Description of Selected Systems for Classifying Federal Civilian Positions and Personnel

GGD-84-90: Published: Jul 13, 1984. Publicly Released: Jul 23, 1984.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO studied the principal systems for classifying Federal civilian personnel to provide background information for evaluating sex bias in Federal classification systems. In this initial study, GAO specifically examined General Schedule (GS) positions, Federal Wage System (FWS) positions, Foreign Service professionals, and Veterans Administration (VA) professionals under the Department of Medicine and Surgery schedules.

The GS and FWS positions and the Foreign Service and medical VA professionals represent about 85 percent of Federal civilian employees, excluding the Postal Service. While the GS and FWS are rank-in-position methods that assess the value of the job rather than the job occupant, the Foreign Service and medical VA professional schedules are rank-in-person systems. The GS system covers most white-collar Federal employees, and its purpose is to provide a classification and salary plan that follows the principles of equal pay for equal work, pay differentials reflecting work difficulty and responsibility, and position classification being determined by duties, responsibilities, and qualifications. There are 1.4 million employees, 442 occupations, and 18 pay grades in the GS system, and positions are classified using either the narrative or factor evaluation method. Under both methods, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) attempts to develop consistent standards and grades. FWS covers 520,000 blue-collar trade, craft, or labor employees in 372 occupations. OPM is responsible for implementing and administering a job grading system for FWS positions. GAO noted that the rank-in-person systems allow employees in similar positions to be paid differently. Justification for these systems includes flexibility in recruitment and opportunities for career growth.

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