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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

Alma J. Camp
Secretary (Office Automation)
GS-318-6
Office of the Associate Director for
Patient/Nursing Service
Office of the Medical Center Director
Veterans Affairs Western New York
Healthcare System
Veterans Health Administration
U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Buffalo, New York

Secretary (OA)
GS-318-6
C-0318-06-07

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

07/06/2015


Date

As provided in section 511.612 of title 5, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), this decision constitutes a classification certificate which 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 5 CFR 511.605, 511.613, and 511.614, as cited in the Introduction to the Position Classification Standards (Introduction), appendix 4, section G (address provided in appendix 4, section H).

Introduction

On November 24, 2014, OPM’s Agency Compliance and Evaluation (ACE)-Philadelphia accepted a position classification appeal from Ms. Alma J. Camp.  The appellant’s position is currently classified as Secretary (OA), GS-318-6, and is located in the Office of the Associate Director for Patient/Nursing Service (ADPNS), Office of the Medical Center Director, Veterans Affairs Western New York Healthcare System (VAWNYHS), Veterans Health Administration (VHA), U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), in Buffalo, New York.  The appellant believes her position should be upgraded to the GS-7/8 grade levels.  We received the complete agency administrative report on February 3, 2015, and have accepted and decided this appeal under section 5112(b) of title 5, United States Code (U.S.C.).

Background and general issues

The record shows that beginning in 2009 the appellant sought reclassification of her position, then classified as Secretary (OA), GS-318-7, to the GS-8 grade level.  In November 2013, her request for reclassification was submitted to the Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) 2 Consolidated Classification Unit which sustained that classification on December 19, 2013.  On February 19, 2014, she was notified of the VISN decision and filed a classification appeal with VA headquarters Compensation and Classification Service and, in an October 14, 2014, letter, she was notified the agency determined her position was appropriately classified as Secretary (OA), GS-318-6.  On November 5, 2014, the appellant appealed the classification of her position to OPM, explaining in her appeal request:

Not only was the [VA headquarters Compensation and Classification Service] decision unfavorable but erroneously and deliberately nit-picked in the area of Factors, Levels, and Points credited to me as they relate to GUIDELINES….The decision from [VA headquarters Compensation and Classification Service] for Secretary (OA) 0318 GS6 reflects a total of 150 points taken away from me in the area of “guidelines” other than that, the point systems for series 0318 GS7 and series 0318 GS6 are identical

In adjudicating this appeal, our responsibility is to make our own independent decision on the proper classification of the appellant’s position.  Because our decision sets aside all previous agency decisions, any concerns regarding the agency’s classification review of her position are not germane to this decision.

The appellant submitted copies of Secretary, GS-318 position descriptions (PD) classified at and above the GS-8 grade level in her appeal request.  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).  Since comparison to the PCSs and guidelines is the exclusive method for classifying positions, we cannot compare the appellant’s current duties to other positions, which may or may not be classified properly, as the basis for deciding this appeal.

By law, the VA must classify positions consistently with published classification standards and in accordance with the principle of equal pay for substantially equal work.  Under 5 CFR 511.612, agencies must review their own classification decisions for identical, similar, or related positions to ensure consistency with OPM certificates.  The VA has primary responsibility for ensuring classification consistency at its medical centers.  If the appellant believes her position is classified inconsistently with another, then she may pursue this matter by writing to the human resources office of her agency’s headquarters.  She should specify the precise organizational location, series, title, grade, and responsibilities of the positions in question.  The agency should explain to her the differences between her position and the others, or classify those positions in accordance with this appeal decision.

The appellant alludes to the amount of work she performs by stating the relocation of her position and that of the ADPNS to the Medical Center Director’s suite in December 2009 has resulted in her performing an increasing amount of complex and diverse duties.  However, volume of work cannot be considered in determining the grade of a position (The Classifier’s Handbook, Chapter 5).

Position information

The office of the ADPNS is located in the medical center Director’s suite with the other executive staff members; i.e., the Director, Assistant Director, and the Chief of Staff.  The ADPNS consists of approximately 671 authorized full time equivalent positions, including title 38, title 38 hybrid, and title 5 positions.  The employees are assigned to the Behavioral Health Nursing Unit; Acute Medical and Surgical Unit; Sterile Processing Supply (SPS) Unit; Educational Services Unit; Ambulatory Care Unit; or the Long Term Care Unit.  Some of the Educational Services Unit and Long Term Care Unit employees are located in Batavia, New York.

The appellant reports directly to the ADPNS and independently performs a variety of clerical and administrative duties in support of the Patient/Nursing Service.  She also performs, along with the medical center Director’s Assistant and the Chief of Staff’s Secretary, a variety of clerical duties in support of all the VAMC executive staff members.

The appellant coordinates the flow of information between the ADPNS’s office and the subordinate units.  She forwards information regarding nursing issues and concerns to the appropriate personnel and maintains the electronic calendar for the ADPNS.  Her work includes reviewing documents for accurate factual information and proper formatting, grammar, and punctuation.  She maintains a suspense file to track all action items and follows up as needed.  The appellant creates and maintains the file records for the Service as the records liaison officer.  She orders office supplies and equipment for the ADPNS’s office, the nursing supervisors, and the VAMC executive staff as needed.  She also screens telephone calls and visitors to the Medical Center Director’s suite, ascertaining the nature of their requests, responding to routine or non-technical inquiries personally, and referring non-routine or technical inquiries to the appropriate staff.  The appellant sets up the monthly Nursing Leadership and the Re-useable Medical Equipment meetings and is the note taker.  She serves as the primary timekeeper for the employees in the SPS Unit and those reporting to the ADPNS and the back-up timekeeper for the other executive staff members and employees reporting to the Chief of Staff; e.g., the Equal Employment Opportunity Office Chief and the Public Affairs Office Chief.  The appellant submits various types of SF-52 personnel actions for the Registered Nurses (RNs), Nurse Practitioners (NPs), Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), and Nursing Assistants through the

WebHR automated system based on supervisory requests; e.g., appointments, return to duty, and retirements.  She also provides copies of clearance forms to employees leaving the VAMC.  She looks up which non-supervisory RNs and NPs are due a proficiency rating; i.e., performance evaluation, each month by running a Microsoft Access proficiency database report.  The appellant ensures the proficiency rating includes the required information, mails the rating to her Human Resources (HR) point of contact, and inputs certain information into the proficiency database.

Each month, the appellant runs a VA Information System Technology Architecture  system report to identify RNs, NPs, and LPNs whose licenses/certifications will expire the following month.  She then sends these employees and their supervisors e-mail reminders with a link to the New York state license and renewal website, with a copy to the ADPNS.  During the month they are due to expire, she searches the renewal website to confirm if the required action has been taken and works with HR and the Credentialing and Privileging Coordinator to ensure the licenses/certifications have been renewed. 

The appellant uploads material for review by the Nurse Professional Standards Board (NPSB) members.  For RNs and NPs, the NPSB makes recommendations on appointments; probationary reviews; promotions for those occupying Nurse I, II, and III Associate Chief or Chief positions, who are automatically eligible when they receive their proficiency rating; special advancement promotions or cash awards; and specialty certification cash awards.  The appellant scans and uploads the material for review and the board action forms for completion to designated folders on the “T” drive.  Once the NPSB completes the process, the information is forwarded to the ADPNS for review and approval and then to the appellant for processing; i.e., submitting Standard Form (SF)-52 personnel actions through the WebHR automated system and retaining the required information. 

The appellant, the VAMC Director’s Assistant, and the Chief of Staff’s Secretary provide clerical support to all of the executive staff members.  The appellant has access to the electronic calendars for all the executive staff and can schedule appointments and make changes as needed.  When the appellant updates the calendar for the VAMC Director or Chief of Staff, she notifies their support person.  She also supports the Assistant Director with tasks such as printing letters on letterhead paper or formatting letters, memoranda, and reports as requested.  To accomplish her work, the appellant must be skilled in automated word processing using Microsoft Word, and uses other software such as Excel, PowerPoint, etc., for such duties as maintaining Proficiency Databases for evaluations/proficiencies received from Nurse Managers or supervisors.

The ADPNS certified to the accuracy of the duties described in the appellant’s official PD, number 09449-O.  However, the appellant provided a statement that her PD is inaccurate and attached a listing of “significant information that was not completely recorded” in her PD.  The two-page document identifies duties including, but not limited to, maintaining the ADPNS’ calendar, scanning proficiencies for NPSB review, providing customer support to patients and their family members, and maintaining a suspense system for tracking and following up on action items.

We note the appellant’s official PD lists a number of the same duties specifically identified in the aforementioned listing of “significant information that was not completely recorded in her PD” including maintaining the ADPNS’s calendar, scanning proficiencies for NPSB review, providing customer support, and following up on action items.  A PD does not have to be a comprehensive and detailed narrative of the tasks assigned to a position.  Rather, a PD is the official record of the major duties and responsibilities assigned to a position or job by an official with the authority to assign work.  Major duties are normally those occupying a significant portion (at least 25 percent) of the employee’s time.  They should be only those duties currently assigned, observable, identified with the position’s purpose and organization, and expected to continue or recur on a regular basis over a period of time.  OPM considers a PD to be accurate for classification purposes when the major duties and responsibilities of the position are listed and proper classification can be made when the description is supplemented by otherwise accurate, available, and current information on the organization’s structure, mission, and procedures. 

Regardless, classification appeal regulations permit OPM to investigate or audit a position and decide an appeal on the basis of 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 the PD.  This decision is based on the work currently assigned to and performed by the appellant.

To help decide the appeal, we conducted telephone interviews with the appellant on February 18 and 24, 2015, and her immediate supervisor on March 9 and 10, 2015.  In reaching our decision, we have carefully considered all of the information obtained from the interviews, as well as all other information of record provided by the appellant and her agency.  After a careful review, we find the appellant’s PD meets the standards of PD adequacy for classification purposes as discussed in section III.E of the Introduction and we incorporate it by reference into our decision, as it contains the major duties and responsibilities assigned to and performed by the appellant.  However, there are some inaccuracies in the appellant’s PD that should be corrected by the agency.  The PD includes a statement that the appellant provides administrative and clinical support to the ADPNS, while she actually provides administrative and clerical support.  Further, the PD states the appellant “facilitates and coordinates the scheduling of conference calls for Nursing VISN Boards.”  However, the record shows the appellant has not performed this function since 2012 because it rotates among the ADPNS secretaries in the VISN.

Series, title, and standard determination

The appellant does not contest the series or title of her position and, based on a review of the record, we concur.  Based on the mandatory titling requirements of the PCS for the Secretary Series, GS-318, the appellant’s position is titled Secretary.  The appellant’s position also requires proficiency in the use of computer software, automated word processing office equipment, and the skills of a qualified typist to perform word processing duties.  As prescribed by the titling instructions of the Office Automation Grade Evaluation Guide (Guide), the full title of the appellant’s position is Secretary (Office Automation).

We applied the Guide to the appellant’s office automation work and determined that those duties and responsibilities are lower graded than her secretarial work.  Since the office automation duties are not grade-controlling, we will not discuss them further in this decision.  Therefore, the appellant’s position is properly graded using the PCS for the Secretary Series, GS-318.

Grade determination

The GS-318 PCS uses the Factor Evaluation System (FES), which employs nine factors.  Under the FES, each factor-level description in a PCS describes the minimum characteristics needed to receive credit for the described level.  Therefore, if a position fails to meet the criteria in a factor-level description in any significant aspect, it must be credited at a lower level, unless an equally important aspect that meets a higher level balances the deficiency.  Conversely, the position may exceed those criteria in some aspects and still not be credited at a higher level.  Each factor level has a corresponding point value.  The total points assigned are converted to a grade by use of the grade conversion table in the PCS.

The appellant disagrees with the agency's evaluation of Factor 3.  After careful review, we concur with the agency's evaluation of Factors 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9.  Therefore, we have confined our analysis to Factor 3.

Factor 3, Guidelines

This factor covers the nature of guidelines and the judgment needed to apply them.

At Level 3-2, guidelines include dictionaries, style manuals, and agency instructions concerning such matters as correspondence or the handling of classified information, and the operating policies of the supervisor or the organization served.  The secretary locates and selects the appropriate guidelines and references for application to specific cases, referring situations to which existing guidelines cannot be applied or significant proposed deviations are required to the supervisor.  The secretary may also determine which of the established alternatives to use.

At Level 3-3, guidelines include a large body of unwritten policies, precedents, and practices which are not completely applicable to the work or are not specific and deal with matters relating to judgment, efficiency, and relative priorities rather than with procedural concerns.  For example, they may include decisions made by the supervisor in cases that are similar, but not completely analogous.  The secretary applies and adapts guidelines, such as regulations or the supervisor’s policies, to specific problems for which the guidelines are not completely applicable.

Level 3-2 is met.  The appellant’s guidelines include VA, VHA, VAMC, Patient/Nursing Service, and HR guidelines, regulations, directives, memoranda, bulletins, and policy statements.  Like this level, she selects the appropriate guidelines for application to specific tasks.  For example, based on requests from supervisors, the appellant submits various types of SF-52 personnel actions; e.g., Appointment, Leave Without Pay, Return to Duty, and Retirement.  She obtains and provides the information required by HR regulations needed to process the action; e.g., the effective date of an employee’s retirement or medical documentation required to return to work.  She creates, maintains, and disposes of records in the Patient/Nursing Service filing system in accordance with the file plan, VA, and Federal regulations.  Like Level 3-2, the appellant reviews documents prepared for the signature of or requiring coordination by the ADPNS for conformance with regulations, grammar, format, and Patient/Nursing Service policies.  She also supports the Associate Chief Nurses and unit chiefs; e.g., providing copies of proficiency rating forms and completion instructions and following up on assigned actions to ensure their accurate and timely completion according to VA and VAMC policies.  Similar to Level 3-2, she refers situations to the appropriate staff when existing guidelines cannot be applied.  The appellant screens telephone calls and visitors to the Medical Center Director’s suite.  She asks the individual to explain what information he or she needs and provides it if able or refers him or her to the appropriate personnel based on her knowledge of VAMC policy statements.  The references above provide adequate guidance for the completion of the appellant’s duties and do not normally require adaptation for application to her work.

In support of crediting Level 3-3, the appellant stated she has held her Secretary (OA) position for 14 years and continues to apply a large body of unwritten policies and directives, adapting well-defined and alternative guidelines of past and current policy where and when applicable and including problem areas where guidelines are not completely applicable.  When asked for an example of Level 3-3 work, the appellant stated she tracks proficiency rating due dates each month by running a report within set parameters through the Microsoft Access proficiency database to ensure the proficiency ratings are completed within the established timeframes set in regulation.  However, this example is a direct match to Level 3-2 in that the procedures in place do not require adaptation.  Although the appellant is expected to make judgments and interpret guidelines, the latter are well established, usually relatively specific, readily available, and can be applied without substantial deviation, as found at Level 3-2.  Therefore, Level 3-3 is not met and Level 3-2 is assigned.

This factor is evaluated at Level 3-2 and 125 points are assigned.

Summary

Factor Level Points
1.  Knowledge Required by the Position 1-4 550
2.  Supervisory Controls  2-3 275
3.  Guidelines 3-2 125
4.  Complexity 4-3 150
5.  Scope and Effect 5-2 75
6.  Personal Contacts 6-2 25
7.  Purspose of Contacts 7-2 50
8.  Physical Demands 8-1 5
9.  Work Environment 9-1 5
Total Points 1260

 

The total of 1260 points falls within the GS-6 point range (1105-1350) on the grade conversion table in the GS-318 PCS.  Therefore, the appellant’s position is properly graded at the GS-6 level.

Decision

The appellant’s position is properly classified as Secretary (Office Automation), GS-318-6.

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