Fathoming federal job classifications

A reader writes:

I am a new subscriber to Federal Computer Week, where I have read your column ("Rethinking pay," June 3), and I thought you might be able to offer a resource to explain the position classification system to a newbie.

I am a recent addition to the information technology world and was able to offer my services in the post-Sept. 11 disaster recovery effort to Lehman Brothers Inc., a Wall Street firm that lost all of its offices and equipment in the attack.

That recovery effort has ended now, and I would really like to be able to assist in the expanding IT efforts of the government, but it is hard to figure out where to begin. The recent IT online job fair was limited to "GS-2210 IT specialists in varying areas at grade levels GS-7 through GS-13. The next such event would be expanded to the two highest grade levels, through GS-15". That quote is from an FCW story, "Second IT job fair in the works."

Henry Kissinger once said that when he contemplated the prospect of becoming involved in the governance of the international soccer federation, it made him "nostalgic for the Middle East." For me, reading that description of the labor grade classifications makes me nostalgic about the complexities of Microsoft Corp. operating systems. In a way, they were easier to fathom.

Can you help me out with a reference to a source to understand all this? I don't know if I fit into this stuff at all yet. Are they looking to recruit current federal employees?

{bold} Milt replies:

The General Schedule pay system is the main pay system of the federal government and covers most professional, administrative, technical and clerical positions. It consists of 15 grades, from grade 1 to grade 15, which form the basis for grouping positions according to similarities in duties, responsibilities and qualification requirements.

Most position classification standards are developed by the Office of Personnel Management and are applicable to occupations common to many or all federal agencies. The idea is to ensure that people doing the same job earn the same pay, no matter which government agency they work for.

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 covered; official titles; and criteria for determining proper grade levels.

The following are definitions of basic terms relating to position classification standards.

* General Schedule — The broadest subdivision of the classification system. It includes a range of levels of difficulty and responsibility for positions in grades GS-1 to GS-15. Most positions above grade GS-15 are included in the Senior Executive Service (SES), which is outside of the General Schedule.

* Occupational group — A major subdivision of the General Schedule, embracing a group of associated or related occupations. For example, the accounting and budget group is GS-500; the engineering and architecture group is GS-800; the general administrative, clerical and office services group is GS-300. OPM's "Handbook of Occupational Groups and Families" provides more details.

* Series — A subdivision of an occupational group consisting of positions that are similar in regard to a specialized line of work and qualification requirements. Series are designated by a title and number such as the accounting series, GS-510; the secretary series, GS-318; and the microbiology series, GS-403.

* Grade — The numerical designation, GS-1 through GS-15, that identifies the range of difficulty and responsibility, and level of qualification requirements of positions included in the General Schedule. The higher the grade, the more complex the work. OPM issues classification standards that relate grade-level definitions to specific work situations, thereby providing the basis for assigning each position the appropriate title, series and grade.

* Class of positions — All positions that are classified to the same schedule, series and grade (for example, GS-510-12) and are sufficiently alike to warrant similar treatment in personnel processes such as testing, selection, pay, transfer and promotion.

* Position — The duties and responsibilities that make up the work performed by an employee.

* Position description — The official description of assignment of duties, responsibilities and supervisory relationships to a position.

For information about how General Schedule designations translate into pay, see either the USAJobs' General Schedule pay chart for 2002 or OPM's home page for 2002 Salary Tables and Related Information.

Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at milt.zall@verizon.net.

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