Administrative Law/Appeals Judges
Administrative law judges (ALJs) function as independent, impartial triers of fact in formal hearings in a manner similar to that of a trial judge conducting civil trials without a jury. ALJs are chosen under a merit selection system administered by the Office of Personnel Management and have statutory protection of the judge’s decisional independence from undue agency influence.
ALJs must be licensed attorneys and must meet standards for experience. Qualifying litigation experience involves cases in which a complaint was filed with a court, or a charging document was issued by a court, a grand jury, or appropriate military authority. Experience involving cases with no formal hearing procedure and uncontested cases involving misdemeanors, probate, domestic relations, or tort matters is not qualifying. Applicants are required to pass an examination, the purpose of which is to evaluate the competencies/knowledge, skills, and abilities essential to performing the work.
The minimum rate for ALJ positions is 65 percent of Level IV of the Executive Schedule and the maximum rate is capped at Level III of the Executive Schedule (including locality pay; by tradition, ALJs get the same locality increases as general schedule employees in their area). The ALJ pay scale consists of AL-1, -2 and -3, with AL-1 being the highest and the AL-3 grade divided into six steps, A-F. ALJ pay, including locality pay, is subject to a pay cap of Level III of the Executive Schedule.
Administrative appeals judges (AAJs) review decisions of ALJs and render final administrative decisions. The AAJ pay system has six rates of basic pay — AA-1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 — whose rates correspond to the steps of the AL-3 level of the ALJ system. AAJ rates are increased in the same manner as ALJ rates and are subject to the same cap. An AAJ is automatically advanced to the next higher rate upon completion of the required waiting periods, which are 52 weeks for advancement from any of the first three rates to the next, and 104 weeks for advancement to rate 5 or rate 6.
Senior Level/Senior Scientific and Technical Positions
Senior level (SL) and senior scientific and technical (ST) positions are high-level positions, sometimes called “senior professionals,” that do not have executive responsibilities. They are paid within a salary range from 120 percent of the base rate (not including locality pay) for grade 15, step 1, of the general schedule up to the Executive Schedule Level II rate, if the agency’s performance evaluation system is certified as making meaningful distinctions based on relative performance, or up to the Executive Schedule Level III rate if it is not.
Those in an agency with a certified performance appraisal system are subject to an aggregate compensation limit (base salary, plus performance bonuses and any other allowances and incentives) equivalent to the pay of the Vice President. Absent certification, annual aggregate compensation is limited to the rate for Level I of the Executive Schedule. Those moving from an agency eligible for the higher cap to an agency subject to the lower cap continue to receive a salary rate above that lower cap, if applicable.
Senior professional employees are eligible for performance awards under largely the same terms as for SES members as described above, except that the standard for an award is a sustained record of professional, technical, and/or scientific achievement that is recognized throughout the agency and is acknowledged on a national or international level.
Title 38 Positions
The “Title 38” category, referring to the section of the U.S. Code under which the personnel authority is found, generally covers medical professional positions of the Department of Veterans Affairs. VA facilities may directly appoint physicians, advanced practice nurses, physician assistants, physical therapists, occupational therapists, pharmacists, registered nurses, registered or certified respiratory therapists, and expanded-function dental auxiliaries to positions for which no civil service exam is required.
Title 38 employees have the same insurance, retirement and Thrift Savings Plan benefits as other federal employees—who sometimes are referred to as “Title 5” employees for comparison purposes—but certain appeal rights may differ. In addition, VA sets salaries for primary care providers and associated health professionals based on education, experience and location.
In addition to basic pay, some medical professionals are eligible for special pay or allowances based on a variety of factors including full-time status, length of VA service, board certifications, and administrative responsibility level of the assignment. In addition, some VA medical centers offer additional amounts of special pay for certain specialties based on recruitment and retention conditions in a particular geographic location and/or demand for the specialty. The pay system for VA physicians and dentists features base pay linked to length of employment with VA, market pay based on the individual’s work experience, the need for that specialty, the market demand and other factors, and incentive pay to reward performance.
Note: The Defense Department has a similar system called the Physicians and Dentists Pay Plan.
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Pay
The Transportation Security Administration is an entity within the Department of Homeland Security but uses unique personnel and pay systems set up when TSA was first established as a part of the Transportation Department. Most TSA employees are passenger or baggage screeners or employees in related functions working at airports.
The TSA uses an “SV” grading system, which is a pay banding system of grades that roughly correlate to GS grades 4-15. The SV grades, which are identified by letters A-M, have minimum and maximum rates; employees may be hired at above the minimum if they are deemed to have specialized pertinent experience. TSA also varies pay by locality and increases pay for promotions and reassignments to higher-level work, as well as in special circumstances such as taking on new duties. Basic rates are limited to Executive Schedule Level V. Rates including locality pay are limited to Executive Schedule Level III. TSA operates a pay for performance system called the Transportation Officer Performance System.
The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Pay
The U.S. Postal Service became an independent government corporation in 1971 and thus is exempt from many of the rules governing executive branch employment. Individuals may be employed as craft/bargaining unit employees or non-bargaining unit employees. Clerks, carriers and mail handlers make up the large majority of the workforce.
The salary system consists of several pay schedules. The most widely used are the Postal Service (PS) for most bargaining-unit employees and the Executive and Administrative Schedule (EAS) for non-bargaining-unit employees. Certain bargaining units have other salary systems as well.
The postal service is a highly unionized. Unlike executive branch unions, postal unions may negotiate over compensation; they typically operate under multi-year contracts. Consultative talks are held with organizations representing postmasters and supervisors although ultimately their compensation packages are determined by postal management.
The postal service in general offers the same insurance, retirement and Thrift Savings Plan benefits as do executive branch agencies, except that the Postal Service pays the entire cost of Basic Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance coverage and pays more toward Federal Employees Health Benefits program insurance for its active employees (although not for its retirees). Policies on leave generally track those of the executive branch, although there are variations as determined by union contract. Postal employees generally are required to challenge personnel actions against them through negotiated grievance routes, although certain categories do have the right to use the Merit Systems Protection Board process. These include managers and supervisors, all those with veterans’ preference rights and employees who perform personnel work.
The Executive Schedule is a five-level pay system for senior executive branch political appointees and certain other high-level officials; their rates serve as pay caps affecting federal employees for certain purposes.
Although the President’s and Vice-President’s salary rates are not formally part of the Executive Schedule, they typically are presented with it; the Vice President’s salary serves as the total compensation cap for senior positions in certain circumstances, as described above.
Current rates are at www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/salaries-wages.