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What You Need to Know Before Applying For Federal Employment: Competitive Service vs. Excepted Service

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Iberkis Faltas
September 2, 2020

Have you ever found yourself on www.USAJobs.com applying for dozens of jobs, only to find out that you did qualify for any of them, although you have the required qualifications?

Well, you’re not alone. Even those within the federal government find it difficult to navigate the deep sea of rules and regulations governing the federal hiring process. While there are hundreds of hiring regulations reliant on the agency’s mandate, governance, branch and so on, in this article, I will briefly explain two of the most important elements when applying for federal employment: The competitive service and the excepted service.

The Federal Government has 454 agencies and only approximately 25 agencies operate under excepted services (ES) regulations. Most of the other agencies operate under competitive service (CS) regulations:

The competitive service consists of all civil service positions in the executive branch of the Federal Government with some exceptions. The exceptions are defined in section 2102 of title 5, United States Code (5 U.S.C. 2102). In the CS, individuals must go through a competitive process open to all applicants. Appointments to the ES are appointments that do not confer competitive status. There are a number of ways to be appointed to the excepted service such as appointed under an authority defined by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) as excepted (e.g., Veterans, Recruitment Appointment) or being appointed to a position defined by OPM as excepted position (e.g., Attorneys, FBI agents).

Job announcements for federal employment must specify the type of service announced. If you are a federal employee, you can find your service appointment on your SF-50 Notification of Personnel Action, box 34.

One of the prospective flexibilities of working for the CS is that your time in service and most of your benefits are recognized and honored between federal agencies under the same CS regulations. In general, job applications under CS status allow you to move to the top of the list without competing with the general public, and among the same qualified competitors, giving you a preference status based on your federal government experience, above the general public.

If your employment appointment is under ES, you don’t qualify to apply for job announcements under CS, even when such a job announcement is open to all federal employees. You will not qualify, unless the job announcement states explicitly that employees under the ES status may apply, which means that the agency has an interchangeable agreement with OPM. Suppose you don’t work for the federal government and want to apply. In that case, the competitive or excepted service regulations are less likely to significantly impact your initial appointment, although the hiring process may be considerably different.

I have worked under both appointments; the excepted, and CS. In 2010, I worked at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a federal agency regulated by competitive service. Shortly after the year, I resigned from USCIS and went to work at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), an excepted service agency. At the time of leaving USCIS, no one explained the significance of leaving the CS to enter the ES. I had to learn it with anxiety and frustration. After a couple of years at the FBI, I wanted a change. I applied for other jobs within the federal government and was repeatedly rejected. Morally, it was devastating. I have a higher education degree, more than 30 years of business experience, and more than a decade of federal government experience. I felt trapped and deflected. At the time, I didn’t know the meaning and significance of each appointment, and quite frankly, it was disappointing.

Here is what you need to know:

  • If you are interested in entering the federal government, CS or ES is not of the greatest importance, but it is a matter of preference.
  • CS versus ES can limit your federal government career options as CS employees can easily transition between agencies unless there is an interchangeable agreement for ES employees.
  • If you are under a CS appointment transitioning to ES appointment, you MUST be informed in writing.
  • When it comes to job announcements open to, “All federal employees,” your ES appointment doesn’t qualify you to apply, unless the announcement specifies that it is open to ES employees.
  • When you apply to job announcements open to the public, you will be competing with the general public, regardless of your time in civil service.
  • CS is under the merit system in the Executive Branch and OPM. ES has its own hiring system, merit and evaluations.
  • Federal employees with CS hired by ES agencies receive credit for federal service toward retirement, and benefits are subjected to OPM’s rules regarding creditable service for retirement purposes.
  • Employees entering into Excepted Service, even if they are coming from a Competitive Service position, must work 1,250 hours before becoming eligible for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
  • Employees transferring from a competitive service agency who have already fulfilled a probationary period with their initial appointment are still required to serve another probationary period under AOC authority

Author:

Dr. Iberkis Faltas
Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration
Specializations:
Management & Leadership | Law and Policy Analysis
Emotional Intelligence Psychometrician.
Website: www.iberkisfaltas.com
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/iberkisfaltas/
Instagram: @emotionalintelligence4
Nonprofit: Shining Women
Instagram: Shiningwomen4

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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