Competitive Service vs. Excepted Service: What’s the Difference?

What are the key differences between the federal government’s hiring authorities: Competitive Service, Excepted Service, and Senior Executive Service?

There are three types of services in the federal government, and how federal employees are hired into their jobs will vary depending on the hiring authorities that fall under each type of service.

According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), these are the three types of hiring authorities and the differences between them:

Competitive Service

The Competitive Service consists of all civil service positions in the executive branch of the Federal Government with some exceptions which are defined in section 2102 of title 5, United States Code (5 U.S.C. 2102).

In the Competitive Service, individuals must go through a competitive hiring process (i.e., competitive examining) before being appointed which is open to all applicants. This process may consist of a written test, an evaluation of the individual’s education and experience, and/or an evaluation of other attributes necessary for successful performance in the position to be filled.

Competitive Service positions are subject to civil service laws passed by Congress to ensure that applicants and employees receive fair and equal treatment in the hiring process, hence the competitive aspect of the hiring process.

Excepted Service

Civil service appointments that fall under the Excepted Service are ones within the federal government that do not confer competitive status. There are a number of ways for federal employees to be appointed into the Excepted Service such as appointed under an authority defined by OPM as excepted (e.g., Veterans Recruitment Appointment) or being appointed to a position defined by OPM as excepted (e.g., Attorneys). More information can be found about excepted service in 5 U.S.C. 2103 and parts 213 and 302 of title 5 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

Senior Executive Service

The Senior Executive Service (SES) are the executives within the federal workforce selected for their leadership qualifications and charged with leading the continuing transformation of government. These leaders possess well-honed executive skills and share a broad perspective of government and a public service commitment which is grounded in the Constitution. The keystone of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, the SES was designed to be a corps of executives selected for their leadership qualifications.

Appointing Authorities and the Competitive Hiring Process

OPM also has a great deal of human resources and hiring information about appointing authorities federal agencies may use when hiring federal job applicants, regulatory guidance for hiring under the competitive process and other employment laws and regulations.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce.