Three U.S. Customs Service employees held GS-9, step 5, positions and had partially completed their 104-week waiting periods for advancement to step 6. However, they voluntarily accepted different GS-7, step 10, positions to enter a merit promotion program. Subsequently, they were repromoted and their rates of pay were set at step 5 of grade GS-9. They were also required to begin new 104-week waiting periods for advancement to step 6. The union representing the employees contended that: (1) the relevant statutes and regulations guarantee employees in the claimants' situation entitlement, upon repromotion, to the rate of pay they would have attained had they remained in the higher grade; and (2) the claimants should not have been required to begin a new 104-week waiting period for advancement to GS-9, step 6. The agency did not view these statutes and regulations as constituting such guarantees, and it believed that a new waiting period was required. GAO concurred with the agency on both issues, ruling that the relevant legal provisions are a cautionary statement to agencies on setting employees' pay rates and that, because repromotions after voluntary downgrading constitute "equivalent increases," the employees must begin a new waiting period upon repromotion without counting their service at the grade and step before the demotion as part of the new waiting period. Accordingly, the claims of the three employees were denied.
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