GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION
Washington, DC 20405
July 9, 2012
SUBJECT: GSA Merit Promotion Plan
1. Purpose. This order transmits the revised GSA Merit Promotion Plan.
2. Cancellation. HCO 9335.1 is cancelled.
3. Nature of revisions. This order is revised to incorporate the changes listed below.
a. Update the 3-letter prefix of the directive.
b. Provide instructions for accepting applications from individuals under the Veterans Employment Opportunity Act of 1998 (VEOA).
c. Remove reference to the Student Career Experience Program.
d. Add clarification to the topic of Area of Consideration.
4. Applicability. This order applies to all GSA employees and actions in the competitive service. It does not apply to actions in the excepted service.
a. The authority for GSA’s Merit Promotion Plan is derived from Title 5 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 335. Promotion and Internal Placement (5 CFR 335.101 - 106). The Merit Promotion Plan is established to ensure a systematic means of selection for promotion based on merit in accordance with Title 5, United States Code, Section 2301, Merit Systems Principles (5 USC 2301) and Section 2302, Prohibited Personnel Practices (5 USC 2302).
b. The provisions in this order are consistent with the requirements of labor - management contracts and agreements between the agency and employee labor organizations. Existing agreements should be consulted for guidance governing topics not addressed in this policy. Implementation of this Order with respect to employees represented by a labor organization is contingent upon completion of appropriate labor relations obligations.
6. Forms. Use of the following forms continues to be optional, not mandatory. However, most of the forms listed are not used in conjunction with the automated GSAjobs system.
a. GSA Form 1029, Merit Promotion Referral;
b. GSA Form 3412, Initial Screening Worksheet for Merit Promotion Actions;
c. GSA Form 3418, Crediting Plan for Candidate Evaluation;
d. GSA Form 3419, Candidate Ranking Worksheet.
Forms are available online in the GSA Forms Library.
Anthony E. Costa
Chief People Officer
a. Area of Consideration (AOC): The geographic and/or organizational area in which the agency conducts its search for candidates, where it is anticipated that a sufficient number of qualified candidates can be located and from which applications will be accepted.
b. Change to Lower Grade (CLG): The change of an employee to a position at a lower grade when both the old and the new positions are under the same pay plan, or to a position with a lower rate of basic pay when the old and new positions are under different pay plans.
c. Crediting Plan: A rating guide that defines specific job elements and descriptions of quality levels of experience, training and other information for each element against which applicants’ competencies for a position can be evaluated.
d. Detail: Temporary assignment of an employee to a different position or set of described duties for a specified period of time with no change in pay. For record-keeping purposes, employees continue to be incumbents of the positions from which detailed.
e. Interchange Agreement: An agreement providing for the movement of persons between employment systems or employing organizations/agencies. The interchange agreement should define the status and tenure the individual acquires upon movement, eligibility requirements for persons to enter into such an agreement and qualification requirements for any position to which moved, and conditions under which such an agreement can be terminated.
f. Job Analysis: The process of identifying the knowledge, skills and abilities (competencies) essential to a position in order to develop a job-related basis for evaluation and selection of candidates.
g. Promotion: The change of an employee to a position at a higher grade level within the same classification system and pay schedule or to a position with a higher rate of basic pay in a different job classification system and pay schedule.
h. Reassignment: T he change of an employee, while serving continuously within the same agency, from one position to another without promotion or demotion.
i. Reinstatement: The non-competitive career or career-conditional re-employment of a person formerly employed in the competitive service who had earned competitive status.
j. Representative Rate: The fourth step or rate of the grade for a position in the General Schedule; the second step or rate of the grade for a position in the Federal Wage System.
k. Selecting Official: The individual in the organization who is authorized to make a selection for the position to be filled.
I. Subiect-matter expert: An employee, at the same or higher grade level as the position being filled, who has current and thorough knowledge of the job’s requirements (e.g., may be a 1st level supervisor or high-performing incumbent of the position), and is not an applicant for the position vacancy.
m. Transfer: The change of an employee, without a break in service of one full workday, from a position in one agency to a position in another agency that can be filled under the same appointing authority.
2. Program summary.
a. This plan outlines competitive procedures to be used in selecting highly qualified persons who express interest in and are available to fill vacancies. All applicants will be evaluated solely on job-related criteria on the basis of merit, fitness, and qualifications for the position and without regard to race, religion, color, national origin, sex, marital status, political affiliation, sexual orientation, age (with authorized exceptions) or any other non-merit factor. The plan does not guarantee promotion, but is intended to ensure that qualified available applicants receive fair consideration for positions filled under competitive procedures.
b. Management may select or not select from among a group of best qualified candidates and may fill a vacancy through other sources, including promotion, demotion, noncompetitive conversion, reassignment, transfer, reinstatement, or appointment from an Office of Personnel Management (OPM) certificate of eligibles or other appropriate source of applicants. Applicants may be considered concurrently or consecutively from any or all recruitment sources. Subject to laws and regulations, management makes the final decision on selections.
3. Merit Promotion Plan coverage. The requirements and procedures outlined in this plan apply only to actions involving positions in the competitive service at grade levels GS-1 through GS -15 and Federal Wage System (wage grade) equivalents. The procedures of this promotion plan apply only to all promotions not listed in paragraph 4 of this Order. A complete list of actions that must be processed under competitive procedures is listed in 5 CFR 335.103.
4. When competitive procedures do not apply. Procedures of this plan do not apply to the following actions:
a. A promotion resulting from upgrading a position, without significant change in the duties and responsibilities, due to issuance of a new classification standard or the correction of an initial classification error;
b. A position change permitted by reduction-in-force regulations (see 5 CFR 351);
c. A promotion without current competition (also referred to as "career-ladder promotion") when at an earlier stage an employee was selected from a certificate of eligibles or under competitive promotion procedures for an assignment intended to prepare the employee for the position being filled. The intent (i.e., promotion potential) must be made a matter of record, and career ladders must be documented in the promotion file (i.e., in the vacancy announcement and on the selectee’s SF-SO, Notification of Personnel Action). Career ladder promotions are not automatic. All qualifications and eligibility requirements must be met and supervisor’s recommendation for promotion must be submitted to the servicing HR office.
(1) Mere completion of 12 months in grade does not mean that the employee must or will be promoted. Supervisors must evaluate the quality of each employee’s work and level of proficiency demonstrated in the performance of assignments, and provide a recommendation for the promotion (by submitting a SF52 or RPA, Request for Personnel Action) to approve an employee’s promotion to intervening grade levels and to the target position.
(2) To be eligible for the promotion, an employee’s most recent rating of record must be at level 3 or higher.
d. A promotion resulting from an employee’s position being reclassified at a higher grade because of added duties and responsibilities (refer to GSA policy HCO 9335.2, Accretion of Duties Promotions);
e. A career ladder promotion following noncompetitive conversion of an employee appointed under the Veterans Recruitment Authority (VRA), Presidential Management Fellow (PMF), or other authorized program or action, up to the full performance level for the career ladder as identified on the employee’s SF-50s documenting appointment or assignment to the entry-level position and promotion to intervening grade levels;
f. A change from a position having known promotion potential to one having no higher potential;
g. A temporary promotion or detail to a higher grade of 120 calendar days or less. All prior service during the preceding 12 months under all details to higher grade positions and temporary promotions is included when computing the 120-day period;
h. Promotion to a grade previously held on a permanent basis in the competitive service (or in another merit system with which OPM has an interchange agreement) from which an employee was separated or demoted for other than performance or conduct reasons;
i. Promotion, reassignment, demotion, transfer, reinstatement, or detail to a position having promotion potential no greater than the potential of a position an employee currently holds or previously held on a permanent basis in the competitive service (or in another merit system with which OPM has an interchange agreement) and did not lose because of performance or conduct reasons.
j. Promotion of a candidate not given proper consideration in a competitive promotion action;
k. Promotion required by law, regulation, or as a remedy or voluntary settlement reached in connection with a grievance, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint, or Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) appeal.
5. Scope of competition.
a. Each vacancy will be advertised in a geographic or organizational area of consideration (or a combination of both) large enough that a reasonable number of highly qualified candidates may be anticipated. The AOC must be clearly indicated on vacancy announcements. For example, the area of consideration for one position may be defined as, "Status Candidates in the Washington, DC commuting area", and for another position, the AOC may be "GSA employees of the Federal Acquisition Service".
b. The AOC is determined on a case-by-case basis by the selecting official in consultation with the servicing Human Resources Office staff by reviewing the advantages and disadvantages of each option, and the results of past recruitment efforts.
c. When the AOC stated in a vacancy announcement fails to identify a sufficient number of high quality candidates, the AOC may be expanded. In such situations, the vacancy announcement will be amended to provide notice of the expanded AOC and the open period extended to allow for receiving additional applications.
d. If the advertised position is within a bargaining unit, other additional considerations, as defined in the negotiated agreement covering that position, may apply. HR specialists must refer to applicable negotiated agreements and follow specific guidance in this area. For example, if a geographical AOC is established, employees of GSA from outside this geographical area may apply and their applications will be considered, if they are otherwise eligible and qualified, but they may not be eligible for relocation expenses due to budget constraints. The vacancy announcement must include a statement concerning bargaining unit coverage, payment or nonpayment of Permanent Change of Station (PCS) relocation expenses and explain the rationale for accepting such applications in these cases. Guidance in this policy order is followed when the position is not in a bargaining unit, or the negotiated agreement is silent on AOC.
e. If an AOC is defined as both geographical and organizational, applicants must be in the organization, but may be outside the geographical AOC in accordance with applicable negotiated agreements as explained in par 5.d. above.
f. When an organizational AOC is established, applications from outside the organizational AOC will not be accepted, considered or referred. For example, if the AOC has been defined as "current FAS employees only" applications will not be accepted from individuals in other organizations within or outside GSA.
g. Consideration of Central Office employees physically located in a GSA region, will be governed by the AOC defined for the specific vacancy in accordance with procedures established above for geographical and organizational AOCs. For example, if a geographic AOC is defined as GSA employees in the XYZ commuting area, the Central Office employees physically located in that area are included. If the AOC is limited to regional employees, CO employees are not regional employees, and therefore, not eligible to apply.
h. Applications will be accepted from individuals who are under the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act (VEOA) when recruitment includes sources of applicants from outside the agency.
(1) To be eligible for a VEOA appointment, an applicant must be a preference eligible or a veteran who substantially completed 3 or more years of active service. "Preference eligible" under VEOA includes those family members entitled to derived preference.
(2) Applicable guidance in the Office of Personnel Management’s VetGuide states that "In general, most individuals completing an initial 3-year military tour are typically released a few days early. These individuals, if otherwise qualified, should be considered eligible." Individuals will be eligible for consideration under the VEOA at GSA if early discharge is no more than 90 days prior to the original end date of the 3-year tour of duty.
(3) Individuals applying under the VEOA are not subject to geographic area of consideration limitations, i.e., they do not have to be in the geographic area of consideration defined for the position.
6. Job opportunities. All GSA merit promotion opportunities will be publicized on OPM’s USAJOBS website and/or other media that provide sufficient notice to all potential candidates within the area of consideration. Minimum posting time will be 5 workdays, and may be longer in accordance with negotiated agreements between GSA and employee unions, and all vacancy announcements will state last date for receipt of applications.
7. Vacancy announcements. Vacancy announcement templates have been developed in the GSAjobs automated system to ensure vacancy announcements include all required information and present it in a clear, consistent and standard format. A statement indicating that PCS relocation expenses will or will not be paid and whether recruitment or relocation incentives may be offered must be included in vacancy announcements. Vacancy announcements will include a statement identifying the type and level of pre-appointment background and security investigation that is required.
8. Accepting applications and evaluating candidates.
a. GSA uses a web-based employment application processing and rating system to fill most General Schedule position vacancies. Within the system, vacancy announcements are posted electronically, and applicants create and upload their resume and other application materials that may be required to complete the application process. HR specialists develop rating guides for each vacancy and enter them into the system to evaluate each candidate using evaluation criteria that have been pre-determined for each specific vacancy to first determine whether minimum qualification requirements, including any selective factors, are met and then to rank the candidates to determine those who are the best qualified for the position. HR specialists will review automated assessments to confirm that resumes submitted substantiate minimum qualification determinations and candidate ratings. Candidates may proceed to other assessments, depending on the criteria and process that have been identified for evaluation of candidates for each vacancy, as long as the methods have been validated. Other methods for evaluating candidates may include, but are not limited to, behavioral assessments, structured interviews, written tests, assessment centers, and/or subject-matter expert evaluations. The names of candidates determined to be best qualified as a result of the assessment(s) are referred to the selecting official.
b. Vacancy announcements for Federal Wage System (FWS) positions are advertised electronically, but currently the application and evaluation processes have not been automated, and are completed manually. Whether the method is electronic or manual does not affect the basic requirements established for advertising the position, applying for the position and evaluating candidates.
c. Through the automated staffing and applicant intake system, employees can view and apply on-line for vacancies from any location, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week and receive feedback on their application status and eligibility.
d. For those positions for which the automated system is not utilized (e.g., FWS positions), employees who are absent for legitimate reasons (e.g., on detail, on leave, in training, in the military service, etc.) should notify their supervisors in writing of positions in which they are interested if those position vacancies are announced in their absence. Those employees must leave a current application/resume and any supplemental application materials with the supervisor who will submit the application package so that those employees’ applications can receive consideration in their absence.
e. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) leaves to agency discretion the decision whether to consider applications from individuals who are still in the military. OPM provides the following guidance in its "VetGuide" available on its website: "By law, a person on military duty cannot be appointed to a civilian position (unless on terminal leave), but he or she can certainly be considered should the agency wish to do so. The determining factor, here, [sic] should be whether the person will be available when the agency needs to have the job filled." The hiring manager in the organization where the vacancy exists should determine the acceptable timeframe for filling the vacancy in such cases. The name of any applicant not available by that date would be removed from consideration. The hiring manager’s decision will be documented in the Merit Promotion case file.
f. Minimum qualification standards used for filling positions under this Plan are the standards established or approved by OPM for General Schedule positions or trades and labor occupations.
9. Qualification standards and eligibility determination process. To be eligible for promotion or placement, candidates must meet the minimum eligibility requirements and qualification standards prescribed or approved by OPM, including any selective factors, within 30 calendar days after the closing or cut-off date of the vacancy announcement.
a. Job analysis. Using the position description as the basis from which to establish evaluation criteria, the duties and responsibilities of the position to be filled will be analyzed to identify the competencies and selective factors, if any, that will be used to identify the best qualified candidates for the position to be filled.
b. Rating Guide/Crediting Plan. A crediting plan, or rating guide, will be developed for each required competency identified through the job analysis process. Information submitted by candidates for promotion will be evaluated in the automated system against the job-related criteria.
c. Referral of candidates under Merit Promotion.
(1) Competitive Candidates. A certificate of best qualified candidates, listed alphabetically, is issued to the selecting official with each candidate’s application package. Refer to applicable negotiated agreements for order of referral for bargaining unit positions.
(2) Non-competitive candidates.
(a) Non-competitive candidates need only meet minimum qualifications for the position (by achieving a score of 70 points or better in the applicant assessment) and eligibility requirements for the hiring authority under which they are applying in order to be referred for consideration. Non-competitive candidates are listed and referred separately from competitive candidates. Refer to guidance in 5 CFR 302 governing referral, consideration and selection of candidates when preference eligibles are included on the referral.
(b) Non-competitive candidates include those who have acquired non-competitive eligibility under a specific appointing authority, and current/former employees in the competitive service applying for a position having promotion potential no higher than the current position or one previously held on a permanent basis, and who meet minimum qualifications requirements and any selective placement factors.
10. Promotion records.
a. Documentation of a promotion action taken under this order must be maintained in the HR Office and must be sufficient for a reviewer to reconstruct the action in its entirety, and includes records that document qualification standards, evaluation methods, selection procedures and evaluation of candidates.
b. At a minimum, each file must contain the following records (in paper or electronic form) or copies of them:
(1) job analysis documentation;
(2) vacancy announcement (if advertised in USAjobs, the full-text vacancy announcement as it appeared in USAjobs);
(3) evaluation methods used, including a record of how the best qualified category was established;
(4) all applications and supporting documentation submitted;
(5) names and positions of panel members, evaluators or SMEs, if any;
(6) evaluation records, basic eligibility determinations and rating sheets;
(7) names of all candidates as finally rated and ranked; and
(8) promotion certificate (the names in the group from which the selection was made), including the name of the selectee.
c. When promotion actions are processed using the automated system, electronic records created and maintained in the automated system, i.e., applications, minimum qualifications and rating determinations do not need to be duplicated in the case file. However, when electronic records are not available or maintained in the system, case files must contain paper copies of job analyses and crediting plans that are signed and dated by the HR Specialist and Subject-matter expert (or email indicating approval/concurrence with the job analysis and crediting plan from the SME/selecting official) and a paper copy of the final audited certificate. Alternately, these documents may be faxed into the vacancy announcement record in the automated system.
d. Complete promotion case files must be maintained by the HR office for two years from the date the personnel action is completed and then must be destroyed. During these two years, information in the files must be made available as required by laws, regulations, and agreements. If the action becomes the subject of litigation or a discrimination complaint, there may be a requirement to retain such records for a longer period of time. In such cases, a "litigation hold" on destruction of the documents may be initiated (e.g., by the Office of General Counsel) until the legal matter is settled, or notification provided by the EEO Office to retain merit promotion case files until the issue is resolved.
e. Information available to applicants. HR specialists should refer to the national agreements between GSA and labor unions for a discussion of information that can be given to applicants relative to a specific promotion action, and should be aware of Privacy Act restrictions and Freedom of Information Act controls allowing disclosure of the release of information.