By John V. Berry, Esq., www.berrylegal.com
We represent and advise federal employees when they request desk audits regarding their current positions. As one might imagine, a number of issues can arise when a desk audit is contemplated. A desk audit is simply a procedure where the duties and position of a federal employee are evaluated to determine whether or not the employee’s position should be upgraded in terms of grade, pay level, title or classification series. A desk audit is also referred to as a classification appeal.
The Road to a Desk Audit
Usually, the first step in the desk audit process occurs when a federal employee comes to the realization that they are doing more work (or have more duties) than they used to or that other federal employees now perform similar duties but have a higher grade or salary. Once this occurs, the federal employee often considers pursuing a desk audit. Desk audit (classification appeal) procedures can vary depending on whether the federal employee is a General Schedule (GS) or Federal Wage Systems (FWS) employee.
For GS and FWS employees, the usual first step in pursuing a desk audit is to speak with the individual’s supervisor to discuss the issue of whether their position is properly classified. The federal employee will want to review their position classification standards prior to this discussion. If a federal employee’s supervisor believes that the individual’s position should be possibly re-classified, they can contact the federal agency’s human resources office to request a desk audit. The federal employee can also try contacting human resources directly.
The GS employee, if they decide to, can also attempt to skip the initial agency process and take their classification appeal first to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Classification Appeals office. That approach is generally not recommended as a federal employee will first want to attempt to resolve the matter at the agency level first. A federal agency may be more agreeable than OPM in upgrading the federal employee’s classification, so it is generally better to start with the federal agency first. For Federal Wage System (FWS) employees, they must generally first seek a desk audit from their federal agency before contacting OPM.
If a desk audit is conducted at the federal agency level, for both GS and FWS employees, it is important to stress to the evaluator (usually human resources) the major areas of a federal employee’s daily work and how these duties fit into the overall federal agency’s structure. The employee should be knowledgeable about their position description, all of their current duties, and the history of their position duties. During a desk audit, the federal employee and his/her supervisor will likely be interviewed. During the interview process, it is important for the federal employee to be well-prepared and to emphasize their duties and daily tasks to human resources. Following a desk audit, the federal agency can either agree with the employee and upgrade their position, duties, etc. or deny the desk audit.
Desk Audit Appeal Process at OPM
The desk audit appeal process varies, depending on whether the federal employee is a GS employee or an FWS employee. During this stage or earlier, an employee may choose to be represented by counsel.
As noted above, a GS employee may generally appeal to OPM either instead of seeking a desk audit at the agency level or following an agency denial of a desk audit. A GS employee may not, however, appeal to both their federal agency and OPM at the same time. Generally, a FWS employee must first request a desk audit to their federal agency, as opposed to first seeking relief from to OPM. However, if the FWS employee does not agree with their federal agency’s decision on a desk audit, they may appeal to OPM within 15 calendar days from the date they receive the federal agency’s decision. Each appeal is different, but it is very important that an FWS employee keep track of their deadlines and file their appeal to OPM on time. In terms of filing an appeal with OPM, for both GS and FWS employees, each appeal must be in writing, should be sufficiently detailed and filed with the OPM office serving the area in which the federal employee works. In addition, OPM’s decision regarding a desk audit is final. If OPM rules in favor of the employee, then that decision is generally binding on the employee’s federal agency.
Possible Reconsideration by Director of OPM
While an OPM decision is final, there may be the possibility of seeking reconsideration from OPM following an adverse decision. Reconsideration of an adverse OPM decision may be granted when an employee (or an agency) files a written submission that establishes “a reasonable doubt” as to the technical accuracy of the decision or presents new evidence that was not considered in the initial decision. The Director of OPM has the discretion to reconsider any OPM decision when arguments demonstrate that the earlier decision made was erroneous or involves an issue of high concern. The deadline for seeking reconsideration is generally 45 days from the date of the OPM decision.
When a federal employee is facing or considering a desk audit (classification appeal) it is important to retain an attorney to advise and/or represent them. There are many other parts to the desk audit process than just those discussed herein. Our law firm advises and represents federal employees in desk audit requests and appeals. We can be contacted at www.berrylegal.com or by telephone at (703) 668-0070.