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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

Brian P. Hanley
Operations Research Analyst
GS-1515-13
Aviation Facilities and Business Services Division
Volpe National Transportation Systems Center
U.S. Department of Transportation
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Operations Research Analyst
GS-1515-13
C-1515-13-01

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

12/29/2015


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).

Introduction

On January 15, 2015, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) Philadelphia Agency Compliance and Evaluation accepted a classification appeal from Mr. Brian P. Hanley.  The appellant’s position is currently classified as Operations Research Analyst, GS-1515-13, but he believes it should be classified at the GS-14 grade level.  The position is assigned to the Aviation Facilities and Business Services Division (Division), Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Center), U.S. Department of Transportation, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  We received the complete agency’s administrative report on February 11, 2015, and the appellant’s comments on the report on March 16, 2015.  Due to program workload considerations, the appeal was transferred to Dallas Agency Compliance and Evaluation for adjudication.  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 requested a review of the classification of his position from the Center’s servicing human resources office.  Their May 27, 2014, evaluation statement determined the position is appropriately classified as GS-1515-13.  The appellant subsequently filed a classification appeal with OPM.

In his appeal request to OPM, the appellant raises various concerns about the fairness and objectivity of his agency’s position review (e.g., that the evaluation is based on false, misleading, and inaccurate information provided by his immediate supervisor, and the agency fails to substantiate its conclusions).  In adjudicating this appeal, our responsibility is to make our own independent decision on the proper classification of the appellant’s position.  Because our decision sets aside all previous agency decisions, the agency’s actions and classification review process are not germane to this decision.  Further, classification appeal regulations permit OPM to investigate or audit a position and decide an appeal on the basis of the actual duties and responsibilities assigned by management and performed by the employee.  An OPM appeal decision classifies a real operating position and not simply the position description (PD) and associated documents.

The appellant also makes various statements regarding bullying, retaliation, and other employee relations and workplace issues at the Center.  As previously stated, it is our responsibility to make our own independent decision on the proper classification of his position.  By law, we must make that decision solely by comparing his duties and responsibilities to OPM standards and guidelines (5 U.S.C. 5106, 5107, and 5112).  Therefore, we have considered the appellant’s statements only insofar as they are relevant to making that comparison.

The Center’s mission is to serve as a catalyst for change by developing solutions to transportation problems and application of innovative technologies and operational practices to make for a safer, effective, and efficient transportation system.  Funded on a fee-for-service basis, the Center supports transportation-related initiatives for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), other Department components, and various Federal agencies.  The appellant’s position is thus project-based, supports client agencies on a scope of work for a specific or estimated period of time, and dependent on the needs and availability of funds from the paying agency.  For purposes of fully addressing the classification concerns of the appellant, our evaluation will focus on the duties and responsibilities of the project he has been assigned to since approximately 2009, which serve as the basis of his rationale at the time of his filing a classification appeal with OPM for evaluating his position to the GS-14 grade level.  We, however, note the actual duties and responsibilities of his project-based position may increase, decrease, or otherwise change subject to client needs and funding.

Position information

The primary purpose of the appellant’s position is to provide agency officials and decision makers with scientifically researched, developed, and tested information as a basis for making decisions impacting aviation operations nationwide.  He is part of the Center’s team supporting the requirements of FAA’s Terminal Facilities (TF) program, which is responsible for the inventory of air traffic control towers and terminal radar approach control facilities.  In general, the appellant’s position provides project management support as facilities advance through planning, design, construction, equipment procurement and installation, commissioning, and disposition.  His position reports to the Division Chief, a GS-801-15 Supervisory General Engineer position.

Since 2009, the appellant’s position has been involved with the FAA’s effort at replacing the existing 2-dimensional (2D) Computer Aided Design (CAD) based workflow with a 3-dimensional (3D) model-based facility lifecycle workflow referred to as Building Information Modeling (BIM).  BIM replaces the need to manage thousands of engineering drawings with electronic information models representing buildings and facilities, while also reducing or eliminating errors by identifying construction issues not as easily detectible using traditional design and construction processes.  The FAA’s Computer Aided Engineering Graphics (CAEG) program office applies a 2D CAD software suite to maintain the repository of proposed and as-built CAD layouts.  With the architectural, engineering, and construction (A/E/C) industry adopting BIM software and workflows, the CAEG office identified the agency’s shortfall concerning the lack of software and expertise required to manage and manipulate BIM files and deliverables over the 40-year lifecycle of building renovations and modernizations.

The CAEG office currently tests BIM lifecycle capabilities.  A major stakeholder in that effort is TF’s Design, Engineering, and Integration (DEI) component, which oversees the design, construction, and commissioning of facility projects.  For purposes of refining the FAA’s BIM-related data requirements, definitions, and guidelines, DEI projects were identified to specifically test 3D modeling workflows.  For the DEI, the appellant provides expert technical knowledge on the strategic planning, training, and development of BIM workflow for project implementation.  He explores and tests 3D modeling capabilities of a project relating to space and asset management, work order management and visualization, facility condition assessment, and configuration management.

The appellant prepares business cases and other documents to recommend appropriate staffing, training, and software and hardware acquisition.  He identifies various potential software and hardware approaches for use on projects to allow BIM applications to run locally.  In addition to identifying security, cost, and other issues involved, he proposed various system scenarios such as storing BIM files and Construction Operations Building information exchange (COBie) facility databases on a Regional Electronic Document Management System (eDMS) server, a National eDMS server, an FAA cloud computer server, or a commercially available cloud computer server.  The appellant identifies engineering, planning, and design investment costs he anticipates at the project’s design and construction phases.  For example, he estimated a design phase expense of $40,000 for software licenses and subscription renewals as well as a construction phase expense of $50,000 for BIM training by software manufacturers, leasing of additional bandwidth or cloud computer service fees, dedicated telecommunication lines, data entry work, etc.

Projects are currently in various stages of design or construction.  As a liaison or “bridge” between projects, the appellant refines BIM processes, procedures, and workflow based on lessons learned from preceding projects.  He researches, establishes, and develops BIM workflows and solutions.  For example, he researches BIM best practices and contract procurement utilized by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other U.S. Department of Defense components, General Services Administration, and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for potential application to the FAA.  He determines where external BIM-related guidelines and samples may potentially fit into FAA procurement, design, construction, and operations workflow for the project.  The appellant drafts language to be inserted into contract solicitations, allowing FAA’s Engineering Services to award design contracts specifying BIM deliverables.  He reviews submissions from contractors at the 45, 70, 90, and 100 percent completion stage and drafts comments relating to acceptability of BIM deliverables for the FAA’s project leader, who consolidates them with other comments prior to forwarding to the architectural and engineering firm.

The appellant also serves as technical expert to FAA project leaders and staff as well as A/E/C contractors on matters of BIM, responding to questions and issues such as where and how BIM files are to be stored, BIM software operation, and insufficient bandwidth to access the BIM server from the construction trailer.  He established an organizational structure and file naming convention for the thousands of BIM design files, populated the 3D objects with equipment information, and exported COBie databases in the form of Excel spreadsheets.  When necessary, he coordinates with the CAEG office to, for example, load BIM and COBie files to the computer server network.  The appellant communicates recommendations such as advocating a cloud-based approach, sourcing of middleware (i.e., a web-based interactive BIM viewer and dashboard), and establishing a server outside the FAA accessible to the A/E/C contractor and FAA project staff in an effort to eliminate the current practice of passing storage discs back and forth with BIM files.  The CAEG office, responsible for drafting and implementing agency-wide BIM standards, chairs the BIM Standards Committee.  As a member of the committee, the appellant provides standards development recommendations and shares real-world issues, problems, and lessons learned from implementing BIM on actual projects.

The appellant’s position is currently assigned to official PD number T70088A.  This PD and other material of record furnish much more information about the appellant’s duties and responsibilities and how they are performed, is adequate overall for classification purposes, and we incorporate it by reference into this decision.  The appellant also provided a disc with “samples [to] substantiate execution of each sentence written in the respective Factor Level Description.”  In reaching our classification decision, we carefully considered all emails, documents, and work samples on the disc and refer to particular materials throughout our evaluation of his position.  To help decide this appeal, we conducted telephone audits with the appellant on June 26 and July 1, 2015, and a telephone interview with the Division Chief on September 3, 2015.  Furthermore, we interviewed FAA representatives including a BIM Standards Committee member on October 23, 2015; a project leader with Engineering Services on October 30, 2015; and a DEI official on November 9, 2015.

Series, title, and standard determination

The agency assigned the appellant’s position to the GS-1515 Operations Research Series, titled it Operations Research Analyst, and applied the grading criteria in the Job Family Standard (JFS) for Professional Work in the Mathematical Sciences Group, GS-1500, to determine the grade of the position.  The appellant does not disagree and, after careful review of the record, we concur.

In addition, we referred to the grading criteria and illustrations in the JFS for Professional Work in the Engineering and Architecture Group, GS-800, for cross-series confirmation of the level credited for Factor 5.  The GS-800 JFS covers civil engineering work involving the generation and/or application of theories, principles, practical concepts, and processes related to the science of civil engineering including its materials and methods, as well as the art, techniques, and engineering design standards for the building and construction industries.  As these duties are sufficiently relatable to the appellant’s project work, the scope and effect of civil engineering and other GS-800 JFS covered occupations is comparable to that of the appellant’s position and is appropriate to substantiate the level assigned to Factor 5.

Grade determination

The GS-1500 and GS-800 JFSs use the Factor Evaluation System (FES) format, under which factor levels and accompanying point values are assigned for each of the nine factors.  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 to a lower level unless the deficiency is balanced by an equally important aspect that meets a higher level.  The total points assigned are converted to a grade level by use of a grade conversion table in the JFS.

The appellant only disagrees with the agency’s evaluation of Factors 2, 3, 5, and 7.  We have reviewed the agency’s crediting of Level 1-8, 4-5, 6-3, 8-1, and 9-1; concur; and have credited the position accordingly.  Therefore, our evaluation will focus on the 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, or a designated individual, over the work performed, the employee’s responsibility, and review of completed work.  The controls apply to how supervisors both assign and review work.  The supervisor determines what information the employee needs to perform the assignments (e.g., instructions, priorities, deadlines, objectives, and boundaries).  Review controls may range from detailed inspection of work in progress, to simply confirming that the work adheres to agency policy.  The employee’s responsibilities complement the supervisory controls (e.g., if the supervisor does not establish the sequence in which the work is to be done, it becomes an employee responsibility).

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

At Level 2-5, the supervisor provides administrative direction for projects in terms of broadly defined missions or functions of the agency.  The employee is responsible for a significant agency or equivalent level program or function; defines objectives; interprets policies promulgated by authorities senior to the immediate supervisor and determines their effect on program needs; exercises a wide degree of independent professional discretion and judgment; and independently plans, designs, and carries out the work to be done.  The supervisor reviews work for potential impact on broad agency policy objectives and program goals; normally accepts work as being technically authoritative; and normally accepts work without significant change.

The supervisory controls over the appellant’s position fully meet Level 2-4.  As at this level, the Statement of Work (SOW) provides the overall (broad but not detailed) objectives and parameters of his work.  The appellant’s SOW falls under a larger project with other tasks, with the entire project led by a project manager.  In view of the project and quasi-contractor nature of the appellant’s position, neither the project leader nor the Division Chief discuss assignment scope, approaches to take, timeframes, and possible execution phases of assignments.  Instead, work direction of this type is provided by FAA officials.  The appellant provides technical advice and guidance to FAA project leaders and staff as well as A/E/C contractors, comments on design and construction submittals delivered at various project milestones, and drafts BIM-related language for inclusion to the contract, but these and other assignments are tasked to him with general timeframes, scope, and other applicable work directions and instructions given.  Similar to Level 2-4, he plans and carries out the assignment; resolves most conflicts that arise; coordinates the work with others as necessary; interprets policy and regulatory requirements; keeps the supervisor informed of progress and potentially controversial problems, concerns, and issues; develops changes to plans and/or methodology; and provides recommendations for improvements to meet objectives.  As a BIM Standards Committee member, he conducts research on technical matters (e.g., using the cloud for BIM purposes) and provides advice and recommendations regarding the implementation of BIM FAA-wide.

Like Level 2-4, neither the project manager nor the Division Chief reviews the technical methods used by the appellant.  The supervisor states he checks weekly on the progress of the Division’s project activities, including the appellant’s.  Since the FAA is a client agency and thus important to the Center, the Division Chief closely monitors feedback regarding their satisfaction with work products or other deliverables provided by the appellant to or on behalf of the FAA.  The supervisor monitors the work performed by the appellant through a review of weekly activity reports, feedback from the FAA, and when he is in receipt of design and construction submittal comments and other work assignments.  This is a match for Level 2-4, where the supervisor reviews work for soundness of overall approach, adherence to requirements, achievement of expected results, and feasibility of recommendations.

The appellant seeks to credit his position at Level 2-5, stating in his appeal request to OPM that he has “received no supervisory control, feedback, or guidance at all from [the Division Chief] and not even cursory review of [his] work.”  Although he does not assign and review the appellant’s day-to-day assignments, the supervisor’s official PD shows it is his position’s responsibility for making Division-related decisions concerning policy, management objectives, and resource constraints.  Regarding his work for the FAA, the appellant operates with considerable independence in planning work assignments, determining the best approach, and making recommendations on the practices and workflow for project implementation.  His work, however, is not driven by merely administrative direction of a broadly defined mission or function as expected at Level 2-5.  The FAA is replacing the current 2D CAD based workflow with a 3D model-based facility lifecycle workflow.  The appellant plays a vital role in the effort by providing the DEI, A/E/C contractors, and other FAA representatives with subject matter expertise, as well as serving as a liaison or coordination point on BIM project workflow issues.  For him to perform that role, the FAA provides more than just the administrative direction typical of Level 2-5, instead providing substantive direction to him by defining his roles as, for example, liaison, coordinator, or advisor to project leaders, A/E/C contractors, and others on BIM issues; describing his responsibilities (to provide subject matter knowledge and guidance); and identifying the work products and outcomes expected of him such as providing comments on design and construction submittals, lessons learned, and recommendations for improvement.

Unlike Level 2-5, the advisory work the claimant performs in support of the FAA does not include responsibility for making decisions (as opposed to making recommendations) regarding the planning, organizing, and carrying out of a significant agency or equivalent level program or function.  In the subfolder titled Significant Agency Program on his disc of work samples, the appellant specifically includes a 2012 email requesting assistance from technical experts across multiple Federal agencies for sample solicitation language; an email permitting the appellant to designate himself as “[U.S. Department of Transportation] BIM Lead” for the purpose of joining an unofficial, multi-agency group of technical experts; and a June 1, 2012, memorandum of agreement between FAA organizations describing BIM support responsibilities.  None of the work samples in this and other folders supports his having been given responsibility for a significant agency or equivalent level program or function as required by Level 2-5.  The emails, memorandums, and other work samples do not sufficiently explain the actual work performed by the appellant to establish his having responsibility for the program or function.  We conclude he is not defining objectives, interpreting policies promulgated by authorities senior to the supervisor and determining their effect on program needs, exercising a wide degree of independent professional discretion and judgment, and independently planning, designing, and carrying out the work to be done which is predicated, at Level 2-5, on having responsibility for a significant agency or equivalent level program or function.

Level 2-4 is credited for 450 points.

Factor 3, Guidelines

This factor covers the nature of guidelines and the judgment employees need to apply them.  The availability of specific, applicable guidelines may vary with individual assignments; thus, the judgment employees use similarly varies with the assignment.  The existence of detailed plans and other instructions may make innovation in planning and conducting work unnecessary or undesirable.

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 modify, adapt, and/or refine broader guidelines to resolve specific complex and/or intricate issues and problems; deal with specific issues or problems; research trends and patterns; develop new methods and criteria; and/or propose new policies and practices.

At Level 3-5, the employee uses guidelines such as broad policy statements, basic legislation, recent scientific findings, or reports that are often ambiguous and require extensive interpretation.  The employee uses considerable judgment and ingenuity and exercises broad latitude to determine the intent of new or revised guidelines; develop policy and guidelines for specific areas of work; and interpret policy statements, regulations, and methods development plans.

The appellant’s guidelines meet Level 3-4.  Similar to this level, he uses guidelines and precedents that are general in nature regarding policy statements and objectives; e.g., he uses judgment to interpret and implement the SOW which is, by its very nature, broad and general.  The appellant’s guidelines for specific assignments do not normally exist, are not applicable, or have gaps in specificity.  He researches trends and patterns, recommending new methods, criteria, policies, or practices for application to the FAA.  In addition to a range of technical materials (publications), the appellant’s guidelines or references may be in the form of feedback and collaboration with other Federal agencies to gather information from them on lessons learned, samples of guidelines implemented, and other takeaways with potential applicability to the FAA.  This work is a match to Level 3-4, requiring he use judgment, initiative, and resourcefulness to modify methods to fit the FAA’s workflow and, to the extent possible, propose the latest and most pertinent BIM initiatives, concepts, and practices.  Prior to the contract solicitation for a project, the appellant coordinates with FAA project leaders or contracting specialists to include BIM language to contracts for architectural and engineering design services.  He identifies BIM deliverables and drafts language for contract inclusion, providing guidance to FAA project staff and design firms when necessary.  Like Level 3-4, the appellant exercises judgment and ingenuity to develop technical products for which existing guides or references are lacking or technically inadequate for use at FAA.

The appellant seeks to credit his position at Level 3-5, stating in his appeal request to OPM that “there are NO guidelines for [him] to follow” and “[t]he non-existence of guidance prompted [him] to develop guidance in the form of the BIM Implementation Strategy and Planning Document (ISPD) and several other Business Case documents.”  We disagree with his assertion regarding the non-existence of guidelines or references available to his work.  Though new to the FAA, BIM concepts have existed for decades and been fully adopted and implemented by private industry as well as other Federal agencies.  We conclude the appellant’s BIM-related work, concerning a well-developed subject matter area, does not reflect ambiguous or other such conditions and thus does not require the considerable judgment and ingenuity in developing new and improved hypotheses, approaches, or concepts not previously tested or reported in the literature of the professional field characteristic of Level 3-5.

Unlike Level 3-5, the appellant’s guidelines are not limited to broad policy statements, basic legislation, or reports that are often ambiguous and require extensive interpretation.  In addition to the availability of BIM-related literature and resources, he does not work for or support an organizational level at the FAA such that he would be doing the original interpretation of new laws or court decisions and developing corresponding agency policies and guidelines on behalf of the agency.  The appellant is one of approximately 12 members of the BIM Standards Committee, which is tasked with developing FAA-wide BIM standards.  Led by the CAEG office, the Committee includes project managers, engineers, and computer specialists and convenes monthly to discuss recommendations on software systems, security protocols, deliverables from architectural and engineering firms, etc.  The ISPD is referred to by Committee members to inform the ongoing standard and guideline development work at the FAA by ensuring key issues are covered and addressed.  In contrast, the JFS describes Level 3-5 as an employee using considerable judgment and ingenuity and exercising broad latitude to determine the intent of new or revised guidelines; develop policy and guidelines for specific areas of work; and interpret policy statements, regulations, and methods development plans.  The appellant’s Committee work involves making proposals for FAA-wide BIM standards but whether those recommendations are implemented is ultimately the decision of the Committee as a whole; thus, we conclude his position does not require exercising broad latitude (i.e., the leeway or freedom) to independently develop policy and guidelines as expected at Level 3-5.  Instead, we find his Committee, planning document, business case, and other such work equivalent to proposing new policies and practices which is fully creditable at Level 3-4.

We also reviewed the work samples on the disc provided by the appellant, including:  his comments on design and construction submittals delivered at various project milestones; drafts of contract language along with suggested changes and revisions; BIM-related lessons learned from projects; and business cases and other work documents detailing investment analysis plans, shortfall analysis, benefit analysis, pricing of BIM design work, and analysis of costs for labor, software, training, and infrastructure expenditures.  But, again, the technical advice and work products he provides at the request of his FAA clients do not rise to work equal to policy and guideline development (i.e., the laying down of ground rules to be followed and for which other employees will be held accountable) expected at Level 3-5.

Level 3-4 is credited for 450 points.

Factor 5, Scope and Effect

This factor covers the relationships between the nature of 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 whether the work output facilitates the work of others, provides timely services of a personal nature, or impacts the adequacy of research conclusions.

At Level 5-4, work involves formulating, defining, and interpreting data presentation requirements, planning approaches, and policy; developing standards for analyzing, testing, or assessing emerging technology or methods; originating new and improved applications and strategies for existing and new concepts and principles; and/or providing consultant or advisory services.  Work results affect efficiency and credibility of applications that guarantee the product meets agency and industry specifications; decisions of key officials to adopt and/or accept new or conceptual approaches, technology, or materiel (e.g., weapons or system components, ordnance); a large number of military or industrial operations; the safe and effective use of new systems or approaches; and systems compatibility.

At Level 5-5, work involves formulating and exploring new theories and phenomena; providing expertise and advice on program planning and policy making functions covering a broad range of mathematical, statistical, or scientific programs; and/or developing, testing, and advising on theoretical concepts and new or improved technologies and methods.  Work results affect the work of other mathematical, statistical, or science experts; strategic planning of organizational resources; development of agency policy; and program mission, performance, and necessity.

The appellant’s position meets Level 5-4.  The JFS provides an illustration at Level 5-4 of an operations research analyst position providing expert analytical advice and guidance to managers and scientists within or outside the agency.  The work requires conducting data analysis, modeling, and special studies of endangered species in a designated geographical area; analyzing the tracking data of sea turtle migration patterns; monitoring birth and mortality rates; providing advice on experimental design (i.e., the best way to collect data to ensure statistically significant findings); and developing computer programs to conduct analysis and simulations.  Additionally, the work affects the agency’s ability to study endangered species, ensures program efficiency, and minimizes field experimentation costs.  We find the appellant’s position meets the Level 5-4 criteria, in addition to drawing sufficient parallels to the illustration at that level, although markedly different from his work in terms of field and specialty.  For instance, he provides expert analytical advice and guidance to his Center, the FAA, and other clients of the Division.  As he is a specialist in the BIM field, the purpose of the appellant’s consultant- and advisory-focused position involves furnishing advice and research, planning, and review services to the FAA and A/E/C contractors as described at Level 5-4.

Similar to Level 5-4, the appellant’s position involves developing BIM criteria, procedures, and instructions for DEI projects.  For example, his work involves establishing an organizational structure and file naming convention for BIM file storage; reviewing and approving BIM deliverables from A/E/C contractors; formulating recommendations such as enhancing the functionality of 3D files to type in make, model, and other facility data into embedded objects; and testing BIM software and other tools relating to the capacity for drafting, designing, or documenting facility data.  He recommends BIM workflow processes and procedures based on research, lessons learned, and information provided by technical experts at other Federal agencies.  Incorporating BIM into the workflow is new to FAA projects.  Thus, his work involves originating new and improved strategies for original concepts and principles as expected at Level 5-4.  Moreover, the appellant’s advisory work and change agent role ultimately results in affecting the efficiency and credibility of applications meeting agency and industry specifications, decisions of key officials to adopt and/or accept new approaches and technology, the safe and effective use of the new systems or approaches, and their compatibility with existing systems as expected at Level 5-4.

The appellant seeks to credit his position to a “minimum” of Level 5-6, stating in his appeal request to OPM that he “not only develop[s] theoretical concepts but [he] also advise[s] on theoretical concepts that impact scientific experts AND the mission AND agency necessity.”  However, because each factor level is predicated on the preceding factor levels having been fully met, we must first compare the appellant’s position to the description at Level 5-5 prior to considering Level 5-6 criteria.  The primary purpose of his position is to provide expert advice and guidance to project leaders, engineers, and others concerning the technological and economic feasibility of incorporating BIM into the workflow.  In some respects, his work affects that of other experts, the strategic planning of organizational resources, and policy development similar to that described at Level 5-5.  Additionally, the JFS provides an illustration at Level 5-5 of operations research analyst work involving originating ideas for a series of self-initiated projects where results may have an impact that extends beyond the immediate organization.  The work provides the scientific and quantitative basis for critical agency decisions, policy, and subsequent regulatory actions; influences the direction and scope of studies conducted by subordinate organizations; answers important questions; opens significant new avenues for further study; represents an important contribution to the validation or modification of methodology relating to the topic area; and results in important changes to existing or proposed systems.  Although the appellant’s position resembles some aspects of the scope of work illustrated at Level 5-5 (e.g., his work results have potential to extend beyond the immediate DEI organization), the illustrations nonetheless cannot be viewed in isolation.  Illustrations must be considered in combination with, and are dependent on fully meeting, the associated factor level descriptions.  Since language in the illustrations must be considered within the context of actual factor level descriptions, we apply the Level 5-5 minimum or “threshold” criteria to the appellant’s position below.

In contrast to Level 5-5, the scope of the appellant’s position does not entail formulating and exploring new theories and phenomena.  In the subfolder titled Formulating New Theories on his disc of work samples, the appellant includes business cases and other research describing BIM-related progress made at other Federal agencies as well as results from his outreach efforts with technical experts at non-FAA agencies to gain information on contract language, deliverables, and lessons learned.  Other work samples include the investment analysis, shortfall analysis, cost estimate and analysis, benefit and risk analysis, information security assessment, and other planning and implementation documents concerning the integration of BIM into the DEI project workflow.  Our review of his work samples, the record, and our interviews confirm his work does not rise to formulating and exploring new theories and phenomena as expected at Level 5-5.  The concept of BIM existed for several decades and has since been widely embraced and utilized as a tool by A/E/C firms and other Federal agencies engaged in construction and renovation projects.  According to the FAA representatives we interviewed, the appellant’s recommendations and other work products concern highly technical and complex issues and problems in matters of uncertainty involving issues such as consideration of price and other economic factors, security, and compatibility with existing systems and processes.  This work is supported by existing literature and research, as well as advice from technical experts at other Federal agencies, in the resolution of BIM-related project issues and problems.  The appellant’s work does not require application of abstract, rather than concrete, reasoning inherent in the theory and phenomena stage on which Level 5-5 is predicated.  Similarly, though BIM represents a new or improved technology or method for the FAA, we conclude his position does not involve developing, testing, or advising on theoretical concepts as described at Level 5-5.

The appellant’s position also does not require providing expertise and advice on program planning and policy-making functions covering a broad range of mathematical, statistical, or scientific programs as expected at Level 5-5.  His work supports the agency’s effort to add 3D modeling into FAA work processes, applying expert technical knowledge to prepare business cases, planning documents, and other work products.  This and other work involve integrating BIM as a tool at the DEI project level in addition to advancing recommendations to the BIM Standards Committee for establishing FAA-wide BIM standards.  However, his work does not rise to providing advice on the planning of an overall program and the policy-making functions covering a far-reaching range of programs as required at Level 5-5.

To verify that the appellant’s position does not involve formulating new theories or developing, testing, or advising on theoretical concepts within the context of Level 5-5, we considered the GS-800 JFS which describes work at Level 5-5 isolating and defining unprecedented issues and unknown conditions; formulating and exploring new theories and phenomena; developing, testing, and advising on new technologies, methods, approaches and guides; or providing expertise and advice on program planning and policy-making functions covering a broad range of engineering, architecture, or scientific programs.  At Level 5-5 in the GS-800 JFS, the work results affect the efficiency, feasibility, security, integrity, and safety of a wide range of agency activities and/or the activities of other organizations within several regions or a large geographic area; work of other engineering, architecture, or scientific experts and high-level officials both within and outside the agency; the well-being of a substantial number of people; or development of activities or achievement of desired outcomes for major aspects of the agency’s engineering, architecture, or scientific programs or missions.

The GS-800 JFS provides factor-level illustrations as a tool to give insight into the meaning of the Level 5-5 factor-level description above.  The GS-800 JFS provides an illustration at Level 5-5 of an architect exercising approval authority and providing expert advisory services for the technological and economic feasibility of new and improved processes, systems, and equipment for use in the design and construction of new-generation hospitals and related structures.  Work results affect the agency-wide policy for, and developments in, the design and construction of medical facilities; direction and scope of design studies conducted in-house and under contract to derive new functional designs; and work of other engineers, architects, scientists, and subject-matter experts within and outside the Federal Government.  In comparison, the appellant’s position involves work like that described in the architect illustration as he too provides expert advisory services for the technological and economic feasibility of new and improved processes, systems, and equipment for use in design and construction.  However, the Level 5-5 illustration assumes the advisory position, delegated with approval authority, exercises decision-making authority to develop agency-wide policies.  In contrast, the appellant’s position makes BIM-related recommendations for project implementation but the integration of his suggestions remains at the discretion of DEI, Engineering Services, CAEG, and other FAA officials.  We also reviewed his work samples, especially correspondence between him and CAEG officials, confirming his advice and guidance is given weight but the CAEG office retains the sole authority to adopt his or other BIM processes, procedures, and workflow for FAA-wide implementation.

Since Level 5-5 is not met, FES principles preclude consideration or the crediting of Level 5-6 as proposed by the appellant.

Level 5-4 is credited for 225 points.

Factor 7, Purpose of Contacts

The purpose of personal contacts ranges from factual exchanges of information to situations involving significant or controversial issues and differing viewpoints, goals, or objectives.  The personal contacts that serve as the basis for the level selected for this factor must be the same as the contacts that are the basis for the level selected for Factor 6.

The appellant’s position is an exact match to Level c, where the purpose of contacts is to influence and persuade persons or groups to comply with established policies or to accept established methods; also to negotiate or establish rapport to gain information.  Contacted personnel may be skeptical or uncooperative at Level c.  As at this level, the appellant’s contacts with FAA project leaders and staff, A/E/C contractors, and other FAA representatives require his communicating BIM-related recommendations, guidance, and direction.  Some contacted individuals may be unreceptive, reluctant, or hesitant due to BIM initiatives diverging from known methods, potential security issues, or financial and other concerns, requiring him to address the technical disagreements and influence or persuade them to adopt new approaches or criteria as described at Level c.

The appellant seeks to credit his position at Level d, where the purpose of contacts is to justify, defend, negotiate, or settle matters involving significant or controversial topics.  Work usually involves active participation in conferences, meetings, hearings, or presentations.  Problems or issues are of such considerable consequence or importance that they are not susceptible to resolution at lower echelons in Government.  Persons contacted typically have diverse scientific approaches, viewpoints, goals, or objectives.  Employees at Level d must achieve a common understanding of the problem and a satisfactory solution by persuasion, compromise, or developing suitable alternatives.

The appellant asserts Level d requires a position to perform only one of the “descriptors” (i.e., to justify, defend, negotiate, or settle matters of significance or controversy), but he states in his appeal request to OPM:

…I do all four on a regular basis in telcons, meetings, workgroups of such significance that my FAA sponsors should be consulted by OPM.  Due to [the Division Chief’s] lack of understanding and experience with FAA design/construction workflow, [the Division Chief] is misrepresenting my workload as if it addresses a topic that is insignificant.

Level d, the highest level provided by the JFS, describes a position responsible for defending, negotiating, or settling matters of significance or controversy on behalf of the agency.  The JFS assumes the position carries with it decision-making responsibility.  In other words, positions at Level d, on a regular and recurring basis, defend decisions, negotiate decisions, or settle matters regarding decisions he or she is required to make on significant or controversial topics on behalf of the agency.  To consider whether his position is delegated decision-making authority within the context of Level d, we note the focus of the appellant’s work involves advancing BIM initiatives to the work processes and workflow of FAA projects.  His work requires influencing and persuading others to adopt technical methods about which there may be conflicts, and to negotiate consensus between FAA representatives and A/E/C/ contractors where there are conflicting interests and opinions among individuals regarded as experts in their field.  In particular, we note the appellant’s PD states the primary purpose of his position is “to provide agency officials and other decision makers with scientifically researched, developed, and tested information as a basis for making decisions impacting aviation operations nationwide.”  We conclude his advisory role does not carry with it the responsibility for acting on behalf of the agency, the authority for which clearly remains with the CAEG office and other FAA officials; he thus does not have the opportunity to defend, negotiate, or settle matters concerning decisions he makes in the manner described at Level d.

Our review of work samples on the disc provided by the appellant confirms he regularly communicates with DEI, Engineering Services, CAEG, and other FAA officials; A/E/C contractors; and BIM counterparts at other Federal agencies.  He participates in meetings with FAA project staff and A/E/C contractors to discuss design and construction efforts where he serves as an advisor on the implementation of BIM tools, procedures, and workflow.  In the subfolder titled Significant-Controversial Topics on his disc of work samples, he includes requests for interpretation or clarification, trip reports, and recommendations for technical approaches.  In particular, the appellant describes on a trip report a funding concern, stating in part that an “[FAA official] has full authority in how to spend the $90K that [TF] provides but [the appellant] think[s] he’s accidentally misdirecting the expenditures and…not getting training and 2 software licenses as a result.”  He identifies issues and recommendations on trip reports and other work samples.  We conclude from our review that, in addition to confirming his role as an advisor and the FAA client as decision-maker, the matters on which he deals on a regular and recurring basis do not rise to the level of significance or controversy (e.g., directly involving long-range impact beyond a specific issue or geographical area or the equivalent) anticipated at Level d.

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 6 at Level 3.  Consequently, Level 3-c is credited at 180 points.

Summary
Factor Level Points
1.  Knowledge Required by the Position 1-8 1550
2.  Supervisory Controls 2-4 450
3.  Guidelines 3-4 450
4.  Complexity 4-5 325
5.  Scope and Effect 5-4 225
6. & 7.  Personal Contacts and Purpose of Contacts 3-c 180
8.  Physical Demands 8-1 5
9.  Work Environment 9-1 5
Total 3,190

 

A total of 3,190 points falls within the GS-13 range (3,155 to 3,600) on the grade conversion table provided in the JFS.

Decision

The appellant’s position is properly classified as Operations Research Analyst, GS-1515-13.

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