Merit Promotions

This page provides an overview of the merit promotion process for career staff. For excepted service staff, please see the promotions page.

What is a merit promotion

Many employers promote their employees on the basis of merit as does the federal government’s civil service system (also known as non-military). This is known as a merit promotion by which an employee advances to a higher position or grade of employment within the federal government.

Merit promotions are determined solely by job-related criteria, also known as “the merit principle”. The process by which an individual is promoted is known as the “Merit System”. An individual’s political, religious, or labor organization affiliation or non-affiliation, marital status, race, color, sex, national origin, non-disqualifying physical handicap, or age has no effect on that individual’s ability to be considered for a merit promotion.

Formal application process

In most cases, an open internal position is advertised to existing employees (on USA Jobs). Employees can then begin the formal application process for a merit promotion by applying for the open position. This typically results in a competition for the position which requires employers to compare candidates. Qualified candidates are identified through the application review process and selection for the open internal position is based on a set of guiding principles designed to ensure the promotion goes to the candidate most qualified for the position.

Chief program principles

There are a number of standard principles that guide merit promotion determination. One common standard is nondiscrimination. A merit promotion does not discriminate with regard to race, gender, religion or age. It is not given on the basis of a person’s affiliations, nor is it given automatically. Employees are retained and promoted based on their work performance.

The Merit System Principles are nine basic standards governing the management of the executive branch workforce. These principles are considered to be the core values referenced in every human resource decision, including merit promotions.

Attitude of fairness

Merit promotions are considered fair and impartial and are not based on favoritism or political gain. Supervisors are expected to give fair consideration to all applicants in an objective manner. The merit system is designed to give employees the opportunity to advance to higher positions by producing high quality work and proving their worthiness in ability. Equal opportunity is stressed in a transparent environment in which all employees can see the reason for promotion or the denial of advancement.

The Prohibited Personnel Practices are employment-related activities that are banned in the federal workforce because they violate the merit system through some form of employment discrimination, retaliation, or improper hiring (including improper promotion practices). Included in the Prohibited Personnel Practices is the failure to adhere to laws, rules, and regulations that concern the merit system principles.

Options for Promoting Employees under the Merit System

GSA’s Merit Promotion Plan requires that all advancement or promotion actions must be competitive unless OPM has granted an exception. Competition is required for:

  • Time-limited promotions for more than 120 days to higher graded positions. Included in the 120+ days is any service during the preceding 12 months under noncompetitive time-limited promotions and noncompetitive details to higher graded positions.
  • If the temporary promotion was originally completed under competitive procedures and candidates were notified that the temporary promotion may become permanent, a temporary promotion may be made permanent without further competition.
  • Details for more than 120 days to a higher grade position or to a position with higher promotion potential. Included in the 120+ days is any service during the preceding 12 months under noncompetitive details to higher graded positions and noncompetitive time-limited promotions.
  • Selection for training which is part of an authorized training agreement, part of a promotion program, or required before an employee may be considered for a promotion as specified in 5 CFR 410.302.
  • Reassignment or demotion to a position with more promotion potential than a position previously held on a permanent basis in the competitive service (except as permitted by reduction-in-force regulations).
  • Transfer to a position at a higher grade or with more promotion potential than a position previously held on a permanent basis in the competitive service.
  • Reinstatement to a permanent or temporary position at a higher grade or with more promotion potential than a position previously held on a permanent basis in the competitive service.

Competition is not required for:

  • A promotion resulting in a position’s grade increase without significant change in the duties and responsibilities. This promotion would likely be due to issuance of a new classification standard or the correction of an initial classification error.
  • A position change permitted by reduction-in-force regulations (see 5 CFR 351);
  • A promotion without current competition (also referred to as “career-ladder promotion”) when an employee was previously selected from a qualified pool of candidates or under competitive promotion procedures for an assignment intended to prepare the employee for the position being filled.
  • A promotion as a result of an employee’s position being reclassified at a higher grade because of added duties and responsibilities (refer to GSA policy HCO 9335.2, Accretion of Duties Promotions);
  • A career ladder promotion following noncompetitive conversion of an employee appointed under the Veterans Recruitment Authority (VRA), Presidential Management Fellow (PMF), or other authorized program or action. This applies solely to the full performance level for the career ladder as identified on the employee’s SF-50s which document their appointment or assignment to the entry-level position and promotion to intervening grade levels.
  • A change from a position having known promotion potential to one having no higher potential.
  • A temporary promotion or detail to a higher grade of 120 calendar days or less. Included in the 120-day period is all prior service during the preceding 12 months under all details to higher grade positions and temporary promotions.
  • Promotion to a grade previously held on a permanent basis in the competitive service (or in another merit system with which OPM has an interchange agreement) from which an employee was separated or demoted for reasons other than performance or conduct.
  • Promotion, reassignment, demotion, transfer, reinstatement, or detail to a position having promotion potential no greater than the potential of a position an employee currently holds or previously held on a permanent basis in the competitive service (or in another merit system with which OPM has an interchange agreement). This only applies when position currently held or previously held by the employee was not lost due to performance or conduct reasons.
  • Promotion of a candidate not given proper consideration in a competitive promotion action.
  • Promotion required by law, regulation, or as a remedy or voluntary settlement reached in connection with a grievance, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint, or Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) appeal.

Still have questions?

For more information and to address questions about merit promotions, please contact your organization’s servicing HR Specialist in GSA’s Office of Human Resources Management at (202) 501-0398.

Or please ping: Talent or send an email to tts-talentteam@gsa.gov