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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

[appellant's name]
Forestry Technician (Prevention)
GS-462-7
[name] Ranger District
[name] National Forest
[region]
U.S. Forest Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture
[city, state]
Forestry Technician
(parenthetical at agency discretion)
GS-462-7
C-0462-07-08

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

05/01/2014


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).

Decision sent to:

[Appellant and HR office addresses]

Introduction

On October 23, 2013, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) Agency Compliance and Evaluation-Dallas, accepted a classification appeal from [appellant’s name].  We received the agency administrative report on November 13, 2013.  Subsequent to that date, both the agency and the appellant provided additional written information.  The appellant is a full-time permanent employee assigned to a position currently classified as Forestry Technician (Prevention), GS-462-7, according to the Notification of Personnel Action, Standard Form (SF) 50, dated June 3, 2012.  Official documents produced by the agency are inconsistent in the use of the parenthetical suffix.  For example, the position description (PD) cover sheet does not include the suffix while other documents, such as the SF 50, the agency’s “master record/individual position data” form, and the performance appraisal form, include the parenthetical suffix.  The appellant believes her position should be classified as Supervisory Forestry Technician (Prevention), GS-462-9.  The position is assigned to the [name] Ranger District, [name] National Forest, [region], U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, in [city, state].  We have accepted and decided this appeal under section 5112 of title 5, United States Code (U.S.C.).

We conducted telephone interviews with the appellant on January 31, 2014, and February 3, 2014, and a telephone interview with her immediate supervisor on February 20, 2014.  In reaching our classification decision, we carefully considered all of the information obtained from those interviews as well as written information provided by the appellant and her agency, including her official PD, number [number], and the accompanying Position Description Correction Notice, number [number], which documents duties and knowledge required that have been added to PD number [number].

Background and general issues

The appellant’s current supervisor signed a statement attesting to the accuracy of the appellant’s PD of record, number [number] and [number].  The appellant, however, believes her official PD does not accurately present the major duties and responsibilities of her position and does not reflect a correct percentage of time for performance of supervisory duties.  She attempted to resolve the PD accuracy issue with her agency and was not satisfied with the outcome of the agency’s desk audit of her position or other efforts to obtain a PD she would consider accurate. The appellant then filed the classification appeal with OPM.

The appellant stated that, through the years, various duties and responsibilities have been added and removed from her position without her knowledge or consultation.  While that may be true, 5 U.S.C. 302 gives management the right to assign work.  The additional work does not influence the grade of the position unless it requires higher level knowledge, skills, and abilities; is a significant part of the overall position (occupying at least 25 percent of the employee’s time); and is assigned officially on a regular and recurring basis.  In adjudicating this appeal, our responsibility is to make our own independent decision on the proper classification of the existing duties and responsibilities assigned by management to the appellant’s position and performed by her.  We cannot consider duties she performed as far back as 1998, as she requests.

In support of her assertion that her position should be classified as a GS-9 supervisory position, the appellant refers to GS-9 supervisory positions within the [name] Ranger District that she believes are so similar to her position that they call for the same grade level.  She also states that changes resulting from a consolidation of two ranger districts into the [name] Ranger District in October 2010 affected her position to the extent that it should be classified at a higher grade and designated as a supervisory position.  For instance, she says her position should have been reclassified as a GS-9 supervisory position when duties from GS-9 supervisory positions in the two former districts were added to her position.  The appellant makes various other statements about her agency’s classification process, including not comparing her position to others in determining the title and grade level of her position.

By law, we must make our classification decision solely by comparing the appellant’s current duties and responsibilities to OPM position classification standards (PCS) and guidelines (5 U.S.C. 5106, 5107, and 5112).  Since comparison to standards is the exclusive method for classifying positions, we cannot compare the appellant’s current position to (a) work she previously performed, (b) other positions that may or may not have been classified correctly, or (c) past organizational structures as a basis for deciding her appeal.  We can consider the appellant’s statements only insofar as they are relevant to making the comparison of her current work to the OPM standards.  Consequently, we based this appeal decision on the current duties and responsibilities assigned by management to the appellant’s position and performed by her.  Because our decision sets aside all previous agency decisions, the appellant’s concerns regarding her agency’s classification review process are not germane to this decision.

Like OPM, the appellant’s agency must classify positions based on comparison to OPM standards and guidelines.  The agency, however, 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 others that they should be classified the same, then she may pursue the matter by writing to the human resources office of her agency’s headquarters.  In doing so, she should specify the precise organizational location, classification, duties, and responsibilities of the positions in question.  If the appellant’s position is so similar to other positions that they all warrant the same classification, the agency must correct the classification of those positions to be consistent with this appeal decision.  Otherwise, the agency should explain to the appellant the differences between her position and the others.

The appellant indicates that if her appeal is upheld, she should be entitled to back pay retroactive to 1998, the time from which the appellant believes her position has been misclassified.  It is well settled that employees are not entitled to back pay for periods of misclassification (5 U.S.C. 5596(b)(3)).  See United States v. Testan, 424 U.S. 392, 400 (1976) and Erlyn D. Felder, B‑202685, August 17, 1982.  Further, the U.S. Comptroller General states that an “...employee is entitled only to the salary of the position to which he is actually appointed, regardless of the duties performed.  When an employee performs the duties of a higher grade level, no entitlement to the salary of the higher grade exists until such time as the individual is actually promoted.  Consequently, back pay is not available as a remedy for misassignments to higher level duties or improper classifications” (CG decision B-232695, December 15, 1989).

The appellant also questions the agency’s determination that her position is exempt from Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) coverage.  FLSA coverage is not an issue that is resolvable through the classification appeals process.  If the appellant believes the FLSA category for her position is incorrect, she may first attempt to resolve the coverage issue directly with her agency and, if not satisfied, may file a formal FLSA claim as provided for in 5 CFR part 551, subpart G.  See also http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/claim-decisions/fair-labor-standards-act/.

In reaching our classification decision, we carefully reviewed all information provided by the appellant, her immediate supervisor, and her agency, including her official PD which we incorporate by reference into this decision.

Position information

A position represents the duties and responsibilities that make up the work performed by an employee.  Those duties and responsibilities are customarily documented in a PD so the employee, supervisors, and other parties will know what essential features comprise the position.  Major duties are normally those occupying a significant portion of the employee’s time and 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.  The appellant’s official PD is a lengthy standard PD intended to cover multiple fire prevention forestry technician positions at the GS-7 level.  Standard PDs typically use broad descriptions that do not provide the specificity that would be 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 a PD, this decision is based on the actual work assigned to and performed by the employee.

Even though the appellant states her PD is inaccurate, she did not provide specific exceptions to it.  In her written statements of November 30, 2012, responding to her agency’s desk audit questions, the appellant describes her duties and responsibilities but does not indicate discrepancies between those and the ones in her official PD.  The appellant also provided two heavily-highlighted standard PDs classified by the agency:  one reflects a GS-462-9 supervisory position and one reflects a nonsupervisory GS-462-9 position.  She says the highlighted areas in those two PDs accurately show her past and current duties.  As previously stated, our decision is based on current duties assigned by management and actually performed by the appellant.

According to the appellant’s official PD; the Forest Service’s desk audit report dated July 23, 2013; and the appellant’s current supervisor, the appellant would spend no more than 20 percent of the time performing supervisory duties and at least 80 percent of the time on personally performed work.  As previously stated, the appellant’s current supervisor signed a statement attesting to the accuracy of the appellant’s official PD, which reflects a split of 80 percent of time spent on nonsupervisory duties and 20 percent on supervisory duties.  The appellant’s current supervisor has been in his position since May 2013 and has had sufficient time to observe how much time the appellant spends on supervisory duties.  The appellant has only a seasonal workforce during fire season (approximately a six-month period) and has no subordinate staff during the remaining months of the year.  The appellant states she spends 35 percent or more of her time supervising a seasonal workforce during fire season.

Established OPM guidance requires that a representative work cycle be determined for establishing what work is characteristic of the work of a position for classification evaluation.  We must focus on the more recent work performed by the appellant constituting the current work cycle within the meaning of the classification process.  For the appellant’s position, 12 months is a reasonable timeframe during which a full cycle of work can be completed.  The cycle includes a fire season, which typically lasts about six months.  Therefore, our analysis will focus on the current work performed by the appellant during the most recent 12-month period.

During fire season, the appellant provides technical and administrative oversight to a staff of seasonal employees.  For the 2013 fire season (approximately April to October), she had a staff of about 12 seasonal employees:  2 “permanent” seasonal employees and 10 “temporary 1039” seasonal employees.  The permanent seasonal employees work no more than 26 weeks a year (13 pay periods) and are limited to no more than 1039 hours in a service year.  The temporary seasonal employees may work anywhere from 30 days to six months, not to exceed 1039 hours.  For the 2014 fire season, the appellant’s workforce will consist of eight seasonal employees:  two “permanent” (one GS-462-6 and one GS-462-5) and six “temporary” (GS-462-5).  The District expects the six temporary seasonal employees will work no more than 1039 hours during the fire season.  Of the eight seasonal employees, four will be stationed at lookout towers for the entire fire season and four will patrol the District and perform various fire prevention activities.  Those assignments follow the pattern for previous years, regardless of the actual number of seasonal employees working during fire season.

The appellant reports to a GS-301-11 District/Zone Fire Management Officer who in turn reports to the Flagstaff District Ranger, whose position the agency has classified as GS-340-13.  The [name] Ranger District is one of three districts within the [name] National Forest, which covers more than [number] acres.  The [name] Ranger District encompasses about [number] acres of the National Forest lands.  The city of [name] is in the approximate center of the District, which also has other urban communities and privately-owned land within the District boundaries.  Because of the diverse landscape and the wide variety of commercial, residential, and recreational uses and their impact on natural resources, the Forest Service considers the fire program for the [name] National Forest and the [name] Ranger District to be a large, highly complex unit.

As a fire prevention technician, the appellant is involved in the development, implementation, and administration of the unit’s fire prevention program.  Duties include providing technical expertise regarding fire prevention program management, prevention work, and fire fuels management.  She analyzes, coordinates, and develops wildfire prevention analysis plans for the unit; gathers, analyzes, and comments on information needed for development of hazardous fuel treatment plans; conducts fire prevention inspections at resorts, summer cabins, and other facilities on National Forest land for compliance with regulations and ordinances; issues notices of violations; and determines probable cause of fires, collects and preserves evidence, prepares reports of findings, and may appear as a witness in court.

As an incident commander, the appellant performs suppression operations and may instruct others during initial attack.  Activities also include receiving reports of fires, plotting locations, and initiating action to responding forces; maintaining records and reports of individual fire reports, fire resource orders, and incident action records; and updating fire occurrence maps annually.  The appellant may also write or assist in writing and implementing prescribed burn plans.

The appellant is involved in numerous fire prevention/education activities, such as planning, organizing, and scheduling exhibits and events (for example, presentations at schools and for Boy Scout groups, appearances at parades, and the75th birthday celebration of Smokey Bear).  She establishes and maintains contacts with external entities such as Federal and State agencies and local rural fire departments to present fire prevention and education messages to a wide variety of users (for example, companies that cut and trim in the Forest, electric and gas companies, and festival and special event planners).

As part of the budget process for the unit, the appellant provides information to her supervisor regarding anticipated needs for the coming year and may prepare a workload cost analysis.  As an incident commander, the appellant has authority to order emergency expenditures for a specific fire; however, those expenses do not come out of the unit’s budget.

Series and title determination

 The agency classified the appellant’s position in the Forestry Technician Series, GS-462, and titled it as Forestry Technician (Prevention).  The appellant does not question the series and basic title but believes the title should include “supervisory” as a prefix.  We concur with the agency’s determination that the duties performed by the appellant and the knowledge required for the position are best covered by the Forestry Technician Series, GS-462.  This series includes all positions that primarily require a practical knowledge of the methods and techniques of forestry and other biologically based resource management fields.  Forestry technicians provide technical support in forestry research efforts; in the marketing of forest resources; or in the scientific management, protection, and development of forest resources.  The appellant’s position is properly assigned to the GS-462 series with the basic title of Forestry Technician.  The Position Classification Flysheet for Forestry Technician, GS-462, allows agencies to supplement the basic title by adding a parenthetical suffix to identify duties and responsibilities that reflect specific knowledge and skills required in the work.  The appellant does not dispute the agency’s inclusion of the parenthetical suffix of “prevention” in the title for her position.  As explained in the following section, the appellant’s position does not exercise the level of supervision necessary to classify it as either a supervisory or leader position.

Standard determination

The flysheet for the GS-462 series notes that the criteria for determining the grade of GS-462 positions are contained in the Grade Evaluation Guide for Aid and Technical Work in the Biological Sciences, GS-400.  Therefore, we used the GS-400 Guide to evaluate the appellant’s nonsupervisory work.

We considered the General Schedule Supervisory Guide (GSSG) to evaluate the appellant’s supervisory duties and also compared those duties to Part I of the General Schedule Leader Grade Evaluation Guide (GSLGEG) to determine whether the position meets the criteria for leader.

Evaluation using the GSSG

The GSSG uses a point-factor evaluation method that assesses six factors common to all supervisory positions.  To grade a position, each factor is evaluated by comparing the position to the factor level definitions for that factor and crediting the points designated for the highest factor level which is met, in accordance with the instructions specified for the factor being evaluated.  The GSSG is a threshold standard and requires that supervisory authorities must constitute a duty which occupies 25 percent or more of the supervisor’s time and must fully meet the intent of Level 3-2.  As explained in the following analysis, the appellant’s position does not meet either of these two conditions.

As previously mentioned, both the agency and the immediate supervisor estimate the appellant spends no more than 20 percent of her work time on supervisory duties.  That estimated percentage is influenced partly by the independence the GS-5 and GS-6 “permanent” seasonal employees and the seasonal employees in the lookout towers exercise in carrying out their assignments.  For example, the GS-6 PD says the incumbent identifies work to be accomplished, independently coordinates the completion of projects, and exercises initiative in developing solutions to changes in priorities, timeframes, and the needs for additional personnel and equipment.  Similarly, the GS-5 PD says the employee independently executes, within established procedures, the task sequences associated with recurring and continuing work and makes adjustments to accommodate needed minor deviations in work methods.  Further, the seasonal employees at the lookout towers work relatively independently because of the nature of their assignment.  Based on the information provided by the agency and the supervisor and our own fact-finding, it is apparent the appellant does not spend a minimum of 25 percent of her time on supervisory activities during a full cycle of work.  Although the makeup (numbers and grade levels) of the seasonal workforce may fluctuate from season to season, the appellant’s workforce always consists entirely of seasonal employees, each of whom works no more than 1039 hours during the five- to six-month fire season.  Consequently, the appellant does not have a definable workforce for an entire cycle of work that would require at least 25 percent of the work time on supervisory duties as the GSSG intends.

The appellant’s position does not meet either Level 3-2(a), which involves ongoing production-oriented work, or Level 3-2(b), where work is contracted out.  The appellant’s position also falls short of meeting the full intent of the supervisory authorities described at Level 3-2(c) in that the appellant does not exercise them to the extent envisioned by the GSSG.  For a position to be credited at Level 3-2(c), the employee must fully carry out at least three of the first four and a total of six or more of the following 10 authorities and responsibilities.

  1. Plan work to be accomplished by subordinates, set and adjust short-term priorities, and prepare schedules for completion of work;
  2. Assign work to subordinates based on priorities, selective consideration of the difficulty and requirements of assignments, and the capabilities of employees;
  3. Evaluate work performance of subordinates;
  4. Give advice, counsel, or instruction to employees on both work and administrative matters;
  5. Interview candidates for positions in the unit; recommend appointment, promotion, or reassignment to such positions;
  6. Hear and resolve complaints from employees, referring group grievances and more serious unresolved complaints to a higher level supervisor or manager;
  7. Effect minor disciplinary measures, such as warnings and reprimands, recommending other action in      more serious cases;
  8. Identify developmental and training needs of employees, providing or arranging for needed development      and training;
  9. Find ways to improve production or increase the quality of the work directed;
  10. Develop performance standards.

The appellant’s planning of work to be accomplished by subordinates, setting and adjusting short-term priorities, and preparing schedules for completion of work does not reach the responsibility implicit at this level.  Those activities typically do not apply to the temporary seasonal employees who are stationed at the lookout towers since those employees live at the towers and do not leave their assigned posts except in unusual circumstances.  The appellant meets daily with the other seasonal employees to assign specific areas of the District for them to patrol that day or to perform other fire prevention activities.  Given the relative limitations for exercising this responsibility, the appellant’s position cannot be credited with fully meeting the intent of this element.  Further, the appellant does not develop performance standards because the Forest Service uses standardized performance standards.  Authority to make changes to the performance standards rests at higher levels within the Forest Service.  The appellant rates the performance of seasonal employees who are required to have appraisals (for example, those who work more than 90 days).  She informally discusses training needs with seasonal employees and identifies training that can be addressed locally and at no cost.  Because the Forest Service has centralized the temporary employment recruiting and hiring process, the appellant’s involvement in that process is also very limited.  For instance, she may serve as a subject-matter expert on a panel and recommend a selection to her supervisor.  While the appellant performs parts of the Level 3‑2c elements, the position does not fully meet the criteria because the responsibilities are carried out for a temporary workforce during an approximate six-month period and not on a recurring basis throughout an entire cycle of work as expected by the GSSG.

In summary, the appellant’s position does not meet the 25 percent threshold and the full intent of Level 3-2(c) for coverage of the GSSG.

Evaluation using the GSLGEG

Part I of the GSLGEG is used to evaluate leaders who, as a regular and recurring part of their assignment, lead three or more employees of one-grade interval work below grade GS-9.

As previously indicated, the appellant has only a seasonal workforce for six months or less during a service year (that is, during the 12-month cycle of work).  For the remainder of the year, she has no staff.  Even though Part I does not specifically state that seasonal employees are not to be considered, the intent is that a work leader must spend 25 percent or more of his or her work time leading three or more full-time employees on a regular and recurring basis.  This is because GSLGEG criteria are intended to evaluate the difficulty and responsibility of executing a broad range of leader duties performed over a continuing group of employees.  While leading less-than-full-time employees may be taken into account in evaluating leader work, that work may not be considered in determining basic GSLGEG coverage because it does not constitute a regular and recurring activity within the meaning of the position classification process.  Further, hours-of-work calculations may not be used to equate less-than-full-time employees, that is, seasonal employees, to full-time equivalency for purposes of determining if a position meets the coverage criteria of the GSLGEG.

The appellant’s position does not meet the minimum criteria for coverage of the GSLGEG.

Grade determination

Evaluation of personally performed work using the GS-400 Guide

The GS-400 Guide is written in the Factor Evaluation System (FES) format and uses nine factors.  Under the FES, each factor level description describes the minimum or threshold 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.  Our evaluation with respect to the nine FES factors in the Guide follows.

Factor 1, Knowledge Required by the Position

This factor measures the nature and extent of information or facts that an employee must understand to do acceptable work and the nature and extent of the skills needed to apply this knowledge.

At Level 1-5, the employee uses knowledge of the technical methods and procedures related to the professional field supported, of management practices, and of the agency’s policy and programs to lay out, schedule, organize, and execute the details of either a wide variety of types of limited operational projects or one-at-time (and often long-range) multiphase projects requiring the use of specialized, complicated techniques.  At this level, technicians also characteristically apply knowledge of the basic theories and practices of the scientific discipline supported and must be adept at combining this knowledge with resourcefulness, initiative, and independent judgment in locating precedents and resolving the details inherent to application.

At Level 1-6, the employee uses knowledge of the technical methods and procedures, management practices, agency policies and programs, and an extensive familiarity with the methods and practices of the science or discipline supported.  The Guide indicates that not all technical positions can realistically be structured to reach this level due to a variety of organizational reasons including the amount and type of high level work available in the organization, the scientist’s or organization’s willingness to delegate authority and controls for programs and projects, and the availability, number, and/or assigned responsibilities of on-site professional workers.

The appellant’s position meets Level 1-5.  Similar to this level, the appellant applies knowledge of the technical methods and procedures relating to support of the professional field of forestry, particularly as it relates to fuels management and fire prevention and suppression.  She applies knowledge of Federal, State, and local laws and regulations; Forest Service’s policies and regulations; local plans; law enforcement investigative procedures and policies; and other guidance to be able to analyze complex fire situations; make assignments for the seasonal employees under her oversight; provide current information to the general public, employees, and Forest users; and carry out the full range of duties assigned to the position.  For example, the appellant uses this knowledge to analyze, organize, and comment on wildfire prevention analysis plans for the unit; plan, supervise, schedule, direct, and coordinate prevention activities; determine probable cause of fires; plan, organize, and schedule prevention/education activities; and engage in a variety of fire prevention and fuels management work.  The appellant’s work also requires the ability to establish and maintain working relationships with coworkers, volunteers, user groups, and others associated with fire program operations.

The appellant’s position does not meet Level 1-6.  While the appellant must apply a thorough knowledge of the methods and techniques of fuels management and fire prevention, the knowledge and skills required to perform those duties are limited to that particular aspect of forestry technical support, rather than a broader knowledge and extensive familiarity with the methods and practices of forestry as described at Level 1-6.  The appellant does not have the responsibility for design, coordination, and execution of projects typical of Level 1-6.  Furthermore, well-defined processes and procedures limit the appellant’s authority and control over the assignment.  Although the appellant works on some plans and projects independently, the supervisor uses knowledge of management practices and the agency’s policies and programs to serve as the final authority (within the parameters delegated to him) for the administrative aspects of the fire management program.  The appellant’s fire management assignments are more defined and narrow in scope than assignments typical of Level 1-6.

This factor is evaluated at Level 1-5 and 750 points are credited.

Factor 2, Supervisory Controls

This factor covers the nature and extent of direct or indirect controls exercised by the supervisor, the employee’s responsibility, and the review of completed work.  Controls are exercised by the supervisor in the way assignments are made, instructions are given to the employee, priorities and deadlines are set, and objectives and boundaries are defined.  Responsibility of the employee depends upon the extent to which the employee is expected to develop the sequence and timing of various aspects of the work, to modify or recommend modification of instructions, and to participate in establishing priorities and defining objectives.

At Level 2-3, the highest level described in the Guide, the supervisor or other designated authority initially provides direction on the priorities, objectives, and/or deadlines for types of work previously performed by the unit and therefore covered by precedent.  Assignments new to the organization or unusual assignments may be accompanied with a general background discussion, including advice on the location of reference material to use.  The employee identifies the work to be done to fulfill project requirements and objectives, plans and carries out the procedural and technical steps required, seeks assistance as needed, independently coordinates work efforts with outside parties, and characteristically submits only completed work.  The employee refers significant technical or procedural problems to the supervisor or a higher level employee.  Completed work is reviewed for technical soundness, appropriateness, and conformity to policy and requirements.

As at Level 2-3, the appellant’s supervisor assigns work, provides general instructions, sets overall goals, provides more specific instructions for new or more complex assignments, and is available for consultation on new or unusual aspects of assignments.  The appellant operates independently, determines the applicable guidance, and consults her supervisor for guidance on new or unusual assignments.  She coordinates work efforts with outside parties and carries out the successive steps to complete project requirements and objectives.  The appellant exercises initiative in developing her own techniques and methods within established guidelines to resolve problems and deviations.  For instance, fire suppression work is of an emergency nature and the appellant may need to make immediate decisions to ensure the safety of personnel, equipment, and the facility.  Those decisions are often irrevocable and the appellant may initiate them without first consulting her supervisor.  In other instances, she refers problems that do not have clear precedents to her supervisor or higher level authority.  The appellant’s work is reviewed for technical accuracy and adequacy in meeting priorities and objectives and for compliance with Forest Service programs, policies, and procedures.  The appellant’s position fully meets but does not exceed the supervisory controls envisioned at Level 2-3.

This factor is evaluated at Level 2-3 and 275 points are assigned.

Factor 3, Guidelines

This factor covers the nature of guidelines and the judgment needed to apply them.  Guides used in GS occupations include, for example, desk manuals, established procedures and policies, traditional practices, and reference materials.

At Level 3-2, procedures for doing the work have been established and a number of specific guidelines are applicable.  Guides may range from complex, standardized, codified regulations (such as Federal or agency manuals with agency, regional, or other supplements) to maps, blueprints, standard operating procedures, oral instructions, equipment or instrument manuals, or standard scientific or technical texts.  The guidelines contain criteria to solve the core question or problem contained in the assignments, though the applicability may not be readily apparent, that is, the guides often require careful study and cross referencing.  The employee must use judgment in selecting appropriate guidelines because of the number, similarity, linkage, and overlapping nature of the guides.

At Level 3-3, the technician works with new requirements or applications for which only general guidelines are available or with assignments where the most applicable guides are limited to general functional statements and/or work samples which are not always directly related to the core problem of the assignments, have gaps in specificity, or are otherwise not completely applicable.  The employee exercises judgment independently in applying the guidelines or extending their applicability to situations not specifically covered; uses guidelines as the basis for making procedural deviations from established administrative and/or technical methods; or otherwise adapts guidelines when judgment is exercised based on an understanding of the intent of the guidelines and reacting accordingly.

Similar to Level 3-2, the appellant must use judgment in selecting from a number of guidelines and oral and written instructions.  Written guidelines and instructions include, but are not limited to, the Interagency Standards for Fire and Aviation Operations, Health and Safety Codebook, Wildland Fire Origin and Cause Determination, the Southwest Interagency Fire Restriction and Closure Program, Federal regulations, and State law enforcement procedures.  Like Level 3-2, the appellant’s guidelines are generally adequate to fit the situation.  She exercises initiative and seasoned judgment in selecting the appropriate guide and applying it to a problem or situation with minor interpretation.  Similar to Level 3-2, the appellant selects, modifies, and combines accepted practices to solve problems and develop suggestions to help the program run smoother.  Where there are gaps in specificity, the appellant may recommend alternatives but these typically require supervisory or higher level approval.  The appellant’s position meets Level 3-2.

The appellant’s position does not meet Level 3-3.  Unlike employees at Level 3-3, the appellant is not required to exercise independent judgment in applying general guidelines, extending the guidelines, or making procedural deviations from established methods.  Guidelines are available for nearly all areas of the appellant’s work and do not require the appellant to extend, adapt, or deviate from guidelines as envisioned at Level 3-3.

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

Factor 4, Complexity

The complexity factor covers the nature, number, variety, and intricacy of tasks, steps, processes, or methods, in the work performed; the difficulty in identifying what needs to be done; and the difficulty and originality involved in performing the work.

At Level 4-3, the highest level described in the Guide, the work requires the performance of various technical duties that involve differing and unrelated processes and methods.  The Guide provides examples of different areas of work that more fully describe the intent of this factor level.  At Level 4-3, a number of possible courses of action exist for planning as well as executing the work and the employee is given leeway or is otherwise expected to exercise discretion in choosing from among them.

The appellant’s work meets but does not exceed Level 4-3.  Consistent with that level, the appellant must perform or oversee a wide range of duties related to fuels and fire management duties, each with unique and different procedures depending on the objectives.  The appellant’s responsibilities include planning and completing assignments, determining the best methods for executing assignments, and coordinating work with others.  Most of the activities are covered by established precedents and procedures but are complicated by the highly variable landscape and the wide variety of commercial, residential, and recreational uses of the National Forest.  The appellant uses her judgment to apply a wide range of conventional, established approaches, methods, techniques, and solutions to new situations.  Decisions can be irrevocable once set into action, as well as costly.  Safety considerations are of high importance because of the nature of the work and potential for accidents.

This factor is evaluated at Level 4-3 and 150 points are credited.

Factor 5, Scope and Effect

This factor covers the relationship between the nature of the work, i.e., the purpose, breadth, and depth of the assignment, and the effect of work products or services both within and outside the organization.  Effect measures such things as whether the work output facilitates the work of others, provides timely services of a personal nature, or impacts on the adequacy of research conclusions.

At Level 5-3, the highest level described in the Guide, the work involves applying conventional technical and administrative solutions and practices to a variety of problems.  In research environments a major consideration for performing the work is to be closely involved in almost all phases of the scientist’s study and have responsibility for selected phases or to conduct test applications of scientific and technical theories when the methods, techniques, and procedures are clearly outlined.  In other situations, a major consideration for performing the work is to ensure that established operations criteria, rules, or methods are adhered to.  Work products directly affect the design and execution of experiments; the operation of systems, programs or equipment systems; or the adequacy of such activities as long-range work plans, field investigations, testing operations, or research conclusions.

The appellant’s position meets but does not exceed Level 5-3.  As at this level, the purpose of her position is to provide technical expertise encompassing fire suppression, fire prevention, and fuels management.  The appellant must ensure that employees involved in fire prevention activities receive appropriate training in operating procedures, safety requirements, and emergency procedures.  Similar to Level 5-3, she must ensure that laws, rules, regulations, and procedures concerning fire suppression, fire prevention, and fuels management are adhered to.  The appellant’s work has significant influence on both the budget process and overall effectiveness of the District’s fire management program, goals, and objectives because decisions she makes could affect the costs of fire suppression, result in the loss of natural resources and property, and affect the safety of individuals.  The appellant continually works in conjunction with other Federal, State, and local agencies and the general public on a variety of issues relating to the fire prevention program within the Region, National Forest, and District.

This factor is evaluated at Level 5-3 and 150 points are assigned.

Factor 6, Personal Contacts, and Factor 7, Purpose of Contacts

These two factors are calculated together to recognize the interrelationship.  Final point credit is determined by identifying where the evaluation of each factor intersects in the table in the Guide.

             Personal Contacts

 At Level 2, the personal contacts are with employees in the agency, inside and outside of the immediate organizations, e.g., personnel from higher level organizational units, or, occasionally, resource persons from State or local government units, or other Federal agencies.  In other work situations personal contacts may be with the general public, contractor personnel, or special users, e.g., private landowners, cooperators, or business persons.  The contacts are usually established on a routine basis, though the employee’s authority may not be initially clear to the person contacted, e.g., the identity, role, and authority of the parties may have to be outlined before conducting business.

At Level 3, the contacts are made on a nonroutine basis and may take place in a variety of settings.  The role of each party is developed during the course of the meeting.  Contacts at this level are regularly established with a variety of noted subject-matter experts from other Federal agencies, universities, private foundations, and professional societies; influential local community leaders such as members of tribal governing bodies or comparable State or local government officials; legal representatives of private landowners; and representatives of organized landowner or special interest groups.

The documents provided by the agency are inconsistent in their crediting of the personal contacts required by the appellant’s position.  The Forest Service’s July 23, 2013, desk audit report shows the position’s personal contacts evaluated at Level 3 whereas the current PD cover sheet, dated November 2, 2012, shows the factor evaluated at Level 2 instead.  We found the appellant’s position fully meets Level 2.  Comparable to this level, she makes frequent and ongoing contacts with employees within the agency and with other Federal agencies, State agencies, private land and home owners, contracted personnel, local schools, reporters, the general public, and other Forest users.  Also similar to Level 2, the appellant’s contacts are usually established on a routine basis, though her authority may not be initially clear to the person contacted; for example, the identity, role, and authority of the parties may have to be outlined before conducting business.

The appellant’s position does not meet the intent of Level 3 where contacts are regularly made on a nonroutine basis and may take place in a variety of settings where the role of each party is developed during the course of the meeting.  In contrast, most of the appellant’s contacts occur on a routine basis and are mostly with local personnel and the general public from the surrounding area.

            Purpose of Contacts

At Level b, the purpose of contacts is to plan and coordinate work efforts; explain the need to adhere to laws, rules, or contracts; discuss inspected work; etc., with persons who are reasonably cooperative.

At Level c, the purpose of contacts is to influence, motivate, interrogate, or control persons or groups.  The persons contacted are characteristically fearful, skeptical, or uncooperative, and skill must be used in the approach made to obtain the desired results.

Similar to Level b, the purpose of the appellant’s contacts is to plan, coordinate, and advise on work efforts of the District’s fire mitigation, fire education, and community assistance programs.  Many of the appellant’s contacts parallel those described at Level b where contacts are made to resolve operating problems by influencing or motivating individuals or groups who are working toward mutual goals and who have basically cooperative attitudes.  For example, the appellant exchanges information about prevention and suppression of fires; provides information about and obtains compliance with laws, regulations, and policies; obtains witness statements, etc., when investigating causes of fires; and issues permits and citations as appropriate.  Although the appellant may be required at times to use tact and sensitivity in dealing with individuals having differing concerns and demands, her contacts do not require the skill necessary at Level c where, on a regular and recurring basis, the contact is to influence, motivate, interrogate, or control persons or groups who are characteristically fearful, skeptical, or uncooperative.

These combined factors are evaluated at Level 2b and assigned 75 points.

Factor 8, Physical Demands

This factor covers the physical demands placed on the employee by the work assignment.  This includes physical characteristics and abilities, e.g., specific agility and dexterity requirements, and the physical exertion involved in the work, e.g., climbing, lifting, pushing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, or reaching.

The appellant’s position meets Level 8-2 where the work requires some physical exertion, such as regular and recurring running, walking, or bending and walking or climbing over rocky areas, uneven surfaces, or mountainous terrain.  As at this level, the duration of the appellant’s activity contributes to the arduous nature of the job.

The appellant’s position does not meet the intent of Level 8-3 where the work requires regular and protracted periods of considerable and strenuous physical exertion such as carrying or lifting heavy objects; hacking passages through dense vegetation; or climbing ladders or scaffolds carrying heavy equipment used to install, maintain, or repair research installations.

This factor is evaluated at Level 8-2 and 20 points are credited.

Factor 9, Work Environment

This factor considers the risks and discomforts in the employee’s physical surroundings or the nature of the work assigned and safety regulations required.

The appellant performs her work in an office and field environment.  While working outdoors, primarily in a forest environment, the appellant is subject to moderate risks where surfaces may be steep and uneven, rocky, or covered with vegetation that may be thick and tangled.  The work also includes exposure to adverse weather conditions and irritant chemicals.  The hazardous nature of the work requires the appellant to wear appropriate protective clothing and use safety equipment, such as boots, gloves, goggles, and hardhats.  The appellant’s position meets Level 9‑2 where the work involves regular and recurring moderate risks or discomforts that require special safety precautions.

The position does not meet Level 9-3 where the work environment involves high risks with regular and recurring exposure to potentially dangerous situations or unusual environmental stress where high risk factors exist that cannot be reasonably controlled.  An example of a high risk situation would be working closely with toxins or dangerous pests or animals, such as poisonous snakes, where safety precautions cannot completely eliminate the danger.  Although there is some exposure to potentially dangerous situations, it is not regular and recurring and can be reasonably controlled with appropriate safety precautions.

This factor is evaluated at Level 9-2 and 20 points are assigned.

Summary
Factor Level Points
1.  Knowledge Required by the Position 1-5 750
2.  Supervisory Controls 2-3 275
3.  Guidelines 3-2 125
4.  Complexity 4-3 150
5.  Scope and Effect 5-3 150
6. & 7.  Personal Contacts and Purpose of Contacts 2b 75
8.  Physical Demands 8-2 20
9.  Work Environment 9-2 20
Total 1,565

 

A total of 1,565 points falls within the GS-7 range (1,355 to 1,600) on the grade conversion table in the Guide.

Decision

The position is properly classified as Forestry Technician (parenthetical title at agency discretion), GS-462-7.

 

 

 

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