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An Introduction to the Excepted Service

Competition for federal jobs can be fierce; therefore, it's important to you to consider every option of federal employment. It's especially important that all first-time federal job seekers know about the Excepted Service. The result may be an expanded range of employment prospects. 

To realize the importance of the Excepted Service in your job search, consider that non-postal excepted positions comprise more than 20 percent of all federal civilian employment. The Postal Service represents another 31 percent of federal workers leaving only 49% of federal jobs in the Competitive Service. In other words, half of the federal jobs are in the Excepted Service. 

One misconception is that all excepted positions are held by friends of the current administration. In fact, only a few hundred federal positions are filled through political patronage. The vast majority of excepted positions are jobs with duties and responsibilities identical to those found in the Competitive Service. What, then, makes the Excepted Service different? 

What is the Excepted Service? 

The Excepted Service can be defined as employment in a federal position or with an agency that is outside the federal Competitive Service. For this definition to be meaningful, one needs to understand the Competitive Service. Briefly, the competitive civil service refers to federal employment that uses OPM's competitive hiring process including Veterans' Preference rules. This means that OPM, or an agency delegated by OPM, conducts a competitive evaluation and rates the job candidates. 

Once employed, candidates who have gone through this process have civil 
service competitive status. An employee with this status can move freely from one government job to another without going through OPM's competitive hiring evaluation again. The Excepted Service, then, is comprised of positions and agencies that are not required to use OPM's competitive hiring examination. These agencies have authority to establish their own hiring programs to fill Excepted Service vacancies. 

There are two kind of exceptions: (1) positions and (2) agencies. 

Agencies that are considered to be primarily Competitive Service likely will still have some Excepted Service positions. In other cases, an entire agency may be excepted by statute from the Competitive Service and is referred to as an excepted agency. 

How Positions are Excepted?

Positions and agencies are excepted from competitive civil service by one 
of three methods: 

Executive Order of the President, or 
Action by OPM.

Most exceptions are statutory. 

An agency may be excepted because it requires extraordinary hiring procedures for reasons of security. For example, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) undertakes an extensive background investigation of job applicants that may last up to one year. An agency may also be excepted due to its unique mission. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) specialized function restricts its sources of available qualified candidates. 

Positions excepted by OPM are categorized into Schedule A, B, C and non-career executive assignments. These are positions for which it is impractical to examine the qualifications of applicants. Certain occupations may also be excepted when it is difficult to judge a candidate's qualifications. Examples include attorneys, chaplains and special agents. Positions that are of a policy-making or confidential nature are also under the excepted service (i.e., a cabinet head's secretary and top advisors will be excepted). 

The Question of Status 

Perhaps the major difference between competitive and excepted positions is that employment in the Excepted Service does not require and does not confer Competitive Service status. As stated earlier, status allows an employee to move freely from one government job to another (and from one agency to another) without going through the OPM hiring process again. An employee in the Excepted Service often doesn't have this mobility. 

However, some excepted agencies have an interchange agreement with OPM amounting to nearly the same thing. Under such an agreement, a person working in the excepted service can convert, on a non-competitive basis, to the competitive service. OPM can authorize interchange from the excepted system to the competitive civil service when the excepted agency has a merit system similar to the competitive system. Such is the case with the General Accounting Office, the Agency for International Development, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the State Department, and the Department of Veterans Affairs' Health Research/Services Administration. 

Advantages and Disadvantages 

Before entering the Excepted Service, the federal job seeker should be aware of the disadvantages inherent in the system. The primary drawback involves the interchange with the Competitive Service. Although some agencies have an agreement with OPM allowing movement from the excepted into the Competitive Service, this is not universal for all excepted positions. Therefore, an employee in an excepted position may not be as fluid in the federal job market as his or her Competitive Service counterpart. 

Hiring procedures used by excepted agencies are sometimes more extensive and time consuming. For example, the stringent security clearance requirements of the CIA, NRC and DIA demand thorough background investigations that may take as long as one year. Balancing the disadvantages are some attractive advantages. For one, many agencies in the Competitive Service restrict vacancy announcements to status candidates, while excepted positions are usually open to all candidates. 

Even when an excepted agency has no interchange agreement with OPM, experience gained in an excepted position may be invaluable when applying for a Competitive Service position. For example, because of similar personnel structures, a position classification specialist with the Excepted Service will have qualifications closer to those required in the competitive position than will the applicant from private industry or state government. 

A major advantage of excepted employment could show up in your paycheck. Several excepted agencies have authority to establish their own pay scales. This can often result in higher salaries. The NRC is a good example, offering attractive salaries for its highly specialized jobs. All Competitive Service agencies have the same benefits packages. In some excepted agencies, however, the benefits packages may exceed the standard package. For example, the CIA has developed a unique retirement plan and offers substantial benefits for overseas positions.

Following are helpful questions to use when exploring employment in the
Excepted Service. 

    Does the excepted position generally follow the GS pay scale?
    Are there any unique benefit plans offered with the excepted position? 
    Is there an interchange agreement with OPM?

In investigating the Excepted Service you must remember that each situation may differ and applicants must contact an individual agency's personnel office for specific information. Following is a list of the major excepted agencies: 

Excepted Organizations 

Federal Reserve System
Board of Governors
20th and C Sts, NW
Washington DC 20551 

Federal Aviation Administration
Employment AHR-19A
800 Independence Ave SW
Washington DC 20591 

Central Intelligence Agency
Office of Personnel
Washington DC 20505 

Defense Intelligence Agency
Civilian Personnel Office
The Pentagon
Washington DC 20340-3042 

U.S. Department of State
(Foreign Service positions)
PO Box 9317
Rosslyn Station, Arlington VA 22219 

Federal Bureau of Investigation
J. Edgar Hoover Bldg, Room 6647
10th St and Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington DC 20571 

General Accounting Office
441 G St NW, Room 1157
Washington DC 20548 

International Agency for Development
2401 E St NW, Room 1127
Washington DC 20523 

National Security Agency
College Relations Branch
Fort Meade MD 20750 

Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Division of Personnel
Resources and Employment Program Branch
Washington DC 20555 

Postal Rates Commission
Administrative Office, Suite 300
Washington DC 20268-0001 

Tennessee Valley Authority
Knoxville Office Complex
400 West Summit Hill Drive
Knoxville TN 37902 

U.S. Mission to the United Nations
700 United Nations Plaza
New York NY 10001 

Department of Veterans Affairs
(Health Research Services Administration)
810 Vermont Avenue NW
Washington DC 20420

U.S. Supreme Court, Personnel Office
First St NE
Washington DC 20543 

Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts
Personnel Division, Room L701
Washington DC 20544 

U.S. Claims Court
717 Madison Place NW
Washington DC 20005 

U.S. Senate
Senate Placement Office
Hart Senate Office Bldg, Room 142B
Washington DC 20510 

U.S. House of Representatives
House Placement Office
House Office Bldg Annex 2,Room 219
3rd and D Sts SW
Washington DC 20515-6609 

Library of Congress
Employment Office
Room 107 Madison Building
Washington DC 20540

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