, and career ladder cannot be higher than the GS-15 level.

5. Responsibilities.

The Servicing Personnel Offices (SPOs) are responsible for:

  • Implementing the Career Development Program within their servicing areas. 
  • Publicizing and promoting the Program.
  • Advising, assisting, and counseling managers, supervisors, and employees on all aspects of the Program.
  • Assisting managers and supervisors: (a) identify Career Development Program opportunities, entry and target positions, job qualification requirements, and appropriate career ladders/paths; and (b) prepare Career Development Program position descriptions.
  • Working with the Office of Employee Development to: (a) assist managers and supervisors develop and evaluate Career Development Program Training Plans and identify appropriate training sources; (b) determine the training needs of managers and supervisors regarding career development and ensure that the training needs are promptly met; and (c) conduct an orientation session for the trainee and manager/supervisor.
  • Working with the manager and supervisor to determine the necessary length of training.
  • Counseling managers/supervisors and trainees on pay retention provisions, if applicable.
  • Assisting the manager and supervisor to identify the criteria by which the trainee's performance, progress, and training will be evaluated.
  • Assisting managers and supervisors to provide career counseling to employees in the Program.
  • Reviewing evaluations; conducting post-evaluations with the supervisor and trainee (if needed) to assess the Training Plan and satisfaction with the Career Development Program; filing the evaluations in the trainee's Career Development Program training file; and ensuring that the training program and the final evaluation are completed in a timely manner.

The Servicing Personnel Officer is responsible for:

  • Approving all noncompetitive selections for training under this Program.

Managers and Supervisors are responsible for:

  • Becoming familiar with the objectives and procedures of the Career Development Program and suggesting Program improvements to their SPOs.
  • Identifying vacant positions which offer potential for Career Development Opportunities, entry and target positions, and the career ladder of the target position.
  • Preparing Career Development Program position descriptions with assistance from the SPO if needed.
  • Developing and evaluating Career Development Program Training Plans. Reviewing the adequacy of the training plan on a regular basis to ensure successful development of the trainee. Working with the SPO to modify the plan, if necessary (e.g., to accommodate unforeseen events).
  • Providing career counseling for their employees and contacting the appropriate SPO and OED representatives for assistance in counseling employees on career opportunities and related matters.
  • Evaluating the trainee's performance, progress, and training on a quarterly basis, discussing the evaluations with the trainee, and providing copies to the SPO.
  • Certifying on the final evaluation whether the trainee successfully completed the provisions of the training plan and thus should be placed in the target position.

The Office of Employee Development (OED) is responsible for:

  • Working with the SPOs to: (a) assist managers and supervisors develop and evaluate Career Development Program Training Plans and identify appropriate training sources; (b) determine the training needs of managers and supervisors regarding career development and ensure that training needs are promptly met; and (c) conduct a formal orientation session for the trainee and manager/supervisor.

Employees are responsible for: applying for Career Development Program vacancies and, if selected, adhering to Program requirements as documented in the vacancy announcement and the Career Development Program Training Plan.

6. Coverage. To be eligible, the applicant must:

  • Be a current Department of Interior employee serving under a career or career-conditional appointment, or a limited or excepted appointment that provides for noncompetitive conversion to a permanent appointment. Management may limit opportunities to USGS employees who meet this criteria.
  • Be in a position at the GS-9 through GS-15 level (or equivalent wage grade). 
  • Apply for a Career Development Program position that has an entry level at the same or lower grade level of the position currently held by the employee.
  • Have a current annual performance rating equivalent to "Results Achieved."
  • For entry positions, meet applicable OPM positive education requirements and selective factors stated in the Qualification Requirements section of the vacancy announcement. For bridge positions, meet all OPM education and experience requirements.

7. Advertisement Process. Vacancy Announcements will include: (a) a brief description of the Career Development Program; (b) the title, series, and grade of the entry position (and bridge position, if applicable), the target position, and the career ladder; and (c) the eligibility requirements.

For bridge positions, the announcement will state that if an applicant does not meet the positive education qualification requirements for the entry position, he/she may be considered for the bridge position if qualified. If applicable, the announcement will also state the minimum level of target position coursework to be considered for the bridge position.

8. Application Process. Employees may not be promoted into Career Development Program positions. They must apply for reassignments or change to lower grades in order to be considered for Career Development Program opportunities.

The CDP does not require that trainees sign mobility agreements or be subject to relocation. Although mobility agreements are not mandatory under the Program, if an employee voluntarily submits an application for a specific CDP opportunity that requires a mobility agreement, is outside his/her local commuting area, or requires temporary rotational assignments, the terms of each situation as documented in the vacancy announcement apply. Employees applying for CDP opportunities that require mobility agreements or temporary rotational assignments or that are outside their local commuting area do so voluntarily. Candidates who are selected non-competitively for these types of CDP opportunities and voluntarily accept them will abide by the terms of the provisions of each situation as determined by management and documented in the Training Plan.

9. Qualifications. For the Career Development Program entry position, applicants need only meet the OPM positive education requirements and applicable selective factors specified in the vacancy announcement. They do not need to meet the complete OPM general and/or specialized experience qualification requirements. The training received through the Program will be tailored to help them meet the general and/or specialized experience requirements needed to qualify for the target position at the end of the training period.

For bridge positions, applicants need to meet the complete OPM qualification requirements. The training received through the program will be tailored to help trainees meet the positive education and general/specialized experience requirements needed to qualify for the target position at the end of the training period.

For purposes of qualifying for the target position, 1 month of training received while in the Career Development Program may equal 2 months of experience.

10. Review and Referral Process. Resumes are reviewed by the SPO for eligibility and qualifications. Eligible candidates are referred to the selecting official for consideration. The ratings are based on the applicant's resume and responses to the Online Automated Recruitment System questions included in the entry position vacancy announcement which are designed to measure an applicant's demonstrated potential to perform successfully in the target position. If a large number of applicants apply, thus making distinction among applicants necessary, the top scoring candidates are referred to the selecting official. The SPO will work with managers on each Career Development Program recruitment action to determine the cut-off score.

11. Selections. Selections will be made in accordance with merit promotion procedures. Only in special circumstances may candidates be selected non-competitively and a vacancy announcement does not need to be issued. An example would be when, during a reorganization, organizational needs make it necessary to reassign employees to positions in occupations for which they do not meet the minimum qualification requirements. Noncompetitive selection may be made only when the target position has no known or anticipated potential for promotion greater than that of the position the employee currently holds. The Servicing Personnel Officer must approve all noncompetitive selections for training under this Program.

12. Pay Retention. Employees who apply and are selected for a Career Development Program opportunity at a lower grade level than the position they currently hold are entitled to pay retention if they are selected and their existing salary cannot be accommodated within the salary range of the lower grade. Upon completion or termination of the Program, pay retention continues until the employee is no longer eligible for pay retention.

13. Training Plan. Once a selection is made and before the employee can be placed in the Career Development Program entry position, the servicing personnel specialist and an OED representative will work with the supervisor and the trainee to develop the Career Development Program Training Plan. This plan must be completed within 30 days of selection. The Training Plan template may be followed when developing the plan.

The Training Plan identifies the specific training and/or education the trainee needs to fully qualify for the target position at the end of the training period. It focuses on the differences between the qualifications the trainee brings to the Program and the qualifications needed to fully qualify for the target position. The trainee may participate in rotational training assignments in other offices and/or formal training courses either during work hours or after hours, depending on his/her developmental needs as indicated in the Training Plan.

The length of the Training Plan depends on the background of the trainee. The maximum length of the Training Plan is 2 years. However through consultation with the SPO, the training period may be extended in individual cases where special circumstances warrant (e.g., illness of the trainee, unavailability of critical training, etc.).

The Training Plan may be terminated in writing at any time before the end of the training period by the trainee or the supervisor.

  • The trainee may request to terminate the agreement with the approval of the supervisor and the SPO.
  • Management may request termination of the agreement should the trainee fail to meet the satisfactory performance requirements or the provisions of the Training Plan.

14. Orientation Session. At the beginning of the trainee's Career Development Program assignment, an orientation session will be held with the personnel specialist, OED representative, manager, and trainee to discuss issues such as information about the Program, contacts, the organization in which the trainee will work, how the Career Development Program position fits in the organization, the trainee's work schedule, the conditions of the Training Plan, expectations and performance evaluation criteria, and any other information applicable to the trainee's specific Career Development Program assignment.

15. Evaluation Process. On a quarterly basis, the supervisor evaluates the trainee's performance, progress, and training and documents such on the performance plan or an attachment to the performance plan. The SPO will work with the supervisor to identify the criteria by which performance will be measured. The Training Plan will be linked to the performance plan to measure the critical elements necessary for successful performance. The trainee evaluates the training received and provides comments. The evaluations are provided to the SPO for review, follow up if necessary, and filing in the trainee's Career Development Program file. USGS annual performance appraisal requirements apply to Career Development Program trainees.

16. Advancement. If the Career Development Program assignment and Training Plan provide for advancement opportunities, a trainee may be promoted while in the Program or upon conversion to the target position. Time-in-grade restrictions apply. In addition, while in the Program, trainees hired into bridge positions may be converted to the professional series once they meet the education requirements.

17. Completion/Termination of the Training Plan. The trainee must satisfactorily complete the training prescribed in the Training Plan to be placed in the target position. The supervisor will submit the final evaluation report to the SPO with a statement certifying whether the trainee successfully completed the Training Plan requirements.

Upon successful completion of the Program, the trainee may be reassigned or promoted to the target position provided he/she fully meets time-in grade restrictions and the OPM qualification requirements for the target position. At this point, the employee is no longer in the Career Development Program. If the target position has a career ladder, the employee may then be promoted non-competitively to the next grade in the career ladder when eligible up to the highest grade level of the career ladder.

If a trainee does not satisfactorily complete the Program for any reason, those who were reassigned into the Program will be placed in a position equivalent in grade and tenure to the position held before selection into the Program. For those trainees who volunteered to take a change to a lower grade to participate in the Program, all efforts will be made to re-promote the trainee to a position equivalent in grade and tenure to the one held prior to entering the Program. If an equivalent position is not available, the employee will be reassigned to a position at the lower grade.