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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]
Soil Scientist
GS-470-11
[component]
[location]
[region]
Forest Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture
[city, state]
Soil Scientist
GS-470-11
C-0470-11-02

Robert D. Hendler
Robert D. Hendler
Classification and Pay Claims
Program Manager
Merit System Audit and Compliance

03/26/2013


Date

As provided in section 511.612 of title 5, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), this decision constitutes a 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 the Introduction to the Position Classification Standards (Introduction), appendix 4, Section G (address provided in appendix 4, section H).

Decision sent to:

[appellant’s name and address]

[Agency HR addresses]

Introduction

On October 12, 2012, OPM’s Dallas Oversight office accepted a classification appeal from [appellant’s name].  The appellant’s position is currently classified as Soil Scientist, GS-470-11, but he believes it should be classified at the GS-12 grade level.  The position is located in the [component]; [location]; [region]; Forest Service (FS); U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA); in [city, state].  We received the complete agency’s administrative report (AAR) on November 27, 2012, and comments on the AAR from the appellant’s representative on December 5 and 11, 2012.  We have accepted and decided this appeal under section 5112 of title 5, United States Code (U.S.C.).

Background and general issues

The appellant occupies an interdisciplinary position classifiable in the GS-460 Forestry, GS-470 Soil Science, or GS-1315 Hydrology series.  The FS classified his position as GS-470-11, based on his personal soil science qualifications when he was initially hired in September 1989.

In 2002, the appellant was temporarily promoted to the GS-12 grade level to assist in the preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the timber salvage of the [specific name] fire.  His initial appeal request draws comparisons between his 2002 EIS work and a subsequent assignment, stating:

On or about March 19, 2009, [the appellant] was assigned to the EIS for Forest-Wide Travel Management Rule (TMR).  [The appellant] was engaged on this project through 2011, in which time he produced three specialist reports.  The [specific name] EIS covered approximately [number] acres of Forest Service lands, while the Forest-Wide TMR was far more complex, covering over [number] acres of the National Forest Service Property in which [the appellant] works.  [The appellant] fully performed at the level of a GS-12 during his service on the Forest-Wide TMR.

The appellant bases his appeal, in part, on an “accretion of duties” he said started in 2002 with the fire-related EIS.  Based the statements above, we conclude the appellant believes his TMR-related EIS work supports the GS-12 grade level since he asserts the duties are larger in scope and more complex than his 2002 fire-related EIS work, for which he was temporarily promoted to the GS-12 grade level.

The appellant also supports reclassifying his position to the GS-12 grade level based on work he performs on his personal time, e.g., providing guidance on riparian maintenance and restoration to the local community.  He also believes the complexity of his position is equal to, if not more complex than, a GS-12 riparian coordinator position assigned to the Region.  His appeal request also states, “…a GS-12 hydrologist, a position within the same interdisciplinary category as soil scientists, is expected to spend 40% of their time preparing hydrology related reports and recommendations.”  The appellant asserts his position should be classified at the GS-12 grade level since he similarly spends 40 percent of his time on functional-related reports and recommendations.  In adjudicating this appeal, our responsibility is to make our own independent decision on the proper classification of the appellant’s position.  By law, we must classify positions solely by comparing the work currently assigned by management and performed by the appellant to OPM’s 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 position to the duties performed while temporarily promoted at the GS-12 level or during hours outside his official work time, or to other positions that may or may not be classified correctly, as a basis for deciding his appeal.  Therefore, we have considered the appellant’s statements only insofar as they are relevant to making that comparison.

The appellant did not provide PDs for the higher-graded GS-12 riparian coordinator or other positions or any documentation supporting his assertions.  Like OPM, the appellant’s agency must classify positions based on comparison to OPM’s PCSs and guidelines.  Under 5 CFR 511.612, agencies are required to review their own classification decisions for identical, similar, or related positions to ensure consistency with OPM certificates.  Consequently, the FS has primary responsibility for ensuring its positions are classified consistently with OPM appeal decisions.  If the appellant believes his position is classified inconsistently with another, then he may pursue this matter by writing to the FS headquarters human resources office.  He should specify the precise organizational location, series, title, grade, and responsibility of the positions in question.  FS should explain to him the differences between his position and the others, or classify those positions in accordance with this appeal decision.

The appellant provides samples and descriptions of work performed nearly 20 years ago.  For example, he describes the following work:  (1) in 1994 and 1995, he conducted research and participated on an interagency technical team to develop and implement the [name specific] Conservation Agreement and Strategy; (2) in 1997, he developed the training for a stream restoration course and served as an instructor of riparian assessment classes; (3) from 1999 to 2001, he studied and co-authored an article on his findings regarding restoration of the Forest’s native riparian vegetation; (4) in 2003, he participated on an interagency team responsible for writing a new technical reference on riparian and wetland soils; (5) in 2004, he oversaw the remediation of a hazardous materials incident at the Forest; and (6) in 2005, he and his spouse developed an Oracle-based database for riparian-related information.

As stated in 5 U.S.C. 5112, OPM can consider only current duties and responsibilities in classifying positions.  Established OPM guidance requires that a representative work cycle be determined for establishing what work is characteristic of a position for classification evaluation.  Given the nature of the appellant’s projects, we found his work assignments can span several years; e.g., he was assigned the TMR EIS in 2009, but his 2013 work plan confirms he is performing ongoing work related to the project.

When identifying duties to consider in classifying a position, the Classifier’s Handbook instructs:

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, such as one year.  The period of time considered should cover the full cycle of duties performed.  This may vary from a few months for very simple clerical work to a more lengthy period for work that involves long term cases or projects.

The Introduction further states:

One-time only or temporary duties generally do not affect the series or grade level.  Such duties cannot be ignored, however, when they become a regular part of a job.  The position should be reevaluated if the duties extend over a long period of time (e.g., several months) and it is reasonable to assume that the duties will continue to recur, even if not in a precisely predictable pattern.

Thus, we conclude that in addition to the work samples not meeting the 5 U.S.C. 5112 requirement for duties to be current (out of the work examples described above, the oldest occurred 19 years ago and the earliest occurred eight years ago), the work can be described as either one-time or temporary duties with no indication the appellant performs or will perform ongoing work related to the duties described above.  For example, our interviews, the appellant’s 2013 performance plan and detailed work plan, position description (PD), and other items of record does not support his continuation of work relating to the conservation agreement and strategy development, training development and instruction, article and technical reference development, etc., to the degree described by the appellant.  Also as it relates to the database development work, his submissions indicate it was at his initiative to develop the database, so this particular work was neither assigned nor expected of him or identifiable to his position’s purpose or the organization.

At the time of his filing a classification appeal with OPM, the appellant’s PD was supplemented with two evaluation statements.  The June 21, 1984, evaluation statement applied an unspecified PCS in the Factor Evaluation System (FES) format, under which factor levels and accompanying point values are assigned for each of the nine factors.  The June 20, 1989, evaluation statement applied the GS-470 Soil Science Series PCS, which was published in June 1970 but replaced in September 2005 with the implementation of the Job Family Standard (JFS) for Professional Work in the Natural Resources Management and Biological Sciences Group, 0400.  The GS-470 PCS described the general characteristics of each grade level from GS-5 to GS-13, and used the two following criteria for grading purposes:  Nature of Assignment and Level of Responsibility.

In response to the appellant’s filing a classification appeal with our office, the FS prepared an official evaluation statement applying the GS-400 JFS.  The November 4, 2012, evaluation statement sustained the GS-470-11 classification.  In comparison to the 1984 evaluation statement, the 2012 evaluation statement lowered the level assigned for Factor 2, Supervisory Controls, from Level 2-4 to 2-3, and the level assigned for Factor 6, Personal Contacts, from Level 6-3 to 6-2.

In the AAR comments, the appellant takes issue with the agency’s 2012 evaluation statement, characterizing it as an “attempt to lower the baseline,” “make it more difficult for [the appellant] to argue that he should be promoted to the GS-12 level,” and “maliciously” intended.  The appellant’s appeal request also said two previous supervisors planned to classify his position as GS-12 but neither initiated a classification review.  In adjudicating this appeal, our responsibility is to make an independent decision on the proper classification of the appellant’s position.  Our decision sets aside all previous agency decisions.  Therefore, the appellant’s concerns regarding the levels and points assigned by the agency in its 2012 evaluation statement are not germane to the position classification appeal process.  Similarly, management “intentions” to “move” the appellant to the GS-12 level are also not germane to the appeal process.

Position information

The appellant’s position is assigned to the Forest, which covers over [number] acres of mountain country in east-central [state] and [state].  The Forest is managed as one unit; headquartered in [city, state]; and divided into five ranger districts (i.e., [name], [name], [name], and [name]).  The Forest includes [number] cold-water lakes; the headwaters of the [name], [name], and [name]; and ranges in elevation from [number] to nearly [number] feet.

The appellant’s immediate supervisor (a GS-470-12 Soil Scientist position) serves as program manager responsible for the development and implementation of the Forest’s soil, water, air, and riparian management programs.  He serves as the first-level supervisor to the appellant’s and two GS-1315-11 hydrologist positions.  The second-level supervisor occupies a GS-401-13 Supervisory Biological Scientist position.

The appellant’s work will vary depending on changes in funding; Forest, Region, and FS priorities; and wildfires, floods, and other events.  His position is responsible for planning, conducting, and coordinating watershed and riparian area rehabilitation projects and providing guidance and training on watershed resources to Forest personnel.  The appellant spends the majority of his work time on surveying, recording, and reporting on the Forest’s watersheds and riparian areas with concerns from such conditions as soil degradation, lack of vegetative cover, eroding stream channels, and abandoned roads.  He also plans, implements, and oversees maintenance and restoration efforts of the Forest’s watersheds and riparian areas.

The appellant conducts surveys of the Forest’s watershed resources.  This work entails collecting original data, reviewing previously collected data, assembling information, and making recommendations regarding watershed and riparian management and improvements.  He participates in soil and hydrological analyses used in cooperative watershed projects, consulting with hydrologists, geologists, foresters, rangeland management specialists, and other resource specialists to assess the impact of proposed plans.  He serves as the lead during implementation of the rehabilitation and maintenance projects, occasionally overseeing teams of temporary employees or volunteers.  He maintains inventories of proposed projects and priorities.  The appellant also provides input into parts of the Forest’s Land Management Plan (Forest Plan) relating to soils and hydrology and participates, when requested, in the development of EIS, environmental assessment (EA), and burned area environmental response (BAER) reports and plans.

The appellant and immediate supervisor certified to the accuracy of the duties described in his official PD, number [number].  The appellant’s PD and other material of record furnish much more information about his duties and responsibilities and how they are performed.  The PD is adequate for classification purposes and we incorporate it by reference into this decision.

To help decide this appeal, we conducted a telephone audit with the appellant on January 9, 2013, in addition to telephone interviews with his immediate supervisor on January 14 and 28, 2013.  In a January 16, 2013, email provided in response to our request for information, the Forest’s former National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) coordinator provided input on the appellant’s work relating to the Forest’s TMR EIS.  We also conducted a telephone interview on January 28, 2013, at the appellant’s request with a previous supervisor, who said he retired approximately 11 years ago from the FS.

Series, title, and standard determination

The agency assigned the appellant’s position to the GS-470 Soil Science Series, titled it Soil Scientist, and applied the grading criteria in the JFS for Professional Work in the Natural Resources Management and Biological Sciences Group, GS-400.  The appellant does not disagree and, after careful review of the record, we concur.

Grade determination

The GS-400 JFS is written in the FES format, under which factor levels and accompanying point values are assigned for each of the nine factors.  The total is converted to a grade level by use of the grade conversion table provided in the JFS.  Under the FES, each factor-level description demonstrates the minimum characteristics needed to receive credit for the described level.  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.

The appellant only disagrees with the agency’s evaluation of Factors 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.  We reviewed the agency’s determination for Factors 1, 7, 8, and 9, concur, and have credited the position accordingly.  Our evaluation will focus on the remaining factors contested by the appellant.

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 degree to which the work is reviewed by the supervisor.

At Level 2-3, the supervisor outlines or discusses possible problem areas and defines objectives, plans, priorities, and deadlines.  Assignments have clear precedents requiring successive steps in planning and execution.  The employee independently plans and carries out the assignments in conformance with accepted policies and practices; adheres to instructions, policies, and guidelines to resolve commonly encountered work problems and deviations; and brings controversial information or findings to the supervisor’s attention for direction.  The supervisor provides assistance on controversial or unusual situations that do not have clear precedents; reviews completed work for conformity with policy, the effectiveness of the employee’s approach to the problem, technical soundness, adherence to deadlines, and accomplishment of objectives; and performs a limited review of the methods used to complete the assignment.

At Level 2-4, the supervisor outlines overall objectives and available resources.  The employee and supervisor, in consultation, discuss timeframes and scope of the assignment including possible stages and approaches.  The employee plans and carries out the assignment; resolves most conflicts that arise; coordinates work with others as necessary; interprets policy and regulatory requirements; keeps the supervisor informed of progress and potentially controversial problems, concerns, issues, or other matters; develops changes to plans and/or methodology; and recommends improvements to meet program objectives.  The supervisor reviews completed work for soundness of overall approach, effectiveness in meeting requirements or producing expected results, the feasibility of recommendations, and adherence to requirements.  The supervisor usually does not review methods used.

The appellant’s position meets Level 2-3.  He drafts his annual work plan identifying and describing the projects and tasks to be completed.  The plan itself is based on the objectives, goals, and projects established by the Forest Supervisor in the Forest Plan.  The appellant’s supervisor reviews his work plan for adherence to Forest, Region, and FS plans and objectives.  Similar to Level 2-3, the appellant and supervisor consult on project priorities, deadlines, and available resources.  Also at this level, the appellant independently plans and carries out assignments in conformance with proven soil scientist techniques, practices, and previous experience; accepted Forest, Region, and FS policies and practices; and other instructions and guidelines regarding NEPA compliance work and other commonly encountered work problems and situations.  He requires guidance only in unusually difficult or unique situations involving controversy or an adaptation of standard methods and procedures.  For example, the appellant’s regional riparian mapping project (RMAP) work involves evaluating and validating the Forest’s mapping information and current classifications.  He notifies his supervisor when he identifies discrepancies or errors between the data collected and the RMAP, discussing and proposing any further action required by the Region.  As at Level 2-3, the supervisor reviews his completed work for conformity with appropriateness (e.g., professional soundness and adherence to Forest, Region, and FS objectives), policy, effectiveness of the approach, adherence to deadlines, and accomplishment of project or report objectives.

The supervisory controls of the appellant’s position approach Level 2-4.  The appellant and supervisor discuss timeframes and project assignments in a collaborative environment comparable to that described at Level 2-4.  The appellant, however, is not responsible for developing changes to plans and/or methodology used as expected at Level 2-4.  For example, his TMR EIS work and other projects of this scale are guided by a team leader, who is responsible for ensuring the project scope and methodology is in line with Forest Supervisor objectives.  His TMR EIS work specifically required analyzing existing data, gathering information on proposed user routes, and conducting field visits to determine the existing conditions of the Forest’s road system.  This and other project work involves clearly defined protocols.  Projects involving new or significantly modified techniques or procedures require consultation and approval from the Forest Supervisor, Region, or other higher-level officials.  Furthermore, while his work significantly impacts the Forest’s soil and other land use management practices, the appellant’s recommendations do not directly result in the formulation or serve as the bases for major private and public program and land use decisions, result in contributing ideas to long-range planning efforts, or other comparable proposals for the broader, far-reaching improvement relating to the planning, monitoring, controlling, or evaluating of program management objectives typical of Level 2-4.

The review of the appellant’s work is also not limited to determining the soundness of his approach (were appropriate methods used), effectiveness in producing expected results (is the end product adequate), the feasibility of recommendations (are suggestions reasonable and practicable), and adherence to requirements (does work comply with Forest, Region, and FS requirements) as described at Level 2-4.  The supervisor does not review the technical methods used by the appellant relating to how information is gathered, collected, or analyzed; however, he does review the appellant’s work for accomplishment of objectives (whether the work product meets the stated purpose of the project or task) and adherence to parameters (whether the work product stays within confines of project parameters).  The review of his project team work varies but involves, e.g., determining whether information required by NEPA and other laws or regulations is provided, writing is clear and concise, and verifying that proposed alternatives relating to his assigned functional areas are addressed.  This type of review is characteristic of Level 2-3, where completed work is reviewed for accomplishment of work objectives and conformity with policy.

Level 2-3 is credited for 275 points.

Factor 3, Guidelines

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

At Level 3-3, the employee uses a wide variety of reference materials and manuals; however, they are not always directly applicable to the work or have gaps in specificity.  Available precedents outline existing approaches to more general problems or issues.  The employee uses judgment in selecting, interpreting, and applying available guidelines for adaptation to specific problems or issues.

At Level 3-4, the employee uses guidelines and precedents that are very general regarding agency policy statements and objectives.  Guidelines specific to assignments are often scarce, not applicable, or have gaps in specificity that require considerable interpretation and/or adaptation for application to issues and problems.  The employee uses judgment, initiative, and resourcefulness in deviating from established methods to deal with specific issues or problems; research trends and patterns; propose new policies and practices; develop new methods and criteria; and/or modify, adapt, and/or refine broader guidelines to resolve specific complex and/or intricate issues and problems.

The appellant’s guidelines meet Level 3-3.  As at this level, his guidelines do not always directly apply to an assignment and require adapting to cover new situations.  While the types of decisions he handles are not clear cut, whether to designate an area in the Forest as a wetland and most other decisions can be resolved by interpreting and adapting available guidelines and other reference materials including the Forest Plan; FS directives on watershed assessment, classification, improvement, protection, and management; State laws, regulations, and statutes regarding clean water; professional publications; the Endangered Species Act; and other Federal laws, regulations, and policies of the USDA, U.S. Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Army Corps of Engineers (ACE).  The appellant uses judgment to determine which of the numerous guidelines apply, adapting them to fit specific project or work needs.

The appellant seeks to credit his position at Level 3-4, stating his work requires application of broad guidelines or basic legislation to implement and recommend new Forest initiatives (e.g., planning the stubble height guidelines for the Forest’s riparian areas).  However, available guidelines are numerous and cannot be characterized as either scarce or of limited use to his work as expected at Level 3-4.  For example, the Forest Plan and other FS- and USDA-level guidelines provide instructions on topics including the identification of soil and watershed conditions, desired and expected conditions, applicable laws and regulations, and the priority order when applying laws and regulations.  He applies these established guidelines to Forest projects, directing issues involving the deviation from guidelines to his supervisor, district ranger, or other higher-level official.  The appellant provided comments to the Region on the technical reference drafted by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on the Proper Functioning Condition riparian assessment method.  However, this and other work does not constitute independently deviating from, interpreting, or drafting policy characteristic of Level 3-4 positions.

Unlike Level 3-4, the appellant’s assignments do not typically require deviating from established methods to research trends and patterns, propose new policies and practices, adapt and refine broad guidelines to resolve complex or intricate issues, or develop new methods and criteria.  His TMR EIS and other project related work entails applying standard surveying and soil collection methods for gathering data, conducting literature research, considering previously collected records, and analyzing past and present data with the purpose of forming Forest-level recommendations.  As stated in his PD, he “[t]ranslates these findings into long range prescriptions or plans for management’s use in watershed management and riparian/watershed improvement.”  His work involves using judgment and initiative when interpreting guidelines for application to specific projects or problems of the Forest, which is consistent with Level 3-3.  References at Level 3-4 to developing new methods and criteria and/or proposing new policies do not refer to the appellant’s development of the Forest’s stubble height standards and other recommendations and proposals of the type expected of his position, but instead speaks to the work process requiring exercising judgment and ingenuity to deviate from established, traditional methods to develop new methods and criteria.

Level 3-3 is credited for 275 points.

Factor 4, Complexity

This 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 4-4, work involves performing a variety of research, testing, or natural resources management duties that require many different and unrelated processes, methods, and problem solving techniques common to the discipline.  Problems may involve interdependent resource and socioeconomic issues relevant to an area of specialization and/or relating new work situations to precedent situations; conducting investigations and special survey procedures; and extending, adapting, or modifying existing techniques.  To decide what needs to be done, the employee conducts special studies; evaluates unusual circumstances; works with incomplete and conflicting data; reconciles environmental goals that have conflicting requirements; contends with the absence of criteria; and contends with new methods and equipment.  The employee uses considerable judgment to plan the sequence, direction, and progress of work; interpret voluminous data or data that are incomplete or conflicting, or of questionable accuracy; modify standard methods, practices, or techniques or existing guides to address current and evolving problems or issues; identify, evaluate, and project risks based on scarce, non-existent, or conflicting data; and assess the interrelationships of physiological and technological information.

At Level 4-5, work involves performing a variety of research, testing, or natural resources management duties requiring in-depth analysis of problems and issues that cover a wide geographic area or an environmentally varied area; integrated resource analysis and coordinating and planning activities that cover multiple resource programs; and developing new methods and techniques for problem and issue resolution; and/or in-depth analysis and use of various control methods and techniques possibly including those in the experimental stage.  To decide what needs to be done, the employee analyzes issues involving abstract concepts; major uncertainties with regard to the most effective approach or methodology to apply; serious conflicts among scientific requirements and environmental program direction or administrative and legal requirements; continually changing program or work requirements or technological developments; novel and obscure problems involving complicating factors and requirements; and intricate, inconclusive, variable data, and unrelated or conflicting data.  The employee develops standards, methods, and techniques to extend existing methodological capability; proposes solutions that have highly visible political consequences; formulates solutions to unyielding or controversial problems; and anticipates future trends and requirements.

The appellant’s position meets Level 4-4.  Similar to this level, his assignments typically involve riparian and watershed resource issues and problems requiring analysis and evaluation where complicating factors include heavy resource use at cold-water lakes, conflicting demands and pressures (e.g., between recreational access and maintenance of Forest watersheds and riparian areas), or significant damage from wildfires and other environmental conditions.  The appellant conducts soil surveys to classify and map soils, identifies soil composition for input into soil survey information databases, and participates in the development of EA, EIS, BAER, and other reports and plans.  His work involves performing a variety of research, testing, and other resource management duties and unrelated processes, methods, and problem solving techniques as expected at Level 4-4.  The appellant gathers, validates, and corrects when required a large volume of data, interpreting the available and collected data in terms of the issues involved, the effect on other resources, and the rationale of competing interests.

Like Level 4-4, the appellant’s BAER and other work requires considering interdependent resources and socioeconomic conditions.  A BAER is a risk management process initiated during or after wildfire containment, resulting in a plan identifying treatment options based on risk assessments and land management objectives.  The appellant’s recent BAER work involved researching alternative flood mitigation methods to control potential flooding of the Forest’s local communities.  He identified dam types, dam locations, and construction materials based on his research.  The appellant’s BAER work also involved identifying the plants species mix for reseeding, straw mulch depth, and other Forest restoration efforts.  Similar to Level 4-4, his work requires researching unusual soils or conditions and assessing the extent of soil degradation, erosion, and other problems.

The appellant’s position is similar to an illustration in the JFS at Level 4-4 where work involves performing preliminary soil survey investigations as they relate to crop growth; conducting soil surveys; classifying and mapping soils; identifying soil chemical, physical, biological, and mineralogical composition; developing and maintaining the project soil survey database; determining responses to various soil types, crop fertilizers, tillage, and rotation; and preparing the initial soil survey manuscript.  To decide what needs to be done, the employee researches unusual soils for proper classification and interpretation; considers the movement of substances, such as nutrients and pesticides through the soil profile; determines whether soil conditions are the source of crop deficiencies; and assesses the scope of soil degradation, erosion, and problems, such as wetness.  The employee uses considerable judgment to plan and conduct soil surveys to meet the objectives of the soil survey program; design a protocol to complete soil survey updates; ensure that soil survey work meets modern standards; apply and adapt established standards to soil survey operations; and conduct survey work in areas where soils are diverse and occur in complex patterns.  The complexity of the appellant’s soil survey investigation, analysis, and reporting work is consistent with the Level 4-4 illustration.

The appellant seeks to credit his position at Level 4-5, stating in the AAR comments to OPM that his position is responsible for “engaging novel and complex problems related to resource management” and has “dealt with various complex issues, such as his reports and recommendations regarding air quality in the Park.”  However, the appellant’s work does not require developing new methods and techniques for problem and issue resolution as expected at Level 4-5.  His TMR EIS work involved mapping Forest soils; reviewing, editing, or writing the watershed, air, and other specialist reports; and reviewing and responding to submissions during the EIS’s public comment period.  His RMAP work involves evaluating and validating current mapping information and classifications, mapping riparian areas, and coordinating with the Region’s riparian staff to make corrections when needed.  He also provides input on timber salvage operations including identifying specific harvesting methods, skidding route designations and operations, and slash treatment.  The appellant provides recommendations on harvest timber locations as it relates to soil sensitivity issues, slope steepness, and proximity to drainage.  His work entails collecting and analyzing data, taking photos to document conditions of the area, and conducting a broad literature review to present findings on current conditions and potential problems or issues, as well as make suggestions and recommendations for best management practices (BMP) and other Forest-level improvements.  In contrast to Level 4-5, the appellant’s work does not involve developing standards, methods, and techniques to extend methodological capability; propose solutions with highly visible political consequences; formulate solutions to unyielding or controversial problems; and anticipate future trends and requirements.

The appellant’s work does not require dealing with major uncertainties in approach or methodology as expected at Level 4-5.  FS- and Region-level staff develop the standard procedures, methodologies, collection methods, and databases applicable to his environmental reporting, BAER, RMAP, and other work.  Riparian and watershed resources intersect with numerous natural resources, e.g., the Forest’s riparian areas serve as habitat to numerous endangered species.  The appellant works closely with other resource areas in an interdisciplinary team setting or one-on-one (e.g., he coordinates with ACE representatives when implementing restoration plans affecting watersheds or flood zones).  Regardless, this work does not involve problems of an abstract nature or involve major uncertainties regarding approach or methodology, serious conflicts between scientific requirements and program direction, or other equally problematic characteristics typical of Level 4-5.

Level 4-4 is credited for 225 points.

Factor 5, Scope and Effect

This factor measures the relationship between the nature of the work, as measured by the purpose, breadth, and depth of the assignment, and the effect of work products or services both within and outside the organization.

At Level 5-3, work involves investigating, analyzing, or advising on a variety of conventional resource or refuge problems and environmental conditions in accordance with established criteria; identifying common problems involving plant and animal diseases, habitat conditions, or environmental impacts from recreational, commercial, and industrial operations; and ensuring the effective development and use of multiple-use resource areas at the local level; and/or performing the full range of routine tests, procedures, and activities; and resolving a variety of problems, questions, or conditions in accordance with established precedents, laboratory procedures, and clinical practices.  Work results affect the agency credibility with internal and external customers; and adequacy, accuracy, and effectiveness of activities, such as field investigations, research studies, or laboratory services; and/or efficient utilization, development, protection, and management of natural resources and socioeconomic well-being of lease and permit holders and other users of natural resources.

At Level 5-4, work involves investigating, analyzing, and evaluating problems and situations involving a wide variety of circumstances or unusual conditions; developing new or improved techniques, criteria, or alternatives to meet requirements involving specific natural resources, research problems, and issues, or agency clinical activities; and upgrading current capabilities involving natural resources or research activities; and/or assessing program effectiveness.  Work results affect the effectiveness and acceptability of agency goals, programs, and activities; continued existence of a resource or resource area in compliance with applicable legislation, regulation, and agency policy, and in the public interest; and/or agricultural, commercial, industrial, and recreational uses and conditions; or a wide range of scientific activities within the agency; and the planning and direction of major investigatory or scientific projects.

The appellant’s position meets Level 5-3.  Similar to this level, his work entails investigating and analyzing a variety of conventional resource problems and conditions.  He conducts field investigations after fire incidents occur at the Forest to catalog and appraise watershed damage and recommend treatment for rehabilitation; inspects and evaluates completed watershed projects; and participates in EA and EIS development when necessary.  He provides technical guidance and assistance in soil identification, classification, interpretation, mapping, and reporting.  He gathers and analyzes data and makes recommendations.  As at Level 5-3, the appellant’s work involves performing a full range of routine tests, procedures, and activities, in addition to resolving a variety of problems or conditions in accordance with established precedents.  Also similar to Level 5-3, his work supports the Forest’s credibility with internal and external customers; and the adequacy, accuracy, and effectiveness of the Forest’s projects, surveys, and other riparian and watershed resource activities.

The scope of the appellant’s work and its impact on agency credibility with customers and adequacy, accuracy, and effectiveness of resource activities are consistent with illustrations in the JFS at Level 5-3.  The first illustration at Level 5-3 describes work comparable to the appellant’s, involving analyzing and interpreting soil survey data for the general public to plan and use soil and land-related resources.  The work results affect resources utilization and local office credibility with soil survey users.  The second illustration describes work involving conducting an initial study or uploading soil survey data.  The employee, like the appellant, conducts all phases of routine soil survey data collection including mapping, classifying, and investigating.  The work results affect the quality of soil survey data collection, which may impact the socioeconomic well-being and safety of the public.

The appellant seeks to credit his position at Level 5-4, stating in the AAR comments to OPM that the position “continues to deal with policy development for the entire two million acres” of the Forest; works extensively with members outside of the FS (we consider and address this under Factor 6); and involves a variety of work dealing with unusual problems or questions, e.g., characterizing vegetation problems and developing BMPs for watershed protection in road maintenance.  His PD and our interviews confirm he is responsible for developing and making recommendations for management’s use in watershed and riparian area management and improvement, proposing BMPs, etc.  The appellant’s position is not responsible for developing Forest-wide policy (i.e., the guiding principles or rules stating what an organization will and must do).  Instead, his work involves applying agency land management and other policies and procedures and ensuring his proposed plans and projects are consistent with such policies and practices.  We must consider the scope and effect of the appellant’s work within this context.

The appellant conducted literature research to compile BMPs for watershed protection in road maintenance.  However, unlike Level 5-4, his field work requires applying established soil surveying techniques and methods.  This and other work do not involve such wide or unusual circumstances as to require developing new or improved techniques, criteria, or alternatives in order to perform work as described at Level 5-4.  The appellant’s work affects the Forest’s customers and the adequacy, accuracy, and effectiveness of its riparian and watershed resource activities.  Regardless of the Forest’s size at two million acres, his position does not affect a wide range of the agency’s scientific activities and the planning and direction of major investigatory or scientific projects as expected at Level 5-4.

Level 5-3 is credited for 150 points.

Factor 6, Personal Contacts

Personal contacts include face-to-face and telephone contacts with persons not in the supervisory chain.  Levels described under this factor are based on what is required to make the initial contact, the difficulty of communicating with those contacted, and the setting in which the contact takes place.

The agency credited the appellant’s position at Level 2, but we found his position exceeds this level where contacts are with employees in the same agency and/or with members of the public in a moderately structured setting.  Level 2 contacts may include professionals and specialists in different functional areas within the agency and at different organizational levels.

We found the appellant’s position meets Level 3, where contacts are with individuals or groups inside and outside the employing agency representing high levels of organizations internal and external to the Federal Government.  At Level 3, typical contacts are with contractors; legal professionals; representatives of community action committees; management officials or senior technical staff of corporations; and Federal agencies, academia, or professional organizations.  These types of external contacts are noted in the appellant’s PD of record. 

The appellant’s work involves participating on interdisciplinary and interagency teams when working on watershed and riparian surveys and projects.  Similar to Level 3, his contacts are with specialists and other professionals in riparian, watershed, and other functional areas at all organizational levels, in or out of the team setting, and require dealing with competing objectives (e.g., conflict between recreational access and maintenance of watersheds and riparian areas).  The appellant’s watershed and riparian areas flow past the Forest’s boundaries.  As at Level 3, his contacts regularly involve consulting with State and local conservation officials, environmental and other special interest groups, and the general public.  For example, he consults with representatives of the BLM and the [state] Department of Environmental Quality when his proposed projects may affect watersheds and other areas outside the Forest.  Similar to Level 3, the appellant contacts senior scientific and technical staff in FS and at other Federal agencies including ACE, EPA, BLM, National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the Federal Highway Administration (e.g., he reviews proposed highway plans and makes recommendations regarding the protection of resources near roadways).  He contacts the NRCS Plant Materials Center Director to negotiate grants and agreements for the conservation of local native species plants.  His other contacts are with contractors and volunteers when he oversees the implementation of restoration and maintenance work.

The appellant’s contacts do not meet Level 4, where contacts are with high-ranking officials from outside the employing department or agency at national or international levels in highly unstructured settings.  Unlike Level 4, his contacts do not include leaders of national stakeholders and/or interest groups; presidents of large national or international firms; national news media; State governors; mayors of large cities, or tribal leaders; Members of Congress; and Presidential advisors and cabinet-level appointees of major departments and agencies.

Factors 6 and 7 are interdependent.  The contacts selected for crediting Factor 6 are used to evaluate Factor 7, and the appropriate level for personal contacts and the corresponding level for purpose of contacts are determined by applying the point assignment chart for Factors 6 and 7.  We agree with the agency’s crediting Factor 7 at Level c.  Consequently, Level 3-c is credited for 180 points.

Summary
Factor Level Points
1.  Knowledge Required by the Position 1-7 1250
2.  Supervisory Controls 2-3 275
3.  Guidelines 3-3 275
4.  Complexity 4-4 225
5.  Scope and Effect 5-3 150
6. & 7.  Personal Contacts and Purpose of Contacts 3-c 180
8.  Physical Demands 8-2 20
9.  Work Environment 9-2 20
Total 2,395

 

A total of 2,395 points falls within the GS-11 range (2,355 to 2,750) on the grade conversion table in the JFS.

Decision

The position is properly classified as Soil Scientist, GS-470-11.

 

 

 

 

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