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Classification & Qualifications Appeal Decisions

Washington, D.C.

U.S. Office of Personnel Management
Classification Appeal Decision
Under section 5112 of title 5, United States Code

Charles S. Cody
Correctional Officer
GL-007-7
Correctional Services Department
Federal Correctional Institution
Western Region
Bureau of Prisons
U.S. Department of Justice
Phoenix, Arizona
Correctional Officer
GL-007-07
C-007-07-01

Robert D. Hendler
Classification and Pay Claims
Program Manager
Agency Compliance and Evaluation
Merit System Accountability and Compliance

03/15/2016


Date

As provided in section 511.612 of title 5, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), this decision constitutes a certificate that is mandatory and binding on all administrative, certifying, payroll, disbursing, and accounting officials of the Government.  The agency is responsible for reviewing its classification decisions for identical, similar, or related positions to ensure consistency with this decision.  There is no right of further appeal.  This decision is subject to discretionary review only under conditions and time limits specified in the Introduction to the Position Classification Standards (Introduction), appendix 4, section G (address provided in appendix 4, section H).

 Introduction

On September 16, 2015, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) Dallas Agency Compliance and Evaluation accepted a classification appeal from Mr. Charles S. Cody.  The appellant’s position is currently classified as Correctional Officer, GL-007-7, but he believes it should be classified at the 8 grade level.  The position is assigned to the Correctional Services Department, Federal Correctional Institution (FCI), Western Region, Bureau of Prisons (Bureau), U.S. Department of Justice, in Phoenix, Arizona.  We received the complete agency’s administrative report on October 13, 2015.  We have accepted and decided this appeal under section 5112 of title 5, United States Code (U.S.C.).

Background and general issues

The appellant requested a review of the classification of his position from the Bureau’s Classification and Compensation Section.  Their June 5, 2015, findings determined the position is classified appropriately as Correctional Officer, GL-007-7.  The appellant subsequently filed a classification appeal with OPM.

The appellant states the position descriptions (PD) assigned to correctional officer positions at the 7 and 8 grade levels are “nearly identical.”  By law, we must classify positions solely by comparing their current duties and responsibilities to OPM position classification standards (PCS) and guidelines (5 U.S.C. 5106, 5107, and 5112).  Since comparison to PCSs is the exclusive method for classifying positions, we cannot compare the appellant’s current duties to other positions, such as comparing them to duties described in another PD, as a basis for deciding this appeal.

Like OPM, the appellant’s agency must classify positions based on comparison to OPM’s PCSs and guidelines.  Under 5 CFR 511.612, agencies are required to review their own classification decisions for identical, similar, or related positions to ensure consistency with OPM certificates.  Consequently, the appellant’s agency has primary responsibility for ensuring its positions are classified consistently with OPM appeal decisions.  If the appellant believes his position is classified inconsistently with another, then he may pursue this matter by writing to the human resources office of his agency’s headquarters.  He should specify the precise organizational location, series, title, grade, and responsibilities of the positions in question.  The agency should explain to him the differences between his position and the others, or classify those positions in accordance with this appeal decision.

The appellant asserts the distinctions between work assignments between correctional officer positions at the 7 and 8 grade levels are meaningless.  He indicates all correctional officer positions at the 7 level meet the “benchmarks” described at the 8 level by the PCS for Correctional Officer Series, GS-007.  He states since there are no grade-level restrictions for assigned posts (work assignments) at the FCI, he concludes the correctional officers perform work without clear grade-level distinctions and thus all positions at the 7 grade level should be classified at the 8 grade level as well.  As provided for under 5 U.S.C. 5112(b) and 5 CFR 511.603, an employee may appeal the appropriate series or grade of his or her own official position.  This authority does not provide for responding to the aforementioned assertions made or taking the classification actions requested by the appellant.  In adjudicating this appeal, our responsibility is to make an independent decision on the proper classification of the appellant’s position.  We have considered his statements only insofar as they are relevant to making a comparison of his current duties and responsibilities to OPM’s PCSs and guidelines.

In addition, the appellant states in his appeal request to OPM:

The [GS-007 PCS, dated April 1971] was published over 40 years ago.  In that time there have been major changes in the [Bureau], and in the types of individuals sentenced to do prison time in [Bureau] facilities…The major differences between the [Bureau] of 1971, and the [Bureau] of today is that there is a higher inmate to [correctional officer] ratio than there was in 1971, and that today’s inmate is more violent than in previous years.

Implicit in his statement is that the grading criteria in the GS-007 PCS are outdated.  However, the adequacy of grade-level criteria in OPM PCSs is not appealable (5 CFR 511.607).  All OPM General Schedule (GS) PCSs are consistent with the grade level definitions of work established by law.  These definitions are based on the difficulty and responsibility of the work at each grade level and the qualifications required to do the work.

Position information

The appellant’s position serves as a senior officer (i.e., the organizational title of all grade 7 correctional officers) assigned to the FCI, a medium security, male institution housing approximately 1,324 inmates.  The primary purpose of his position is the correctional treatment, custody, and supervision of criminal offenders at the FCI.  He enforces rules and regulations of facility security, inmate accountability, and inmate conduct to ensure judicial sanctions are carried out and inmates remain in custody.  Correctional officers at the FCI alternate post assignments at the:  housing units, special housing units (SHU), visiting room, recreational areas, front and rear entrances, perimeter patrol, and control room monitoring traffic entering and exiting the institution.  Though correctional officers bid each quarter for preferred posts and shifts, bidding decisions are driven by seniority.

A Supervisory Correctional Officer (a GS-007-13 position with the organizational title of captain) is the head of the Correctional Services Department with its approximately 130 correctional officers including 74 officers at the 7 level and 45 at the 8 level, as reported by the organizational chart on record.  The captain supervises the supervisory correctional officer positions at the 9 and 11 grade levels (organizational title of lieutenant).  Based on established post instructions, the lieutenants direct, coordinate, and oversee the shift and activities of the correctional officers.  Since post assignments are subject to change each quarter, a different lieutenant may serve as the appellant’s first-level supervisor every three months should his post change.

The appellant normally works the shift from 2:00 to 10:00 p.m. on a rotational basis.  While assignments are subject to change quarterly, for the past two years the appellant typically has been assigned to the housing units, SHU, or perimeter patrol post.  Seven cell-type housing units housing general population inmates are located in four buildings.  Each housing unit contains approximately 50 cells with two inmates in each cell.  An open area in the center of each unit is provided for inmates to watch television, play cards, and other activities while out of their cells.  The appellant’s housing unit post requires supervision of inmates to ensure safety, security, and sanitation maintenance; inmate accountability; and the maintenance of control and discipline of inmates.  He estimates he has responsibility for approximately 128 to 137 inmates although the captain cited 75 to 100 inmates instead.  The appellant also maintains control over hazardous items, tools, and materials brought in and out of the housing unit for facilities repair and maintenance work performed by inmates assigned to work groups managed by the FCI’s Facilities Department.  When inmates enter and exit the unit, the appellant will inventory and account for the screwdrivers, pliers, wrenches, hammers, and other work tools used to complete the repair or maintenance job.  In addition, he carries a firearm when transporting inmates to a hospital or other medical facility outside of the FCI.  Medical escorts occur, on average, once a week.

The appellant is assigned to a SHU post on an as-needed basis.  Our review of his daily assignment log shows, for the past several months, the SHU work occupied 1 out of 22 work days (5 percent), 5 out of 12 days (42 percent), 4 out of 24 days (17 percent), and 11 out of 22 days (50 percent).  Although the work fluctuates, the daily log confirms his SHU posts periodically constitute a major portion of his workload and we will thus address this work in our evaluation of the appellant’s position.  At the SHU, with its estimated 79 segregated beds, inmates are restricted and confined for 23 hours of the day with one hour for recreation outside of the cell.  A maximum of two inmates are confined to a cell.  SHU-confined inmates may be segregated for administrative detention (e.g., the individual is under investigation for rules violation), medical, disciplinary, or protective custody reasons.  The appellant’s SHU post requires ensuring inmates are fed, showered, and hygiene is maintained, in addition to conducting random checks and counts of inmates.  His perimeter patrol work involves ensuring the integrity of institution fences, preventing escapes, and monitoring outside recreation yards.

The appellant and captain certified to the overall accuracy of the duties described in the PD of record, number SPA021.  Although the appellant states his PD lacks detail and understates the nature of assignments and level of responsibility, the captain attests to its accuracy but indicates the appellant is not responsible for escorting inmates to various cities or states for court appearances as identified by the PD.  The appellant’s is a standardized PD intended to cover Bureau-wide correctional officer positions at the 7 grade level.  Standardized PDs typically use broad descriptions that do not provide the specificity found in a PD developed for a single position.  Position classification appeal regulations permit OPM to investigate or audit a position and decide an appeal on the basis of the duties and responsibilities assigned by management and performed by the employee.  Because an OPM appeal decision classifies a real operating position and not simply the work depicted in the PD, this decision is based on the actual work assigned to and performed by the employee.

A position represents the duties and responsibilities that make up the work performed by an employee and are customarily documented in a PD.  Major duties are normally those occupying a significant portion of the employee’s time and should be only those duties currently assigned, observable, identifiable with the position’s purpose and organization, and expected to continue or recur on a regular basis over a period of time.  Based on these criteria, we find the appellant’s PD is adequate for classification purposes, and we incorporate it by reference into this decision.

To help decide this appeal, we conducted a telephone audit with the appellant on November 30, 2015; a telephone interview with his supervisory lieutenant on February 18, 2016; and telephone interviews with the captain on November 5, 2015, and January 26, 2016.  In deciding this appeal, we considered all of the information gained from these interviews, as well as the written information furnished by the appellant and his agency, including the PD of record.

Series, title, and standard determination

The agency assigned the appellant’s position to the “GL” pay plan for the GS classification and pay system for law enforcement officers who receive special base rates at grades 3 to 10 under section 403 of the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act of 1990.  This designation is the responsibility of the agency and is not subject to review under the classification appeals process.

The agency placed the appellant’s position in the GS-007 Correctional Officer Series, titled it Correctional Officer, and applied the grading criteria in the GS-007 PCS to determine the grade of the position.  The appellant does not disagree and, after careful review of the record, we concur.

Grade determination

The GS-007 PCS describes, in narrative format, grade-level criteria for evaluating non-supervisory positions from GS-6 through GS-9, supplemented by examples of work that are illustrative of the grade-level concepts appropriate to each grade level.  Positions are graded as a whole against the criteria found at differing grades in the PCS and then classified to the grade that best represents the overall demands of the work.  The classification criteria used in the PCS are Nature of assignment and Level of responsibility.

Nature of assignment

This factor covers the type, variety, and difficulty of assignments commonly found in correctional officer positions.  Assignments range from on-the-job and classroom training in the fundamentals of correctional work to very difficult work in the treatment and rehabilitation of offenders involving the knowledge and application of technical counseling and treatment techniques in direct support of professional correctional programs.  The relative difficulty of assignments depends upon the level of correctional skills required by the range of posts to which the correctional officer is regularly assigned and upon the degree to which the officer possesses and applies these skills in the performance of assignments.

At the 7 level, correctional officers independently perform, typically on a rotational basis, a variety of moderately difficult assignments.  Such assignments require proficiency in the application of correctional skills in supervising inmate activities on work details, in recreational activities, in living quarters during morning or day watches, etc.  These assignments involve regular contacts with individual or small groups of inmates.  They allow significant opportunity for correctional officers to motivate inmates to acceptable behavior.  The assignments involve advising and counseling inmates regarding adjustment to institution life, resolution of personal problems, and acceptance of professional assistance in the rehabilitative process.

Illustrative of 7 level work is:  immediate supervision of small (e.g., 10 inmates) work details such as grounds maintenance, road building, etc.; direct supervision of inmates in living quarters during the day watch where the number of inmates at any one time is small, or on the morning watch when the inmates either are sleeping or have prescribed activities; or supervision of groups of inmates during outside activities, e.g., recreation, free time, etc., when the situation allows officer-inmate contacts on a regular basis.  In addition, correctional officers at this level participate with officers of higher grade in performing such assignments as supervising large work details, supervising inmates in living quarters on the evening watch, and performing admission and orientation functions.

At the 8 level, correctional officers regularly perform a variety of very difficult assignments in a correctional institution.  Such assignments, based on the recognition of superior correctional skills of the incumbent, require the judgment, maturity, and knowledge of inmate behavior developed through experience gained in a wide variety of assignments.  Correctional officers at this level typically supervise groups of inmates in situations that are critical to the effectiveness of the correctional treatment program and to the efficient operation of the institution.  Assignments involve contacts with inmates that present substantially continuous opportunity for the officer to use extensive experience and superior correctional skills and abilities in influencing the attitudes and motivation of offenders towards socially acceptable behavior and in adapting to the institution environment and rehabilitation programs.

Illustrative of 8 level work is:  custody of newly committed offenders with responsibility for developing information through interview and observation and making recommendations regarding quarters assignments, work assignments, security classification, and individual program goals; direct responsibility for supervising the activities of inmates in quarters during the evening period when the officer must effectively control a large group under relaxed, less regulated conditions; coordination of work release and/or study release programs with responsibility for making satisfactory arrangements for meeting the needs of inmates while outside the institution; or direct responsibility for supervising inmates with particularly serious behavior problems who are in segregation status.

The appellant’s position meets the 7 level.  As at this level, he independently performs a variety of moderately difficult assignments, for example, when assigned to his evening post at the housing units, SHU, and on perimeter patrol.  His housing unit post requires ensuring the safety and accountability of inmates by participating in official and random counts of inmates as well as conducting searches of inmates, housing units, and other areas to prevent the admission of contraband.  On SHU posts, he also ensures any special instructions are followed and conducts checks of inmates at thirty-minute intervals.  Similar to the 7 level, the appellant’s post assignments require proficiency at applying correctional skills to supervise recreational time, living quarters, and other inmate activities.  When responding accordingly to emergencies until a lieutenant arrives, he may enter into hostile or life threatening situations that require he apply counseling skills and techniques to effectively influence inmate attitudes, behaviors, and habits.  These and other assignments involve regular contact with individuals and small groups of inmates to counsel them on adjusting to institution life and resolution of personal problems, as well as motivating and advising inmates on attitudes and behaviors acceptable at the FCI (e.g., proper sanitation and personal hygiene) as expected at the 7 level.

The appellant’s position does not meet the 8 level.  His work does not require the superior correctional skills to perform a variety of very difficult assignments at the correctional institution as described at this level.  According to the captain, the sentence of inmates at the FCI is an average of 22 years and all are eventually eligible for release.  He also states the inmates at the FCI are not as violent as those incarcerated at a penitentiary.  The appellant’s assignments are of moderate difficulty, typically supervising inmates who are aware of established procedures and expectations and do not present serious behavior problems.  He counsels inmates regarding appropriate attitudes and behaviors expected while incarcerated.  The appellant resolves minor infractions of rules and regulations while reporting more serious matters to the lieutenant or other higher-graded correctional officers.  He prepares reports of incidents, accidents, or injuries when needed.  This work requires proficiency of correctional officer skills to maintain awareness of inmate behavior, tensions, and other signs of trouble in order to prevent altercations among inmates typical of the 7 level.  Unlike the 8 level, the appellant’s work assignments do not rise to regularly resolving situations that are critical to the effectiveness of the correctional treatment program and efficient operation of the institution.

The appellant believes his position warrants crediting at the 8 level, stating he performs a “benchmark” at the 8 level describing officers working at housing units during evening hours.  He refers to an example illustrating the 8 level, described in the PCS as follows:

Direct responsibility for supervising the activities of inmates in quarters during the evening period when he must effectively control a large group under relaxed, less regulated conditions.  In some instances, he is assisted by one or two correctional officers of lower grade.  In addition to encouraging constructive activities and maintaining discipline and security, the GS-8 correctional officer uses the relaxed atmosphere to talk with individuals and small groups to resolve problems, to stimulate cooperating, and to establish positive correctional attitudes.

Examples are not intended to be used mechanically to evaluate a position.  The language used in the PCS is deliberate in that the example is intended for positions with “direct responsibility for” the supervision of inmate activities in quarters during the evening period.  The appellant, when assigned to the evening housing unit post, always works with a lieutenant who is available in person or via telephone as well as with 8-level correctional officers.  The primary purpose of the correctional officer positions at the 8 level is to perform a variety of difficult assignments with individual responsibility for the custody and control of inmates requiring special handling (e.g., an inmate with a history of attempted escapes) and performance of other duties critical to security or public relations, in addition to providing guidance to lower-graded correctional officer positions.  Therefore, it would not be appropriate to discount the presence and availability of the captain, lieutenants, and the 8-level correctional officers by crediting the appellant’s position with “direct responsibility for” supervising inmate activities in quarters during the evening period.  Rather, we conclude his work situation is reflective of the 7-level example of a correctional officer “[participating] with officers of higher grade in performing such assignments as…supervising inmates in living quarters on the evening watch” rather than the 8-level example of having “direct responsibility for supervising the activities of inmates in quarters during the evening period.”

In addition, the appellant’s position is not comparable to the example at the 8 level of a correctional officer with direct responsibility for supervising inmates with particularly serious behavior problems who are in a segregation status.  Inmates in the FCI’s SHU, confined there for disciplinary reasons, are likely to exhibit more serious behavioral problems than the general population.  According to the captain, the most complex SHU-related work occurs outside of the appellant’s typical work shift, when the correctional officers on the 6:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. work shift supervise the inmates during one hour of recreation time.  Inmates are in hand restraints and are in constant movement.  During that shift, a lieutenant is physically present to oversee the recreational activity along with five correctional officers of varying grade levels.  During the appellant’s 2:00 to 10:00 p.m. evening shift, four correctional officers of varying grades are assigned with the lieutenant readily available though not physically present at all times.  The appellant’s interaction with the SHU inmates is limited to monitoring their activities while in their cell and, unlike the example at the 8 level, does not involve counseling or attempting to get inmates to recognize or understand their correctional problems.

This factor is credited at the 7 level.

Level of responsibility

This factor covers the kind and degree of supervision received and the degree of judgment and independence required.  Levels range from close, detailed supervision requiring relatively simple judgments to considerable independence of operation in making judgments significantly affecting the rehabilitation of inmates.

At the 7 level, correctional officers perform assignments of the difficulty described previously at that level with considerable independence.  Correctional officers get their assignments from posted schedules and the general requirements of each assignment are described in written post orders.  After receiving available daily information as to known problems that may be encountered, correctional officers at the 7 level perform assigned duties with little supervision on all but the most difficult posts.  Their work is checked by occasional visits by a supervisory correctional officer who is always available by telephone for assistance in unusual situations.  The supervisor evaluates performance from oral and written reports and recommendations submitted by the correctional officer and from results achieved in a wide range of correctional assignments.  When assigned to posts presenting exceptionally difficult correctional problems (e.g., quarters on evening watch, admission and orientation unit), the correctional officer frequently works with a correctional officer of higher grade who is immediately available for advice and assistance on unusual problems.  However, correctional officers at the 7 level are expected to handle most situations on their own.

At the 8 level, correctional officers work with a great deal of independence in performing very difficult assignments as described previously.  They utilize superior skill and insight in observing and interpreting inmate activities, making sound decisions rapidly, and resolving difficult correctional problems.  This contrasts with the situation at the 7 level which involves working with a correctional officer of higher grade when assigned to a difficult post.  Correctional officers at the 8 level usually receive only general instructions as to the purpose of the assignment.  Because of their recognized ability, correctional supervisors and other institutional staff (i.e., social workers (case workers), psychologists, teachers, etc.) give considerable weight to the officers’ reports and recommendations on inmate behavior and operational procedures.

The appellant’s position meets the 7 level.  Similar to this level, he performs assignments of the difficulty previously described at this level with considerable independence.  On an annual basis, the captain establishes the posts and relevant orders and instructions to be followed at each post.  Typical of the 7 level, the captain assigns work through the post orders which provide the appellant with work expectations (i.e., the general requirements) while the lieutenant advises him on day-to-day activities and the known problems which may be encountered during the shift.  The appellant performs assignments independently, using sound judgment to identify suspicious behaviors and activities, identify reportable incidents, decide if a search of an inmate or living quarters is warranted, and to make other on-the-spot decisions.  His experience allows him to recognize unusual or abnormal situations, acting in accordance with the FCI’s standard operating procedures, Bureau policies, and other directives.  In the event of an emergency, he follows the FCI’s established emergency plans (e.g., regarding escapes, riots, and weather events) until a lieutenant arrives.  Though the lieutenant completes daily rounds at the appellant’s assigned post, the appellant handles most situations on his own as expected at the 7 level.  However when assigned in the evenings at the housing unit and other such assignments presenting complex correctional problems, he participates with other correctional officers while a lieutenant is always available in person or via telephone.  This is an exact match to the description at the 7 level.

The appellant’s position does not meet the 8 level.  His position works with independence but his work is not, for reasons previously discussed, characterized as “very difficult” as expected at this level.  He is not responsible for resolving the FCI’s difficult correctional problems on his own but rather in accordance with instructions from the captain or lieutenant.  For example, the appellant, along with correctional officers of varying grade levels, controls to the extent possible medical emergencies, assaults, fights, and other such incidents at the FCI, but the lieutenant is responsible for conducting investigations to determine the disciplinary or subsequent actions to be followed by the correctional officers.  The appellant prepares incident, accident, injury, and other such reports primarily for the purpose of conveying facts rather than recommendations on operational procedures as expected at the 8 level.  The appellant’s normal 2:00 to 10:00 p.m. evening shift also involves working with correctional officers of varying grade levels, up to and including the 8 level, with the lieutenant readily available though not physically present at all times.  In contrast to the 8 level where officers receive only general instructions as to the purpose of the assignment, the appellant participates, with specific direction from the captain or a lieutenant, at housing units during evening hours and other assignments presenting complex correctional problems.

This factor is credited at the 7 level.

Summary

Since both factors are evaluated at the 7 level, the position is properly evaluated at the 7 level.

Decision

The appellant’s position is properly classified as Correctional Officer, GL-007-7.

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