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Classification & Qualifications Appeal Decisions

Washington, DC

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

Suzanne Alison
Program Operations Assistant (OA)
GS-0303-6
Fire and Explosions Branch
Pittsburgh Mining Research Division
National Institute for Occupational
Safety and Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Department of Health and Human Services
Bruceton, Pennsylvania
GS-0303-5
(Title at agency discretion without “OA”)
C-0303-05-30

Lakshmi Bouchard
Classification Appeals and FLSA Claims
Program Manager
Agency Compliance and Evaluation
Merit System Accountability and Compliance

07/18/2018


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).

Since this decision lowers the grade of the appealed position, it is to be effective no later than the beginning of the fourth pay period after the date of this decision, as permitted by 5 CFR 511.702.  The applicable provisions of parts 351, 432, 536, and 752 of title 5 CFR must be followed in implementing the decision.  If the appellant is entitled to grade retention, the two-year retention period begins on the date this decision is implemented.  The servicing human resources office must submit a compliance report containing the corrected standard position description (SPD) reflecting the actual work assigned to and performed by the appellant and the change in the title of the appealed position as discussed in this decision and a Standard Form 50 showing the personnel actions taken.  The report must be submitted within 30 days from the effective date of the personnel actions to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), Agency Compliance and Evaluation (ACE), Washington, DC, office.


Introduction

The appellant’s position is currently classified as Program Operations Assistant (OA), GS-0303-6.  The appellant believes the duties and responsibilities warrant upgrading to the GS-7 grade level.  The position is located in the Fire and Explosions Branch (branch), Pittsburgh Mining Research Division (PMRD), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Department of Health and Human Services, (HHS) in Bruceton, Pennsylvania.  We have accepted and decided this appeal under section 5112 of title 5, United States Code (U.S.C.).

General issues

The appellant raises concerns about the agency’s classification review process.  She alludes to classification inconsistency by stating in her appeal that most of the duties she performs are either misclassified or should be upgraded to the GS-7 grade level.  The appellant also compares her duties to a higher graded GS-7 Program Operations Assistant position at the agency.  By law, we must classify positions solely by comparing their duties and responsibilities to OPM position classification standards (PCS) and guidelines (5 U.S.C. 5106, 5107, and 5112).  In adjudicating this appeal, our responsibility is to make our own independent decision on the proper classification of her position.  Because our decision sets aside all previous agency decisions, the agency’s classification review process is not germane to this decision.

Like OPM, the appellant’s agency must classify positions based on comparison to OPM standards and guidelines.  The agency also has primary responsibility for ensuring that its positions are classified consistently with OPM appeal decisions.  If the appellant considers her position so similar to higher graded positions at other CDC facilities that they all warrant the same classification, she may pursue the matter by writing to her headquarters agency human resources office.  In doing so, she should specify the precise organizational location, classification, duties, and responsibilities of the positions in question.  If the positions are found to be basically the same as hers, the agency must correct their classification to be consistent with this appeal decision.  Otherwise, the agency should explain to her the differences between her position and the others.  

The appellant believes her current SPD of record (number 08SP101564) is not completely accurate but her supervisor certified to the accuracy of the duties described in the SPD.  The appellant stated during her interview that the duties she performs are more accurately described in the agency’s GS-7 Program Operations Assistant SPD.  A SPD is the official record of the major duties and responsibilities assigned to a position by an official with the authority to assign work.  A position is the duties and responsibilities that make up the work performed by the employee.  Classification appeal regulations permit OPM to investigate or audit a position and decide an appeal based on the actual duties and responsibilities currently assigned by management and performed by the employee.  An OPM appeal decision classifies a real operating position and not simply a SPD.  This decision is based on the work currently assigned to and performed by the appellant.  

Our review disclosed the appellant’s SPD is not completely accurate in that it describes duties the appellant does not perform.  Specifically, the SPD states the incumbent provides programmatic and operational support associated with the planning and development of strategies for major projects.  However, we found the position provides only limited program support to the positions that plan and develop strategies.  The SPD states that the incumbent provides advice and guidance on the requirements and options for implementing projects efficiently.  However, we found that the appellant does not provide advice and guidance on the requirements and options for implementing projects efficiently.  The SPD states the incumbent maintains and tracks project and program budget proposals and documents but we found the position reconciles the branch’s previous fiscal year budget.  The position does not assist with tracking and monitoring policy and program planning documents and operating budget.  The SPD states that the appellant coordinates the calendar of senior staff members, plans and arranges travel including national and international, for staff members, consultants, contractors or other special needs.  However, we found that the appellant does not coordinate the calendar of senior staff members nor does the appellant plan and arrange travel for staff members, consultants, contractors or other special needs.  The SPD states the incumbent plans and arranges meetings, conferences, and other gatherings that require scheduling and logistical arrangements within CDC and in off-site private or leased facilities consistent with CDC regulations and standards.  However, we found the position makes on-site logistical arrangements for gatherings as needed.  In contrast to the SPD, the position does not type a variety of documents, letters, or reports in final form and the skills of a qualified typist are not required in the position.  The SPD states the incumbent regularly reviews all documents on the system to determine which should be deleted or archived, but our review disclosed the incumbent has not performed this duty in several years.  Therefore, the appellant’s SPD of record does not meet the standard of adequacy addressed on pages 11-12 of the Introduction, and the agency must revise the SPD to reflect our findings.

Position information

PMRD focuses on such mine safety and health issues as dust monitoring and control, mine ventilation, hearing loss prevention and engineering noise controls, mine ground control, electrical safety, explosives safety, surveillance, and technology transfer.  The mission of the Fire and Explosions Branch includes conducting experiments, studies, and field experiments to prevent catastrophic events such as mine explosions, mine fires, and water inundation to better understand how such events occur.  Their mission also includes developing new controls and strategies for eliminating explosions or fires or minimizing their impact on the safety of mine workers by improving detection of such events and suppression systems; and identifying and evaluating emerging health and safety issues as mining operations move into more challenging and dangerous geologic conditions.  The appellant provides support to two of the Fire and Explosions Branch teams, i.e., Ventilation Team and Explosions Team.

The appellant is a credit card purchase holder and submits purchase requests.  Examples of purchases include approved training costs and conference registration fees.  She also purchases office supplies for the branch.  Team members submit purchase requests in the Branch Management Website (BMW) and provide information such as the item to be purchased and the vendor name, address, and telephone number.  An email notification is forwarded to the team leader to review and approve the request and then the branch chief to review and approve it.  The appellant receives an email notification and reviews the request for completeness and looks up missing information as needed.  If the vendor is not on the list of approved vendors, the appellant lets the requestor know the similar items available from an approved vendor.  If the requestor insists on the non-approved vendor, he or she provides a justification to the appellant, who requests approval from the branch chief for non-routine purchases.  The appellant then inputs the required information in the Managing Accounting Credit Card System (MACCS) 1350 and an email is sent to the approver, which is based on the administrative code input by the appellant.  After she receives approval, the information in MACCS 1350 flows to MACCS and the appellant makes the purchase.  The appellant tracks the purchase until it is received by her or the requestor and reconciles her monthly credit card purchases.  

The appellant submits travel requests.  Team members submit their requests in the BMW and provide information based on whether or not the traveler is a Government travel card holder.  An email notification is forwarded to the appellant and she reviews the request for completeness and adherence to agency travel regulations.  If she questions something, e.g., staying at a non-Government rate hotel, the appellant discusses it with the traveler and requests a justification if needed.  After the appellant has all of the required information, she inputs it in the CONCUR system, which is the CDC’s travel approval system.  An email notification is forwarded to the branch chief to approve the request and then the Office of the Director for final approval.  The appellant accesses the system to monitor the approval process.  After the appellant receives an email notification regarding final approval, she emails a copy of the travel authorization to the traveler.  Once the traveler returns, she or he has five days to provide the appellant all receipts and a completed travel work sheet so she can input the information in CONCUR.  An email notification is forwarded to the traveler to review the input information for accuracy before electronically signing the voucher.  An email notification is then forwarded to the budget analyst to review the information before approving the voucher.  The appellant and traveler are notified after the voucher processes through CONCUR and reaches paid status.  She emails a copy of the approved voucher to the traveler.

The appellant uploads the information needed to award contracts.  Examples include service contracts such as equipment maintenance agreements, purchases over 3,500 dollars, and purchases below 3,500 dollars for items requiring bar coding, e.g., computers and video equipment.  Team members request contracts by completing and submitting the required procurement information in the BMW.  Email notifications are forwarded to the project leader, then the team leader, then the branch chief for their review and approval.  The appellant receives an email notification and reviews the request for completeness and notifies the requestor if she cannot locate the missing information as needed.  After the appellant has all of the required information, she inputs it in the Integrated Contracts Expert (ICE) system for processing by procurement office personnel.

The appellant works with project and team leaders to create line items for the travel section of each project in the Common Access Number (CAN) portion in the BMW.  Throughout the year, she updates the line items with actual travel costs for each project as needed.  

The appellant reconciles the branch’s budget for the previous fiscal year.  She compares the purchases listed in the BMW and on the report of each branch credit card purchase holder against the purchases listed in the iBudget report.

The appellant reserves General Services Administration (GSA) owned motor vehicles.  Team employees notify her when a motor vehicle is needed either through email or an in person visit.  The appellant accesses the GSA Vehicle Dispatch and Reservation Module and provides the required information, e.g., the date(s) the motor vehicle is needed, the driver’s name, and a justification or an explanation of the reason why the motor vehicle is needed.  Because no prior approval is needed, she then submits the reservation.

The appellant also serves as a backup for the branch’s GS-7 Program Operations Assistant who regularly performs such duties as timekeeping for branch employees, inputting travel for the remaining branch team employees and maintaining the branch chief’s calendar.  However, as stipulated in the Introduction duties performed in the absence of another employee may not control the classification of a position.  

In reaching our classification decision, we carefully considered all information provided by the appellant and her agency including her official SPD which, although not completely accurate, we have incorporated by reference into this decision.  In addition, to gain more information about the actual work performed and help decide the appeal, we conducted separate telephone interviews with the appellant and her supervisor.  

Series, title, and standard determination

The agency classified the appellant’s position in the Miscellaneous Clerk and Assistant Series, GS-0303.  The appellant does not disagree with the series determination and we concur with the agency’s series determination.  There are no titles specified for positions in the GS-0303 series.  Agencies may construct titles for positions in this series following guidance provided in the Introduction.  Positions classified to the GS-0303 series that involve the performance of clerical or assistant work are evaluated by use of the Grade Level Guide for Clerical and Assistance Work (Guide).

The parenthetical title Office Automation (OA) used by the agency in its classification of the position is added to a title when the position requires a fully qualified typist to perform word processing duties and significant knowledge of office automation systems.  Our fact-finding disclosed the appellant inputs data into existing databases, but does not perform duties requiring the skills of a fully qualified typist nor does she require significant knowledge of office automation systems.  Therefore, the parenthetical (OA) may not be included in the title.

Grade determination

The Guide provides general criteria for use in determining the grade level of nonsupervisory clerical and assistance work.  Administrative support work of the kind described in the Guide is performed in the offices, hospitals, and numerous other settings in Federal agencies.  The Guide describes the general characteristics of each grade level from GS-1 through GS-7, and uses the following two criteria for grading purposes:  Nature of Assignment (which includes knowledge required and complexity of the work) and Level of Responsibility (which includes supervisory controls, guidelines, and contacts).

The Guide provides separate evaluation criteria for clerical and assistance work.  The term “clerical” is defined as performing work such as preparing, receiving, reviewing, and verifying documents; maintaining office records; locating and compiling data or information from files; compiling information for reports; keeping a calendar and informing others of deadlines and other important dates; and similar clerical support work within an organization.  This work requires knowledge of the clerical requirements and processes involved in maintaining the functional programs of the unit.  “Assistance” is defined as performing technical work to support the administration or operation of the programs of an organizational unit.  This work requires working knowledge of the work processes and procedures of an administrative field (e.g., office administration, communications, and security) and the missions and operational requirements of the unit.

For the purpose of applying the Guide, the appellant’s work is clerical in nature involving such work as processing approved travel and purchase requests, updating databases, requesting missing documentation from team members, and compiling data from the BMW for use in reports.  Her work does not involve performing the technical work of an administrative field to support the programs of the organization.  Thus, only the grade level evaluation criteria for clerical work are addressed below.

    GS-5

Nature of Assignment

At the GS-5 level, work consists of performing a full range of standard and non-standard clerical assignments and resolving a variety of non-recurring problems.  Work includes a variety of assignments involving different and unrelated steps, processes, or methods.  The employee must identify and understand the issues involved in each assignment and determine what steps and procedures are necessary and the order of their performance.  Completion of each transaction typically involves selecting a course of action from a number of possibilities.  The work requires extensive knowledge of an organization’s rules, procedures, operations, or business practices to perform the more complex, interrelated, or one-of-a-kind clerical processing procedures.

Level of Responsibility

At the GS-5 level, the supervisor assigns work by defining objectives, priorities, and deadlines and provides guidance on assignments which do not have clear precedents.  The employee works in accordance with accepted practices and completed work is evaluated for technical soundness, appropriateness, and effectiveness in meeting goals.  Extensive guides in the form of instructions, manuals, regulations, and precedents apply to the work.  The number and similarity of guidelines and work situations require the employee to use judgment in locating and selecting the most appropriate guidelines for application and adapting them according to circumstances of the specific case or transaction.  A number of procedural problems may arise which also require interpretation and adaptation of established guides.  Often, the employee must determine which of several alternative guidelines to use.  Contacts are with a variety of persons within and outside the agency for the purpose of receiving or providing information relating to the work or resolving operating problems in connection with recurring responsibilities.

The appellant’s work assignments are generally consistent with the GS-5 level criteria.  Similar to this level, under general supervision she performs clerical work requiring training and a broad working knowledge of the rules, procedures, and operations of the specific programs to which she is assigned, e.g., credit card purchase holder, reserving GSA-owned motor vehicles, processing travel and training requests, and uploading the information needed to award contracts.  Her work includes a variety of assignments involving different and unrelated processes, such as purchasing training course materials and office supplies, updating databases, reconciling the branch budget, and inputting travel.  Her work involves performing a full range of both standard and non-standard clerical assignments where she must understand the issues involved and determine the steps and procedures to be followed.  For example, her credit card purchases of training course materials and office supplies is a standard clerical assignment because the work is basically repetitive and involves carrying out the same steps without variation, e.g., creating a requisition in the MACCS 1350 and waiting for a purchase approval.  However, the work does require working knowledge of the MACCS system used by credit card purchase holders and the BMW to be able to perform such non-standard clerical assignments as running a query in the BMW and MACCS on a previous months’ purchases to reconcile them against those on the monthly credit card statement.  The appellant’s work reconciling the branch’s budget requires a working knowledge of the BMW, MACCS, and iBudget systems to run inquiries in each system on the previous fiscal year’s purchases.  She also requests reports from the other branch credit card purchase holders so she can reconcile the purchases in the BMW and MACCS against the purchases listed in the iBudget report.

The appellant’s level of responsibility is likewise consistent with GS-5 criteria in that the objectives, priorities, and deadlines of the work are established.  The appellant works in accordance with established procedures for recurring work, such as creating requisitions in MACCS 1350 and CONCUR.  Her work requires the use of a variety of guides such as the ICE Training Manual for Simplified Acquisitions, PMRD procedures, CDC Performance Management Appraisal System User Guide, HHS Travel Policy Manual, HHS Purchase Card Program Guide, CDC Purchase Card Manual, and the GSA Government purchase card policy.  Like this level, the number and similarity of the guidelines require the appellant to select the most appropriate guidelines for application and adaptation to the matter at hand, e.g., she researches questions on per diem rates or reimbursable expenses in HHS’ travel policy and ensures the required procurement information has been completed before inputting the contract request in the ICE system.  She has direct contact with the staff she supports as well as purchase vendors for the purpose of receiving and/or providing work related information, e.g., providing the procedures for requesting travel and purchases, updating the status of contract requests being awarded, and following up on the status of purchase requests.

    GS-6

At this grade level, the Guide provides separate evaluation criteria for clerical and assistance work as defined earlier.  The appellant’s work is clerical in nature because, corresponding to the definition for clerical work, it primarily involves such work as creating requisitions in MACCS and CONCUR; retaining required documents on file; and updating databases.  It does not involve performing technical work within an administrative field to support the programs of the organization.  Thus, only the grade level criteria for clerical work are addressed below.

Nature of Assignment

GS-6 level clerical work typically entails processing a wide variety of transactions for more than one type of assigned activity or functional specialization.  Assignments are subject to different sets of rules, regulations, and procedures, knowledge of which is usually attained through extensive, increasingly difficult, and practical experience and training in the subject matter field.  The work also requires ability to interpret and apply regulatory and procedural requirements to process unusually difficult and complicated transactions.  

Level of Responsibility

At the GS-6 level, the supervisor reviews completed work for conformance with policy and requirements.  The employee is recognized as an authority on processing transactions or completing assignments within a complicated framework of established procedures and guidelines, often where there are no clear precedents, usually extending beyond the immediate office to outside the organization.  The employee is regarded as an expert source of information on regulatory requirements for the various transactions and is frequently called upon to provide accurate information on short notice.  Guidelines for work are numerous and varied, making it difficult for the employee to choose the most appropriate instruction and decide how the various transactions are to be completed.  They often do not apply directly so the employee must adapt guidelines as needed to cover new and unusual work situations and deviate from established procedures to process transactions, which cannot be completed through regular channels.  Contacts are with employees in the agency, in other agencies, or with management or users or providers of agency services.  The employee provides information, explains the application of regulations, or resolves problems relating to the assignment.

The appellant’s assignments do not meet the GS-6 level.  While the appellant uses different procedures to process standard and nonstandard assignments including creating requisitions in MACCS and CONCUR, reconciling the branch budget, and reserving GSA-owned motor vehicles, unlike the GS-6 level this work does not require extensive practical experience and training in a subject matter field.  Instead, it involves applying established procedures to process standard and nonstandard transactions and update data bases.  It does not require interpreting and applying regulatory and procedural requirements to process difficult and complicated transactions, nor does it involve selecting from numerous guidelines the most appropriate one for application and adaptation to the matter at hand.  

The appellant’s work does not require or permit her to examine the issues involved in a given transaction to determine the best course of action because the issues presented are subject to resolution by the application of well-established procedures.  Unlike the GS-6 Level of Responsibility level, the parameters of the appellant’s work are well defined and she is not authorized to deviate from established procedures unless specifically instructed.  She carries out a structured, prescribed set of processes with limited opportunity for the application of any independent judgment or action.  Thus, her work is not consistent with the nature of assignments expected at the GS-6 level.  The appellant is not considered a subject matter expert and her assignments do not routinely require dealing with complicated transactions that are often without precedent.  While she communicates with vendors and PMRD personnel, it is to exchange information as opposed to providing advice on regulatory requirements as discussed at the GS-6 grade level.  Unlike the GS-6 level, her work is repetitive and issues can be resolved by locating and applying the most appropriate guideline to the circumstances of the specific case.  Her work does not routinely require or permit her to deviate from established procedures or deal with actions where guidelines are conflicting or unusable.  Problems of this nature are discussed with her supervisor or Director’s Office personnel for resolution.

Decision

The proper series and grade of the appellant’s position is GS-0303-5.  Selection of an appropriate title is at the agency’s discretion.

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