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Student trainees may be eligible for a special rate even though their series is not listed in a special rate authorization. Student trainees are required to be officially classified in an occupational series ending in "99" for the appropriate occupational group. (See 5 CFR 213.3202(b)(14).) All student trainee positions should be titled "Student Trainee" followed by the parenthetical title consistent with the occupational field involved (e.g., GS-899 Student Trainee (Civil Engineering)).
Student trainees classified in a "99" occupational series are covered by a special rate table if (a) their officially classified parenthetical titles link directly to an official title for a covered series, (b) their positions are classified at one of the covered grades, (c) they fully meet the qualification requirements for the covered series and grade, and (d) they meet all other coverage requirements for the special rate table in question (e.g., official worksite location). In other words, a student trainee who is fully qualified to be classified in a series and grade that is covered by special rates is entitled to the appropriate special rate if the student trainee otherwise would be eligible but for the use of the "99" occupational series code.
This has been OPM's policy since 1988, when the requirement to classify all student trainees in "99" series was put into effect. (This policy was communicated to agencies via an OPM memorandum to agency personnel directors dated August 3, 1988.) Each agency should ensure that it is following this policy. If an agency determines that it has not been paying a student trainee a special rate to which the student trainee was entitled, back pay would be appropriate, consistent with 5 CFR part 550, subpart H.
Please note that for occupations with a positive educational requirement, student trainees must meet or exceed the minimum educational requirements for the given special rates-covered occupational series and grade, as well as any other criteria specified for that particular occupational series. For example, the minimum educational requirement at the GS-5 grade level may include a bachelor's degree in a specific field of study. In this situation, only those students who meet this requirement will be eligible for the special rate.
As part of a request for new or revised special rates, agencies may ask that student trainees in a covered occupational category be covered by special rates without regard to the qualification requirements that apply to employees in a regular occupational series (i.e., a series other than a student trainee series). OPM has authority to expressly provide in the special rate authorization that all student trainees in a given "99" occupational series with qualifying parenthetical titles are covered by the special rate table, if they are otherwise eligible. Absent such express authorization, coverage must be determined as described in the above paragraphs.