GM_360_408_A - Subpart A - General
Subpart A - General

408.0  Purpose

This regulation sets forth the authority, policy, and responsibilities for managing the merit promotion and placement actions for positions within the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).  This regulation supplements and must be used in conjunction with 5 CFR 335 and the USDA Merit Promotion Plan.  This plan is applicable for all positions, except those covered by a negotiated agreement in Puerto Rico.

408.1  References

A.  5 U.S.C. Section 33, “Examination, Selection, and Placement”

B.  5 U.S.C. Section 2301, “Merit System Principles”

C.  5 U.S.C. Section 2302, “Prohibited Personnel Practices”

D.  5 U.S.C. Section 3110, “Employment of Relatives; Restrictions”

E.  5 CFR Part 335, “Promotion and Internal Placement”

F.  Office of Personnel Management's Delegated Examining Operations Handbook

G.  Office of Personnel Management’s Vet Guide

408.2  Definitions

A.  Ability.—A competence to perform an observable behavior or a behavior that results in an observable product.

B.  Applicant.—A person who applies for a vacant position.

C.  Appointing Authority.—-The legal or regulatory basis on which a specific appointment may be made to a Federal civilian position.

D.  Best Qualified.—Those applicants who are determined by the rating and ranking process to possess the job-related knowledge, skills, and abilities required or desired for a particular position to a greater degree than other qualified applicants being considered and who are subsequently referred to the selecting official.

E.  Candidate.—An applicant who meets the minimum qualifications requirements for a position, and is therefore eligible for consideration. See also "eligible."

F.  Career Transition Assistance Program (CTAP).—A program designed by an agency to actively assist its surplus and displaced employees. (See 5 CFR 330).

G.  Closing Date.—The date beyond which applications for a position will no longer be accepted.  A closing date must be provided in the job announcement advertising the position

H.  Competency.—An observable, measurable pattern of skills, knowledge, abilities, behaviors, and other characteristics that an individual needs to perform work roles 'or occupational functions successfully.

I.  Competitive Status.—A person's basic eligibility for assignment (for example, by transfer, promotion, reassignment, demotion, or reinstatement) to a position in the competitive service without having to compete with members of the general public in an open competitive examination.  When a vacancy announcement indicates that status candidates are eligible to apply, career and career-conditional employees who have service at least 90 days after competitive appointment may apply.  Once acquired, status belongs to the individual, not to the position.  {5 D.S.C. 3304(a)}.

J.  Crediting Plan.—A method by which an examiner reviews applicant background information (e.g., positions held, levels of responsibility, accomplishments, and/or job­ related education), and rates applicant qualifications for the position in question. Also called a "rating schedule.".

K.  Detail.—A temporary assignment of an employee to a different position for a specified period, and returning to the former position at the end of the assignment.  A detail does not involve a formal position change; the employee continues to hold the position from which detailed and keeps the same pay and status.

L.  Displaced Employee.—A current agency employee serving under a competitive service appointment in tenure group I or who has received a specific reduction in force (RIF) separation notice, or notice of proposed removal for declining a directed  reassignment or transfer of function outside of the local commuting area.

M.  Education.—Course work completed by the candidate that is related to the competencies or knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to perform in the job.

N.  Eligible.—An applicant who satisfies the minimum qualifications requirement for the position, and therefore, is eligible for consideration. See also "candidate."

O.  Experience.—educational, voluntary or paid work experiences of the candidate related to the competencies or knowledge, skills and abilities needed to perform in the job.

P.  Indicator of Proficiency.—A source of evidence that an applicant possesses job-related competencies or KSA’s, e.g., college coursework, work experiences, professional activities, and certifications.

Q.  In-Service Placement.—Modification of a qualification standard or substitution of qualification requirements. (See OPM's Qualification Standards for General Schedule Positions)

R.  Interagency Career Transition Assistance Program (ICTAP).—A special career transition assistance program designed to give re-employment priority to Federal employees affected by Federal downsizing. (See Chapter 4 and 5 CFR 330).

S.  Job Analysis.—A systematic method of studying jobs to identify the tasks performed and the competencies or the KSA’s required to perform the tasks.  Job analysis information is used to develop employee selection procedures, identify training needs, define performance standards, and along with other uses.

T.  Knowledge.—A body of information applied directly to the performance of a function.

U.  KSA’s.—An acronym for "Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities."  How well a candidate’s quality relate to the requirements of a position.

V.  Merit Promotion.—An appointment made under the authority of 5 CFR 335, "Promotion and Internal Placement" with certain important exceptions, only career status employees may apply for positions that are to be filled under merit promotion authority.

W.  Minimum Qualifications.—Knowledge, skills and abilities that an applicant must possess, at a minimum, to be eligible for hire or promotion under the competitive system.  Minimum qualifications are typically expressed in terms of years of job-related experience or education.  Applicants who do not meet the minimum qualification requirements for the position are "screened out," and receive no further consideration.

X.  Open Period.—The period during which applications may be submitted for consideration.  The duration of the open period must be sufficient enough to provide adequate public notice of the vacancy, and must be clearly specified in the job announcement.  OPM recommends that agencies prescribe an open period of no fewer than five (5) calendar days.

Y.  Priority Consideration.— Special placement priority that is given to a candidate who was previously denied consideration due to erroneous or lost consideration.

Z.  Promotion.— The change of an employee to a position at a higher-grade level under the same type classification system and pay schedule or to a position with a higher rate of basic pay under a different job classification system and pay schedule.  It is also the change of an employee from another pay system to a Federal Wage System position with a higher representative rate.

AA.  Promotion Potential.— Possibility of further career promotion without the need for further competition (e.g., a position filled at an entry or mid-level rather than at the full performance level).

BB.  Qualified.— One who meets the basic eligibility and qualification requirements for the position including appropriate selective placement factors.

CC.  Rating Schedule.— A single, comprehensive, documented process with specific criteria for making consistent and job-related determinations about the relative qualifications of applicants for a position.

DD.  Rating Procedure.—See "Crediting Plan."

EE.  Reappointment Priority List (RPL).—A list of employees within the local commuting area who have been separated from an agency due to reduction in force (RIF) or work-related injury.  If an employee on the RPL is well-qualified for a vacancy that exists within his or her local commuting area, the employee must (with few exceptions) be selected before hiring anyone from outside the agency.

FF.  Reassignment.—The change of an employee from one position to another without promotion or change to lower grade.

GG.  Reinstatement.— Non-competitive appointment of a person formerly employed in the competitive service (i.e., who either had competitive status or was serving probation when separated) into the competitive service as a career or career­-conditional employee. (See 5 CFR 315)

HH.  Selective Factor.— A KSA, competency, or special qualification without which a candidate could not perform the duties of a position in a satisfactory manner.  Selective factors are applied in addition to minimum qualifications.  Applicants who do not meet a selective factor are ineligible for further consideration.

II.  Skill.—An observable competence or demonstrated proficiency of an act.

JJ.  Status Applicant.—An applicant who has completed the service requirement for career-conditional tenure in the competitive service.

KK.  Status Employee.—A current Federal employee who has completed the service requirement for career tenure in the competitive service.

LL.  Subject-Matter Expert (SME).— A person with bona fide expert knowledge about what it takes to do a particular job.  First-level supervisors are normally good SME’s.  Superior incumbents in the same or very similar positions and other individuals can also be used as SME’s if they have current and thorough knowledge of the job's requirements.

MM.  Temporary Promotion.—The appointment of an employee to an established higher-grade position to meet a situation requiring temporary.  During the temporary promotion, the employee officially occupies and is compensated for the higher graded position.

NN.  Transfer.—The movement of a career or career-conditional employee from one executive agency to another, with or without promotion and without a break in service of one workday.

OO.  USA Staffing.—Web-enabled software that completely automates the recruitment, assessment, referral, and notification processes.

PP.  Well Qualified.—Candidates who meet both the basic qualification requirements for the position, and the acceptable level for each of the identified knowledge, skills, and abilities identified for the rating process.

408.3  Background

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has established provisions for Executive Branch Agencies of the United States Government, which govern when competitive procedures must be used in filling competitive service positions by means of promotion and other in-service actions.  The Director, Human Resources Management Division (HRMD) is delegated the authority to set policy and provide overall technical guidance and direction for the NRCS Merit Promotion Plan.  The Director, Human Resources Management Division (HRMD) is delegated the authority to execute the provisions of the Promotion and Internal Placement Plan.

408.4  Coverage

The Plan covers all competitive service, General Schedule (GS), and similar pay schedules, grades 15 and below, and Federal Wage System equivalents (WG/WL/WS).

408.5  Policy

A.  It is NRC’s policy to fill positions efficiently and on the basis of merit, without regard to political, religious, or labor organization affiliation, marital or family, status, race, color, sex, age, national origin, sexual orientation, or non-disqualifying mental or physical disability.

B.  NRCS's Merit Promotion Plan (plan) objectives are to—

(1)  Recruit highly qualified diverse individuals to ensure the brightest and best applicants are referred to the selecting officials.

(2)  Ensure that selections are made from among the best qualified applicants.

(3)  Give employees an opportunity to receive fair, equitable, and appropriate consideration for higher level jobs. 

(4)  Provide an incentive for employees to improve their performance and to develop or improve upon their knowledge, skills, and abilities. 

(5)  Provide career opportunities for employees.

C.  The policy does not guarantee that employees will be promoted, nor does it require that a vacancy be filled by promotion.  

(1)  Merit promotion is but one means to fill a position.  

(2)  When fully qualified candidates for positions can be obtained through other means of recruitment {i.e., reassignment, transfer, reinstatement, Office of Personnel Management  (OPM) register of eligible’s, special appointing authorities, direct hire, change to lower grade, etc.}, these methods may be properly used concurrently with, or to the exclusion of, the merit promotion process. 

(3)  Once initiated, the merit promotion process may be cancelled at any time management elects to fill the position(s) through other recruitment source(s).  

(4)  Management may cancel the merit promotion process if they chose not to fill the position.

408.6  Responsibilities

A.  Human Resources Office must—

(1)  Administer the Merit Promotion Plan in accordance with the laws and regulations.

(2)  Provide training to leadership and employees regarding the flexibilities and restrictions of the merit promotion program. 

(3)  Ensure employees have access to the Merit Promotion Plan.  Counsel employees regarding the plan and how they can maximize the flexibilities to achieve their career goals. 

(4)  Ensure merit principles are complied with in the staffing of all positions or development opportunities. 

(5)  Anticipate staffing attrition and conduct outreach initiatives to a broad segment of society to increase the pool of diverse candidates.

(6)  Provide guidance to the selecting offices regarding staffing options, development of job analysis and evaluation methods and instruments, such as rating criteria, to ensure it supports guidelines defined in Office of Personnel Management's Delegated Examining Operations Handbook.

(7)  Provide technical advice, assistance and oversight to panel members responsible for rating candidates.

(8)  Provide new employees information regarding the merit promotion plan during the employee orientation.  

(9)  Ensure that position vacancy announcements are posted on USAJobs.

(10)  Maintain records in accordance with OPM and USDA requirements.

(11)  Evaluate program effectiveness to include initiation of improvements or recommend changes.

B.  Supervisors and hiring officials must—

(1)  Stay abreast and comply with the merit promotion policy and principles.

(2)  Responsible for upholding both the intent and spirit of this plan.  Ensure that violations do not occur, either by error or design.  Hiring is an inherent function of line management. 

(3)  Ensure employees have access to the Merit Promotion Plan.  Counsel employees regarding the plan and how they can maximize the flexibilities to achieve their career goals. 

(4)  Ensure employees know how to access and use USAJobs.

(5)  Anticipate staffing attrition and conduct outreach initiatives to a broad segment of society to increase the pool of diverse candidates.  

(6)  Comply with OPM regulations in establishing a job analysis and job-related evaluation criteria (KSA's) and when participating in the evaluation of applicants qualifications. 

(7)  Give fair, equitable, and full consideration to all candidates referred, and make a final selection without discrimination for any non-merit reason, and without favoritism based on personal relationships or patronage.

(8)  Ensure merit principles are complied with in the staffing of all positions or development opportunities. 

(9)  Provide opportunities for employees to develop skills and abilities through cross-training, special assignments, and formal education within policies and guidelines.

(10)  Encourage and advise employees regarding self-development needs and opportunities, and on areas where improvement should be made to increase chances for career opportunities.

C.  Employees should—

(1)  Take advantage of self-development and training opportunities, both on and off the job.

(2)  Demonstrate competence and readiness for advancement by diligent and effective performance in current assignment.

(3)  Monitor career opportunities through job announcements posted on USAJobs (all NRCS job announcements are required to be posted on this site).

(4)  Ensure official personnel records reflect all experience, education, and training.  Apprise supervisor of their career and developmental interests.  Provide supervisor with contact information if you will be out of office on extended leave, without access to the Internet, and are interested in being apprised of specific NRCS vacancy announcements.  

408.7  Recruitment

A.  Workforce planning is critical function to ensure an organization is fully staffed of productive employees equipped to meet the organization’s goals.  The process identifies employees' developmental needs, and anticipates potential impact of workload shifts to the staffing composition (numbers and disciplines of positions).  Effective workforce planning will help predict the workforce needs of an organization, specifically long and short-term skill requirements, training and development needs, restructuring, outsourcing, and diversity opportunities.

B.  Recruitment is the ongoing process of marketing and attracting high-­quality candidates to meet current and anticipated employment needs.  Recruiting is the primary responsibility of managers, supervisors, and the human resources staffs.  All employees within the agency also have an active role in the recruitment process.  A successful recruitment program requires the full support of all components to ensure recruitment of the best and the brightest.

C.  Every recruitment action should begin with an assessment of the job market, with an awareness of the competition.  This assessment will be the basis for determining what method and forum should be used to ensure a quality pool of diverse candidates for consideration.  The recruitment must be from appropriate sources to achieve a workforce that reflects all segments of society.  Recruitment efforts should include outreach to a variety of sources such as college and university placement centers, minority student and students with disabilities associations, internet web sites, along with technical schools and high schools. 

408.8  Employees on Extended Absence

Employees are responsible for monitoring career opportunities through job announcements posted on USAJobs (all NRCS job announcements are required to be posted on this site).  When an employee is out of the office for an extended period of time and does not have access to the Internet to view NRCS job announcements, it is the employee’s responsibility to provide the supervisor with a listing of disciplines and grade levels of positions within the agency, in which the employee has an interest in making application.  An employee must provide his or her supervisor contact information where he/she can be contacted regarding such announcements.  In all cases, the application must be received as by close of business defined in the individual announcements. 

408.9  Prohibited Practices

A.  Employment or advocacy of relatives

(1)  An NRCS employee may not appoint, employ, promote, advance, or advocate for appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement of any relative to the unit over which that official exercises jurisdiction or control.

(2)  An employee may not advocate an appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement of the relative of any employee who exercises jurisdiction or control over that unit, if that official has advocated the action.

B.  Supervision of relatives.

(1)  NRCS employees may not supervise a relative either directly or indirectly.

(i)  Direct supervision includes assigning responsibilities, granting leave, evaluating performance, approving training, evaluating for promotion, and taking or recommending adverse action.

(ii)  Indirect supervision involves sharing supervisory activities with the immediate supervisor of an employee by participating in a substantive way with the immediate supervisor in such activities as making work assignments, monitoring performance, and participating in promotion evaluation of the employee.

(2)  Any instance of direct or indirect supervision of an employee by a relative shall be eliminated at the first reasonable opportunity. 

408.10  Release of Employees

Employees selected under the provisions of this policy, whether for promotion, reassignment, demotion (voluntary change to lower grade), or detail, must be released by the losing supervisor.  An employee selected should normally be released within 2 to 6 weeks.  This timeframe may vary depending upon the circumstances, e.g., relocation or transfer.  Release dates should be coordinated between the gaining and receiving servicing human resources staffs.  If a dispute arises regarding the release date, the final decision of when the employee will be released will be the decision of leadership at a higher organizational level, (i.e., Regional Conservationist, Deputy Chief or the Chief). 

[GM_360_408_A - Amend. 137 - October 2010]