NB_360_21_7 - NB 360-21-7 PER – Fiscal Year 2021 Quality Step Increase Process
NB 360-21-7 PER – Fiscal Year 2021 Quality Step Increase Process
National Bulletin: 360-21-7 Date: June 15, 2021
Subject: PER – Fiscal Year 2021 Quality Step Increase Process


 
 
Purpose.  To announce the process for Quality Step Increase (QSI) allocation for fiscal year (FY) 2021.
 
Expiration Date.  September 30, 2021
 
Background.  In FY 2021, USDA transitioned to the new two-tier (pass/fail) performance and awards system using the Enterprise Performance Management Application. The USDA Office of Human Resources Management provided additional system information in  Departmental Regulation (DR) 4040-430, “Employee Performance and Awards,” issued on June 24, 2020 (Attachment B). Section 6, Paragraph d, “Quality Step Increase,” sets forth USDA guidance on awarding a QSI. This national bulletin describes the process NRCS will employ for implementing DR 4040-430 in FY 2021.
 

Explanation.   QSIs for the performance rating cycle are limited to no more than 2 percent of employees on board as of September 30, 2020. The Regional Conservationists’ Office (RCO) will provide QSI allocations to the State Conservationists, and the Deputy Chief for Management & Strategy (M&S) will provide allocations to above State allowance holders by September 1, 2021.

When an allowance holder has elected not to use an allocated QSI, they must return that QSI allocation to either the RCO or deputy chief for M&S by October 15, 2021. The deputy chief for M&S, in consultation with the RCO, will oversee reallocation and ensure NRCS remains within its 2-percent cap.

Before a selectee may be awarded a QSI in EmpowHR, the selection must be affirmed by a QSI review panel. NRCS has established a QSI review panel consisting of the deputy chief for M&S, a representative from the RCO, a State Conservationist from each region, and any other required members, as determined by the Chief, such as a member of the national Civil Rights Advisory Committee. In addition, the Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) Business Center chief human capital officer serves as the executive secretary and technical advisor to the panel. The purpose of the QSI review panel is to ensure fairness and equity in the determination and approval of QSIs prior to submission in EmpowHR by the requesting allowance holder.

Employee Eligibility. To be eligible for a QSI, an employee must meet the eligibility requirements of DR 4040-430, such as—

• Be a General Schedule (GS) employee below step 10 who has performed in the same grade and type of position for at least 18 months before the end of the performance rating period.
• Have received a rating of record of at least fully successful for the past 3 performance years (or the 2 performance years if the employee has not been a Federal employee for more than 3 years).
o The final rating must demonstrate sustained performance of the highest quality, significantly and demonstrably above the expectations defined at the Fully Successful level of their performance plan.
o The final performance appraisal must also list the accomplishments that contributed substantially to the organization’s goals, commensurate with the classification of their position.
• Be expected to continue at the same high level of performance.
• Not have received a QSI within the previous 104 weeks.

Process for States. An employee may be selected for a QSI by having the employee’s sustained exceptional performance documented on a Form AD-3115 “Recommendation and Approval of Quality Step Increase” (Attachment A). The steps for completing this form are as follows:

1. The employee’s supervisor completes blocks 1, 10, 11, and 12, then signs in block 14. The supervisor then attaches the three most recent consecutive ratings of record (or two ratings of record if the employee has not been a Federal employee for more than 3 years).
2. The employee’s supervisor forwards the Form AD-3115 to second level supervisor or leadership team member.
3. The second level supervisor or leadership team member reviews the Form AD-3115, signs block 15, and then forwards the Form AD-3115 to the Assistant State Conservationist for M&S (ASTC-MS).
4. The ASTC-MS completes blocks 2 (last 4 of Social Security Account Number), 3–9, and 13.
5. The ASTC-MS forwards the Form AD-3115 to the QSI review panel and sends a copy to the State Conservationist.
6. The QSI review panel conducts a panel assessment and completes block 16. The panel then returns the Form AD-3115 to the ASTC-MS and sends a copy to the Regional Conservationist and State Conservationist.
7. The ASTC-MS forwards the Form AD-3115 to the State Conservationist, who signs block 17.
8. The State Conservationist returns the Form AD-3115 to the ASTC-MS, who then returns it to the appropriate supervisor or leadership team member for entry into EmpowHR.

Process for Above State Offices. An employee may be selected for a QSI by having the employee’s sustained exceptional performance documented on Form AD-3115. The steps for completing this form are as follows:

1. The employee’s supervisor completes blocks 1, 10, 11, and 12, then signs in block 14. The supervisor then attaches the three most recent consecutive ratings of record (or two ratings of record if the employee has not been a Federal employee for more than 3 years).
2. The employee’s supervisor forwards the Form AD-3115 to the second level supervisor.
3. The second level supervisor reviews and signs block 15 and forwards to the deputy chief for M&S, or designee.
4. The deputy chief for M&S, or designee, completes blocks 2 (last 4 of Social Security Account Number), 3–9, and 13.
5. The deputy chief for M&S, or designee, forwards to the QSI review panel and sends a copy to the deputy chief for the deputy area in which the employee works.
6. The QSI review panel conducts a panel assessment and completes block 16. The panel then returns the Form AD-3115 to the deputy chief for M&S, or designee, and sends a copy to the deputy chief for the deputy area in which the employee works.
7. The deputy chief for M&S signs block 17.
8. The deputy chief for M&S, or designee, forwards the Form AD-3115 to the deputy chief for the deputy area in which the employee works, who then returns it to the appropriate supervisor for entry into EmpowHR.

Submission Deadline. QSIs must be submitted to the QSI review panel after final performance appraisal and no later than October 30, 2021.

Effective Date. QSIs take effect on the first day of the first pay period on or after it is processed in EmpowHR by the FPAC Business Center. QSIs may not be retroactive except to correct an administrative error.     

 
   
 
 

 /s/

Louis Aspey   
Deputy Chief for Management and Strategy   

 
 

Attachment A – Form AD-3115

Attachment B – DR 4040-430     

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