The Excepted Service:

A Research Profile

GGD-97-72: Published: May 1, 1997. Publicly Released: May 1, 1997.

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GAO provided information on the excepted service, focusing on: (1) the distribution of excepted service employees across government organizations; (2) the composition of the excepted service in terms of the various legal bases under which employees were appointed; (3) policy concerns and study focuses that have guided some prior studies; (4) the coverage of agencies and employees, as well as data elements, in two data sources that were useful for studying the excepted service; and (5) research issues and methodological difficulties associated with each of these objectives.

GAO noted that: (1) the excepted service is not really a coherent "service" so much as a residual category covering all the many federal entities and groups of employees that are not part of the competitive service or the Senior Executive Service; (2) based on available data, this study portrays the distribution of excepted service employees across government, but with some significant omissions--primarily the intelligence agencies, for which official data were not readily available; (3) there were over 100 agencies employing excepted service employees in June 1996; (4) for excepted service positions, each agency develops, within basic requirements prescribed by law or regulation, its own hiring system, which establishes the evaluation criteria to be used in filling these excepted positions; (5) the many exceptions have led to a range of variances from competitive service practices; (6) GAO found that issues in studying the excepted service range from the apparent lack of a central source of information on the excepted service personnel systems, to the variations among excepted entities in the extent to which they are excepted, to how little officials at excepted service entities might understand of the differences between their systems and those of the competitive service, to the limitations on the basic statistical data now available; (7) information on the excepted service entities' personnel systems is apparently not collected in a single place; therefore, determining any trends or widespread practices in the excepted service would seem to necessitate original research, including extensive data gathering in many locations; (8) another complexity in studying the excepted service arises from the varying exceptions from title 5 that apply to excepted entities; (9) surveying officials of the excepted service entities directly might have limited value because these officials might not be familiar with the details of the title 5 requirements that do not apply to them; (10) merely drawing some statistical portraits of the excepted service might pose difficulties, and the two sources of statistical data available from the Office of Personnel Management both have advantages and disadvantages as sources of information on the excepted service; and (11) to mitigate some of the difficulties of researching the excepted service, researchers might want to narrow the potential scope of their studies from the entire excepted service to the personnel systems of specific excepted service entities, as one agency has done on two occasions.

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