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Pay & Leave Pay Administration

Fact Sheet: Superior Qualifications and Special Needs Pay-Setting Authority

Description

Agencies may set the rate of basic pay of a newly-appointed employee at a rate above the minimum rate of the appropriate General Schedule (GS) grade because of—

  1. the superior qualifications of the candidate; or
  2. a special need of the agency for the candidate’s services.

Please contact the employing agency for information about its policy. An agency must approve each determination to use this authority before the employee enters on duty – the determination cannot be made retroactively.

Covered Positions

Agencies may use the superior qualifications and special needs pay-setting authority to set the rate of basic pay for a newly-appointed employee to any General Schedule position, including permanent and temporary positions in the competitive or excepted service, at any grade level.

Newly-Appointed Employees

Agencies may use the superior qualifications and special needs pay-setting authority to set the rate of basic pay for an employee upon—

  1. first appointment as a civilian employee of the Federal Government.
  2. reappointment to a GS position after a break in service of 90-days or more. See 5 CFR 531.212(a)(3) for exceptions to the 90-day break in service requirement.

Required Documentation

Before using the superior qualifications and special needs pay-setting authority, agencies must establish documentation and recordkeeping procedures sufficient to allow reconstruction of the action taken in each case. Documentation must include a description of the—

  1. superior qualifications of the individual or special agency need for the candidate’s services that justifies a higher minimum rate;
  2. factor(s) and supporting documentation under 5 CFR 531.212(c) that were used to justify the rate at which the employee’s pay is set*; and
  3. reason(s) for authorizing a higher minimum rate instead of or in addition to a recruitment incentive under 5 CFR part 575, subpart A.

* OPM's regulations permit an agency to set an employee's rate of basic pay based on a single factor after a superior qualifications or special need determination has been made. However, if more than one factor supports the pay-setting decision, the agency should document all factors that apply. A determination based on more than one factor may provide a stronger justification than a determination based on one factor, such as salary. Agencies also may want to ensure that pay-setting determinations are consistent with how pay has been set for similarly qualified candidates in similar positions.

Superior Qualifications Determination

An agency may determine that a candidate has superior qualifications based on—

  • the level, type, or quality of the candidate’s skills or competencies demonstrated or obtained through experience and/or education;
  • the quality of the candidate’s accomplishments compared to others in the field; or
  • other factors that support a superior qualifications determination.

The candidate’s skills, competencies, experience, education, and/or accomplishments must be relevant to the requirements of the position to be filled. These qualities must be significantly higher than that needed to be minimally qualified for the position and/or be of a more specialized quality compared to other candidates.

Special Needs Determination

An agency may determine that a candidate fills a special agency need if the type, level, or quality of skills and competencies or other qualities and experiences possessed by the candidate are relevant to the requirements of the position and are essential to accomplishing an important agency mission, goal, or program activity.

A candidate also may meet the special needs criteria by meeting agency workforce needs, as documented in the agency’s strategic human capital plan.

Pay Rate Determination

An agency may consider one or more of the following factors, as applicable in the case at hand, to determine the step at which to set an employee’s payable rate of basic pay using the superior qualifications and special needs pay-setting authority:

  1. The level, type, or quality of the candidate’s skills or competencies;
  2. The candidate’s existing salary, recent salary history, or salary documented in a competing job offer (taking into account the location where the salary was or would be earned and comparing the salary to payable rates of basic pay in the same location)*;
  3. Significant disparities between Federal and non-Federal salaries for the skills and competencies required in the position to be filled;
  4. Existing labor market conditions and employment trends, including the availability and quality of candidates for the same or similar positions;
  5. The success of recent efforts to recruit candidates for the same or similar positions;
  6. Recent turnover in the same or similar positions;
  7. The importance/criticality of the position to be filled and the effect on the agency if it is not filled or if there is a delay in filling it;
  8. The desirability of the geographic location, duties, and/or work environment associated with the position;
  9. Agency workforce needs, as documented in the agency’s strategic human capital plan; or
  10. Other relevant factors.**

* OPM’s regulations do not require a candidate to have an existing salary or competing salary offer to justify the step at which to set an employee’s rate of basic pay. Existing salary, recent salary history, or a competing salary offer is only one of a number of factors that may be used to determine an employee’s step rate. For example, an agency may consider factors other than existing salary or competing salary offers when determining the step rate for recent college graduates who have not been recently employed, candidates who have had a break in their career to serve as full-time care-givers to children or other family members, or candidates whose existing salary or recent salary history is not reflective of the labor market for the position to be filled, after the agency has determined these candidates have superior qualifications or the agency has a special need for their services.

** One example of a relevant factor is the salaries the agency has paid to similarly qualified candidates filling similar positions.

References

    • 5 U.S.C. 5333
    • 5 CFR 531.212
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