Faster Promotions Coming for Some Federal Employees

Some federal employees may be getting faster promotions and more money beginning in March based on a new rule change from OPM.

The Office of Personnel Management has issued a new rule that becomes effective on March 9th that will impact a number of federal employees and, ultimately, their paychecks. In a nutshell, the agency is eliminating the “time-in-grade” requirement for promotions. The rule eliminates the 52-week time-in-grade requirement for promotions for federal employees in competitive service positions.

To stem potential confusion, here is what the OPM rule change refers to (and what it is not referring to). Here are definitions explaining what this new rule refers to:

Time-In-Grade: The length of time served at a certain grade level. It usually is used in reference to the length of time needed to satisfy the promotion requirements of the next highest level.

Time-In-Grade Restrictions:Requirements intended to prevent excessively rapid promotions in the General Schedule. Generally, an employee may not be promoted more than two grades within one year to positions up to GS-5. Above GS-5, an employee must serve a minimum of one year in grade, and cannot be promoted more than one grade, or two grades if that is the normal progression.

This rule change does not apply to within-grade step increases. There is a distinction between the time-in-grade restriction for promotions and the waiting period for GS within-grade increases. This rule change does not apply to the waiting period for a within-grade increase.

As a result of the rule change, managers will be able to promote employees faster than has been the case for a number of years. One of the comments on the proposed change was predictable: giving managers more authority will allow for disparate treatment of employees.

OPM concluded that this objection was not an obstacle. “The time-in-grade requirement is only one of the requirements for eligibility for promotion. Managers must still select only from those individuals who have at least one year of specialized experience equivalent in difficulty to the next lower grade level or (in some cases) the equivalent education. Moreover, individuals must meet occupational qualification standard requirements and any additional job-related qualification requirements established for the position.”

Other comments or objections to removing the rule were that changing the waiting period would lead to “grade creep” and increase payroll costs.

“Grade creep” refers to agencies giving employees a higher pay grade with the result being higher payroll costs as employees will be making more money. OPM says is not expected to be a problem because “managers are obligated to make promotion decisions based on an individual’s experience and/or knowledge, skills, and abilities relative to the qualification standard for the position.”

In short, the rule change is designed to let managers promote qualified employees and reward them for their work and expertise. The change will obviously also open up managers to having their decisions challenged in various appeals processes by those who do not get promoted and who will allege “favortism” when one person is promoted faster than another.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47