Readers Favor Retaining Time-in-Grade Restrictions for Promotions

To say that some readers are cynical or do not trust the internal human resources system of the federal government would be an understatement. Most readers responding to a recent survey think that time-in-grade restrictions should be retained–despite the possibility of someone getting promoted faster. The reason: They are concerned that the person who gets promoted will be someone else.

In a recent article, we highlighted the proposal from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to change the time in grade requirements for federal promotions. Since this change could have an impact on most of our readers who are still active federal employees, we asked readers for their opinion on the proposal.

At first glance, one might think that most federal employees would prefer to have time-in-grade restrictions removed. Taking away these restrictions could mean faster promotions for the best qualified people. In other words, to put it bluntly, some readers could get promoted faster and make more money than they are currently making.

What would be the downside of that from the viewpoint of a federal employee?

But, apparently, there is more to it than a first glance reaction.

The federal government has rules and regulations that cover most aspects of the federal personnel system. There are safeguards and appeals in place that assure decisions that are made and enacted can be appealed for years and at considerable expense. With all of the emphasis on merit and procedures, one would think that employees would consider the system to be fair and reasonable.

But, while many do consider it to be fair and reasonable, the cynicism and lack of trust in the system is palpable. In response to this survey question, several hundred people took the time to send in written comments in addition to voting in the survey.

Because of this inherent lack of trust in the system, or a desire to protect the employees who have been working in government for the longest time, 50% of those responding are against removing the time-in-grade restrictions. 45% were in favor or removing the restrictions and 6% were undecided.

The reason for the rejection of the proposal is found in the answer to the second question. 53% of those responding do not think that the change would result in rewarding the most productive employees. 12% were not sure if the best would be rewarded and only 36% think the result of rewarding the most productive people would be achieved.

Here are the results:


1. Should time-in-grade restrictions for competitive promotions in federal service be removed? Total Responses Percentage Grand Total
yes 548 45% 1226
no 610 50% 1226
undecided 68 6% 1226
2. Will removing time-in-grade restrictions result in rewarding the most productive federal employees? Total Responses Percentage Grand Total
yes 436 36% 1226
no 645 53% 1226
undecided 145 12% 1226


Many readers had strong opinions on the proposal–their personal experience and their belief they would benefit or be harmed by the change obviously influenced their opinion on whether the change is a good idea.

Here is a representative sample of the comments from readers. The vast majority of those commenting were opposed to the change.

A contract specialist with NAVAIR in Lakehurst, New Jersey wrote: "They already promote their favorites at a fast rate long before they are qualified. Why give them more opportunity to promote unqualified persons?"

A long-time federal employee with DOT in Washington, DC aired his gripes in a lengthy comment. Here is a small portion: "The Good Old Boy’s Network has worked for the "Good Old Boys" for as long as I have been in the Government (i.e., 42 years). Why would getting rid of time-in-grade restrictions be seen as affecting a change in the way most of the government does business.?

A consumer safety inspector with FSIS in Florence, AL is opposed to the change: "The time in grade is necessary for training a new employee."

A human resources specialist with the Park Service in San Francisco commented: "I believe that it would be abused."

A classification specialist with NASA in Huntsville, Alabama also is distrustful of the federal HR system: "This tactic as well as merit pay causes frustration, resentment, and discontent, etc. and lower productivity among the base level workers. ALL workers were rated the best among all applicants when they were appointed. Quality increases, etc. are the answer to these situations."

An IT specialist with the VA in Washington, DC wrote: "The time-in-grade requirement is a valuable measure in our public work force to ensure fairness in the employment process. IF an individual is ‘so qualified’ to be promoted before the time-in-grade requirement is met, there are always management vehicles available to ‘meritoriously promote’ and individual."

An employee with DCMA in Madawaska, Maine sees a "shake and bake" on government: "TIG restrictions are necessary to give employees time to develop experience and seasoning. The government already is suffering the effects of too many "shake & bake" specialists who don’t have the knowledge that can only come from situations faced on the job."

A human resources specialist with the USDA in Washington, DC is not optimistic: "Removing the time in grade will most likely result in the "favorites" being promoted."

An analyst with the Postal Service in San Juan, Puerto Rico says productivity is relative: "Removing time in grade restrictions should result in rewarding the person with the most potential but not necessarily the most productive. Productivity is all relative. Are you being used to your potential?"

A grants management specialist from the CDC in Atlanta opined: "Many of this agency’s managers are not properly trained to fairly rate employee’s based strictly on performance. It is still the same "Good Ole Boy" system."

But not everyone is opposed to the change. Here are samples of comments from readers who think the restrictions have not been good for Uncle Sam’s civilian army.

A product assurance specialist with an aviation detachment in Ohio has this perspective: "I came to the government from the private sector with 30 years of top level management experience. Time-in-grade requirements degrade this experience, and take away valuable experience that can truely help the government achieve its goals faster and more efficiently."


A PPT specialist with the Department of State in Houston thinks the time-in-grade requirement is onerous: "Coming from an employee who came from the private sector, and took a huge paycut to come to the public sector, I do not understand the current 52-week time in grade. A company, whether public or private, should put the best person for the job in the position. If this person is 30 and only been with the agency 2 years should not penalize that person."

An auditor with Health and Human Services in Atlanta thinks removing the restrictions is a good idea: "New to the government process, I believe my overall experience and abilities should not be hampered in moving up the chain by imposed waiting periods of 52 weeks at every level."

A human resources specialist with the Air Force in San Antonio also likes the proposal: "Hired as a GS 5 with a masters degree. Wish this would have happened years ago!"

Our thanks to those readers who took the time to vote in our new survey and a special thanks to those who sent in their written comments.