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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

John W. Moncus, Jr.,
Loan Specialist (General)
GS-1165-11
Camden Area Office
Office of the Alabama State Director
Rural Development
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Montgomery, Alabama
Loan Specialist (General)
GS-1165-9
C-1165-09-06

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

10/21/2016


Date

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

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

Introduction

On April 28, 2015, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Agency Compliance and Evaluation (ACE) Atlanta office accepted a classification appeal from Mr. John W. Moncus, Jr.  On July 2, 2015, we received the complete agency administrative report (AAR).  The appellant’s position is currently classified as Loan Specialist (General), GS-1165-11, and is located in the Camden Area Office, Office of the Alabama (AL) State Director, Rural Development (RD), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in Montgomery, Alabama.  The appellant believes his position should be classified at the GS-12 grade level based on his team leader work.  We have accepted and decided this appeal under section 5112 of title 5, United States Code (U.S.C.).

General Issues

The appellant makes various statements about his agency’s evaluation of his position and compares his position to Lead Rural Housing Specialist positions at the GS-12 grade level in other Area Offices.  In adjudicating this appeal, our responsibility is to make our own independent decision on the proper classification of his position.  By law, we must make that decision solely by comparing his current duties and responsibilities to OPM position classification standards (PCS) and guidelines (5 U.S.C. 5106, 5107, and 5112).  Since comparison to PCSs is the exclusive method for classifying positions, we cannot compare the appellant’s position to others that may or may not be properly classified as a basis for deciding his appeal.  Because our decision sets aside all previous agency decisions, the appellant’s concerns regarding his 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.  However, the agency also has primary responsibility for ensuring that its positions are classified consistently with OPM appeal decisions.  If the appellant considers his position so similar to others that they all warrant the same classification, he may pursue the matter by writing to his agency’s human resources headquarters.  In doing so, he should specify the precise organizational location, classification, duties, and responsibilities of the positions in question.  If the positions are found to be basically the same as his, the agency must correct their classification to be consistent with this appeal decision.  Otherwise, the agency should explain to him the differences between his position and the others. 

The appellant indicates the 2008 merger of field offices into Area Offices caused an increase in his workload (i.e., triple the number of cases) and scope of responsibility when the geographical coverage expanded from three to nine counties, and believes this should be considered when grading his position.  However, volume of work cannot be considered in determining the grade of a position (The Classifier’s Handbook, chapter 5)

The appellant believes his official position description (PD) #138629 is not accurate because it does not speak to the changes that took place after the field office merger into the Area Office, and thus is not representative of the work he is responsible for.  Additionally, when interviewed he added his PD is not accurate because it does not list his team leader responsibilities.  The appellant’s supervisor certified to the accuracy of the appellant’s PD but indicated that since he became the appellant’s supervisor in 2012, the appellant has not worked on Multi-Family Housing (MFH) or Water/Waste loan processing/servicing as described in the PD.  Furthermore, the appellant confirmed that he does not process MFH loans.  On occasion, he may be asked to assist in MFH-related work consisting of visiting a property to inspect it, but this occupies less than one percent of his time.  

A PD is the official record of the major duties and responsibilities assigned to a position by an official with the authority to assign work.  A position is the duties and responsibilities that make up the work performed by the employee.  Classification appeal regulations permit OPM to investigate or audit a position and decide an appeal based on the actual duties and responsibilities currently assigned by management and performed by the employee.  An OPM appeal decision classifies a real operating position, and not simply a PD.  This decision is based on the work currently assigned and performed by the appellant. 

Our review disclosed the appellant’s PD is not completely accurate in that it describes duties the appellant does not perform.  Specifically, the appellant is not responsible for performing selected servicing activities in the MFH program including supervisory visits, compliance reviews, and inquiries from borrowers and tenants as described in the PD.  He also does not review performance of construction/security inspections for all USDA RD multifamily housing loan/grant projects and inventory property rehabilitation.  Therefore, the appellant’s PD of record does not meet the standard of adequacy addressed on pages 10-11 of the Introduction, and the agency must revise the PD to reflect our findings. 

Position Description

The mission of the USDA RD is to help improve the economy and quality of life in rural America.  Its programs offer loans, grants, and loan guarantees to support essential services such as housing, economic development, health care, first responder services and equipment, and water, electric, and communications infrastructure.  The programs promote economic development by supporting loans to businesses through banks, credit unions, and community-managed lending pools.  Program services provide technical assistance to help communities undertake community empowerment programs and help rural residents buy or rent safe, affordable housing and make health and safety repairs to their homes.

The AL State Office provides credit and technical assistance to rural families, businesses, and communities within the state of Alabama through the following eight key services and programs: Community Facilities Direct Loan and Grant Program; Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program; Business and Industry Loan Guarantees; Intermediary Relending; Single Family Housing (SFH) Direct Home Loans (i.e., Section 502 loans); SFH Repair Loans and Grants (i.e., Section 504 loans); SFH Guaranteed Loan Program; and MFH Direct Loans.  The SFH and MFH Programs provide access to safe, decent, and sanitary housing solutions for eligible rural low-income Alabama residents by providing payment assistance to increase an applicant’s repayment ability.  Within the AL State Office, there are eight Area Offices:  Anniston, Bay Minette, Camden, Cullman, Huntsville, Tuskegee, Ozark, and Tuscaloosa.  Each Area Office is responsible for a geographic area of coverage for program delivery.  The appellant is assigned to the Camden Area Office.  The Camden Area Office’s geographic area of coverage includes the following counties: Autauga, Butler, Chilton, Choctaw, Dallas, Lowndes, Marengo, Perry and Wilcox.

The appellant processes and services SFH direct loans and grants.  These include home ownership loans, home improvement and repair loans and grants, mutual self-help technical assistance grants, and housing site loans.  He explains the application process to potential applicants and provides advice and technical guidance to loan and grant customers.  He then makes a pre-qualification determination by reviewing applications and analyzing the applicant’s income and credit to assess their basic financial stability and means of repayment.  He evaluates credit risk factors such as debt to income ratio, loan repayment history, and credit score to determine the likelihood of the applicant’s ability to repay loan obligations in full.  Upon calculating income, he compares it to the local loan limits for the applicable county.  The appellant uses the UNIFI loan origination and underwriting system, which automatically calculates the affordability ratios and maximum loan amounts.  However, the appellant asserts that he performs the calculations manually before loading them into UNIFI.  If the applicant does not qualify for the loan, the appellant provides credit counseling to explain to the applicant why he or she does not qualify.  If the appellant approves the loan, he issues a Certificate of Eligibility.  The appellant has authority to approve SFH loans up to the area’s limit of $134,600.

Once the applicant has qualified for a loan and selects a property or builder, the appellant performs a property or environmental assessment to ensure the property is “decent, safe, and sanitary.”  For instance, he must determine if the property is on the flood plain, on a historic register, or if the nature of the soil results in it being classified as “farm land.”  He also conducts foundation inspections (conventional floating slabs, footings in problem soil areas, and monolithic slabs), rough-in inspections (walls are still open and the drywall is not yet installed), dry-in inspections (the building shell has been completed sufficiently to keep out wind and rain), and final inspections.  If the loan entails building a house, the appellant schedules and completes pre-construction conferences and construction contract closings.

If the loan is a repair loan, the applicant selects a contractor to complete the repairs.  The appellant determines if the repairs requested by the potential buyer are appropriate and completes a repair list.  He also assesses the potential contractor who will be performing the work to ensure they are licensed to complete such work.  Once the funds for the loan have been released by the State Office, the appellant instructs the applicant to find an attorney or title office for closing.  Once the closing process is complete, the Centralized Servicing Center (CSC) in St. Louis, Missouri, takes over as the loan servicer.  However, the appellant also assists in the collection program on SFH-insured accounts in coordination with the CSC.  He does this by providing information to CSC employees relating to delinquent account servicing, insurance inspections, subsidy renewals, subsidy recapture assessments, payments in full, re-amortizations, moratoriums, delinquency work-out agreements, foreclosure sales, real estate taxes, and performs other task as required.  For instance, when the appellant reviews loans that become delinquent within their first year, he may offer a delinquent work out agreement, issue a moratorium, or accept payments if possible.

The appellant’s contacts include representatives of other Federal, State, county, city and other local agencies when verifying applicant information.  He also has contacts with rural community groups, civic groups, and other rural associations when carrying out marketing and community development duties to promote the SFH loan program by explaining the benefits and requirements.  While the appellant indicated spending 15 percent of his time performing outreach in the community to market RD programs, his supervisor indicated that this percentage has diminished due to the current heavy loan processing workload.

The appellant uses various regulations, handbooks, and other resources to perform his work.  While the guidelines are extensive and are specific in some areas, such as defining loan limits for each county, they are vague in others, such as defining a “poorly” maintained lot/land.  Since they do not cover every situation, the appellant often has to use judgment in applying the guidelines.  When the appellant encounters an unusual situation not covered by the guidelines, he consults with other Loan Specialists, the State Office, or the Area Director.

In reaching our classification decision, we have carefully reviewed all information provided by the appellant and his agency including the official PD which, although not completely accurate, we find sufficient for purposes of classification and incorporate by reference into this decision.  In addition, to help decide the appeal we conducted separate telephone interviews and follow-up interviews with the appellant and his supervisor (i.e., Area Director, GS-301-13).

Series, title, and standard determination

The agency has classified the appellant’s position in the Loan Specialist Series, GS-1165, titling it Loan Specialist (General).  The appellant does not disagree with the series and we concur with the agency’s series determination.  However, the appellant believes that he functions as a work leader because he spends 25 percent of his time leading the work of two Area Technicians, GS-1101-7, and one Area Specialist, GS-1165-9, thus the prefix “Lead” should be added to his title and his position should be graded at the GS-12 grade level.  Some of the duties the appellant states he performs, making him a “Team Leader,” include identifying, distributing, and balancing workload and tasks among employees in accordance with established work flow, skill level, and/or occupational specialization, and reporting to the supervisor periodically on team accomplishments, problems, progress and work processes, and individual and team training needs.

The General Schedule Leader Grade Evaluation Guide (GSLGEG) is applicable to positions that have responsibility for a permanently assigned group of employees for which both technical and administrative leadership responsibilities are performed on a continuing basis.  The appellant’s official PD of record, which has been classified by the employing agency and verified by the appellant’s supervisor, makes no mention of or expectation for the appellant to perform in the capacity of team leader, and the appellant’s supervisor asserts the appellant has not been assigned and does not perform team leader duties.  The appellant also contends he was directed to perform such duties by his former supervisor who retired in 2012, but some of the responsibilities have been “weaned off” since then.  As previously stated, this decision is based on the actual work assigned by management and performed by the appellant.  Our fact-finding disclosed the appellant is not delegated and does not perform team leader duties and responsibilities.

Moreover, the appellant describes some of his “team leader” activities as showing a technician how to read a blueprint or take measurements while conducting a house inspection or other related functions while the technician is assisting him.  He also conducts on the job training to new or lower-graded employees upon request.  For instance, he provided training on the intake of applications and entering data into the system to three technicians when the Area Director was not available.  The GSLGEG specifically excludes positions that have functional “project” responsibilities but do not lead workers on a continuing basis.  Thus, these duties do not fall within the breadth of “leader” and do not meet the criteria for classification under the GSLGEG.  Because the GSLGEG does not apply to the appellant’s position, the position can neither be titled as a “lead” nor evaluated for grade level by reference to the guide.

Nonsupervisory positions in the GS-1165 series at grades 9 and above are titled Loan Specialist, with the field of specialization indicated parenthetically after the basic title.  The specializations in the series reflect differences in knowledges and abilities required with respect to the types of loans with which the employees are primarily concerned.  These types of loans include Agricultural, Commercial, and Realty. The parenthetical title (General) is appropriate since the position is concerned with loans requiring knowledge of a combination of these specializations.  The grades of positions in the GS-1165 series must be evaluated by reference to the grading criteria in the GS-1165 PCS. 

Grade determination

The 1165 PCS is written in the narrative format.  The most significant classification factors are:  Nature of Loans and Nature of Supervision Received.  These factors must be applied within the context of Federal loan programs discussed in the 1165 PCS.  Nature of Loans is intended to measure the difficulty involved in (1) assessing the ability of prospective borrowers to repay loans and to comply with necessary terms, conditions and covenants governing the loan, e.g., to make tax payments and maintain adequate insurance coverage on property, or to operate under efficient financial management policies; (2) determining appropriate action necessary to resolve borrowers' difficulties in meeting loan terms; and (3) developing sound courses of action in liquidating loans to insure the least amount of loss to the Government or damage to the borrower.  Nature of Supervision Received reflects the level of responsibility carried by the incumbent. 

At the GS-9 grade level, employees perform financial and credit analyses of the complexity involved in examining loan applications and mortgages offered for purchase and in servicing current or delinquent loans for small (one to four family) residential dwellings; very small commercial loans for working capital; purchase of equipment and machinery; repair of a store destroyed by a hurricane; etc.  The financial and credit analysis performed at this level is based on well-developed facts which are readily evaluated under the criteria established by the agency for approval or disapproval.  There is little difficulty in determining the amount and stability of the present and future income of the applicant or borrower because it is based on salary, wages, or the operation of a relatively stable business and there is little difficulty in determining the financial and management ability of the applicant or borrower to repay the loan.

Incumbents of positions at grades GS-9 and above generally receive little or no direct supervision during the course of their normal assignments, except for new, novel, or precedent-setting cases.  In evaluating this factor, consideration is given to the responsibility assigned to the incumbent by the supervisor and the kind and degree of supervision exercised over the work, i.e., whether cases of one or several types and levels are usually assigned; whether work is segregated with respect to problems and complexities likely to be encountered.

GS-9 employees are assigned full responsibility for performing the analyses and for making recommendations based on their analyses.  Typically, there is no prescreening in the assignment of home loan applications, mortgage offerings, or home loan delinquent portfolios by the supervisor.  Applications for commercial loans are prescreened by the supervisor or a designated representative to remove those with more difficult problems prior to assignment of cases to GS-9 loan specialists.  Completed work is reviewed for compliance with agency policy, regulations, and procedures. 

At the GS‑11 grade level, assignments in the realty field are of the complexity represented by analysis of the financial capacity of mortgagors, builders, or sponsors who apply for loans or for guarantee or insurance of their commitments in connection with large-scale housing transactions (large multi-family rental projects, operative-builders projects, nursing homes, and the like).  In the commercial field, GS-11 employees are assigned loan actions covering varied kinds of business operations representing all types of ownership (single owner, partnerships, and corporations).  The work processes of positions at this level are similar to those performed at the GS-9 level.  However, in assignments typical of the GS-11 level, the determination of the financial capacity of the borrower is complicated by the fact that the income is based on the operations of business firms, sometimes with varied activities, or the rental of multi-family housing, rather than on relatively stable salaries, wages, etc.  The income is, at best, an estimate based on the anticipated trend of the particular business operation, the local economy, and the management ability of the principal owners of the business or the sponsors of the multi-family dwellings or other equivalent housing project.  The source of this estimate comes from an analysis of financial statements for several years, commercial credit reports, discussions with local bankers, economic and industry reports of the agency, and reports from such other agencies as the Department of Commerce, Federal Reserve Board, Federal Home Loan Bank Board, etc.

GS-11 loan specialists are expected to accomplish the normal day-to-day actions pertaining to loan examining and servicing without supervisory direction.  Any actions not covered by regulations or precedents are discussed with the supervisor prior to formulation of recommendations as to approval or disapproval.  Completed work is reviewed for compliance with agency policies, regulations, and procedures and to determine whether the recommendation is the best solution to the problem, or whether other approaches may be utilized to resolve the problem in a more efficient and economical manner.

The appellant’s work assignments involve dealing with the analytical issues and circumstances of single-family loans typical of the GS-9 grade level within the Government program context of the 1165 PCS.  The PCS defines complexity for this type of work by the type of loan serviced with small (one to four family) residential dwellings being characteristic of the GS-9 grade level and the financial and credit analysis being based on salary and wages, as opposed to the operations of business firms or the rental of multi-family housing, which is characteristic of the GS-11 grade level.  The appellant exclusively processes loans for single family residential dwellings as is typical of the GS-9 grade level.  The loans are based on an analysis of typical income sources, (e.g., wages, income from small businesses, child support, and social security payments), and expenses (e.g., utility payment records, credit card accounts, bank statements), over a sufficient time period (typically two years) to determine both financial capability and eligibility.  The appellant is responsible for processing SFH loans, which fall under the PCS’ definition of small (one to four family) residential dwellings.  He does not analyze the financial capacity of mortgagors, builders, or sponsors who apply for loans or for guarantee or insurance of their commitments in connection with large-scale house transactions, as is typical of the GS-11 grade level. 

Additionally, the appellant performs financial and credit analysis based on salary and wages.  While these analyses may be complicated by such factors as the inclusion of temporary employment, overtime, self-employment, and multiple household members’ income, this does not meet the level of complexity of analysis at the GS-11 grade level, where the determination of the financial capacity of the borrower is complicated by the fact that the income is based on the operations of business firms, sometimes with varied activities, or the rental of multi-family housing, rather than on relatively stable salaries and wages. 

Consistent with the GS-9 grade level, the appellant is assigned full responsibility for performing financial and credit analyses and approving loans up to the area’s limit based on his analyses, with little or no direct supervision during the course of his normal assignments.  While this freedom from supervision is comparable to the GS-11 grade level in the execution of his day-to-day work, typical of the GS-9 grade level the appellant’s work is segregated with respect to problems and complexities likely to be encountered in the type of loan assigned.  The appellant’s supervisor develops a workload plan, and assigns Loan Specialists with full performance levels to the GS-12 grade level to work on the complex MFH, commercial loans, and other loans from groups such as associations and partnerships.  In contrast, the appellant is only assigned the SFH loans.  Completed work is reviewed for compliance with agency policy, regulations, and procedures.  This is done when the supervisor performs a cursory review of the loan approval before forwarding it to the State Office for release of funds.  While the appellant’s work exceeds the GS-9 grade level for a portion of this factor, it does not fully meet the intent of the next higher grade level for this factor.  Thus, according to the Handbook, he may not be credited with the next higher grade level.

Since the appellant’s work does not meet the GS-11 grade level, comparison to the PCS’s GS-12 grade level criteria is neither necessary nor appropriate.

Both the Nature of Loans and the Nature of Supervision Received factors for the appealed position are properly evaluated at the GS-9 grade level.  Therefore, the appropriate grade for the appellant’s position is GS-9.

Decision

The appellant’s position is properly classified as Loan Specialist (General), GS-1165-9.

 

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