Finding an attorney position in the federal government can be challenging. You may have to submit numerous applications, the hiring process is lengthy, and you may not understand how attorney positions are classified. Below are the federal government attorney basics to help you in your job search or ace your interview. Let us know in the comments below if there is anything we missed or anything we can add to this article. We want to hear from you!
Federal positions are in the “competitive service” unless they have been excepted from the competitive service. Most positions in the civil service are in the competitive service, including contract specialist positions, paralegal positions, policy advisor positions, and analyst positions. Positions or occupations excepted from the competitive service are in the “excepted service.” Positions excepted from the competitive service are listed in Schedules A, B, C, or D. 5 C.F.R. § § 213.102. All attorney positions are in the excepted service. See 5 C.F.R. § § 213.102 and 213.3102.
Every position is classified into a particular occupation series and grade based on the position’s duties and responsibilities. Attorney positions are in the 0900 Legal and Kindred Group and in the 0905 General Attorney occupation series. See OPM Handbook of Occupational Groups and Families, December 2018, https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/classification-qualifications/classifying-general-schedule-positions/occupationalhandbook.pdf.
Most attorney positions are also covered by the general schedule classification system and the positions are graded from general schedule (GS) grades GS-9 to GS-15. See OPM Position Classification Standard for General Attorney Series, GS-0905 (May 1974), https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/classification-qualifications/classifying-general-schedule-positions/standards/0900/gs0905.pdf. The GS-level depends on the nature of cases and level of responsibility assigned to and performed by the employee. If applying for attorney positions on USAJOBS.gov, you may have seen an attorney position advertised as GS-0905-13. This is a General Schedule attorney position at the 13 level.
For attorney positions within the Department of Defense, DoD Instruction 1442.02 has additional qualification standards for attorney positions at different levels. For example, duties performed at the GS-13 level require a law degree, active bar membership, and professional legal experience in excess of 2 years. DoD Instruction 1442.02, Enclosure 3, p. 14.
Attorney salaries are pre-determined by statute based on the grade and step level. See Grade and Locality Pay Chart (effective January 2020), https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/salaries-wages/salary-tables/pdf/2020/DCB.pdf.
Attorney Starting Salaries with Washington-Baltimore-Arlington Locality Pay:
|GS-11, Step 1||$72,030|
|GS-12, Step 1||$86,335|
|GS-13, Step 1||$102,663|
|GS-14, Step 1||$121,316|
|GS-15, Step 1||$142,701|
Military Spouse Preferences
There are no military spouse preferences that apply to attorney positions. Programs such as priority placement program (PPP) apply only to competitive service positions. However, as discussed above, attorney positions are in the excepted service. This allows agency heads to use greater hiring flexibility–if they choose. For example, agency heads have the discretion to determine the hiring procedures for positions within the excepted service, including direct-hire procedures.
Two Department of Defense components, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Air Force, have implemented military spouse attorney hiring programs, designed to increase the visibility of military spouse attorneys seeking employment within those components. To learn more about those programs, check out MSJDN’s summaries of the Army and Air Force Programs.
Nevertheless, there is a lot of discussion about military spouse hiring preferences. Below is a chart of the military spouse preferences and hiring flexibilities for military spouses applying to non-attorney jobs in the competitive service:
|Name & Authority||Description|
|OPM Proposed Rule Implementing NDAA FY 2019 provisions and previous changes. |
|Proposes revising 5 CFR 315.612 to implement previous NDAA and E.O. changes. |
· The head of an agency may noncompetitively appoint a spouse of a member of the armed forces on active duty, spouse of a 100% disabled service member, or the unremarried widow or widower of a service member.
· Outlines annual reporting requirements to OPM and DOL.
|NDAA FY 2019|
|NDAA FY 2019 Section 573 temporarily amends portions of 5 U.S.C. § 3330d. |
· Temporarily eliminates requirement that a spouse is eligible because they have recently relocated with their Service Member.
· Temporarily eliminates geographic restrictions.
|Executive Order 13832 of May 9, 2018 Enhancing Noncompetitive Civil Service Appointments of Military Spouses||Executive Order 13832 directs agencies to indicate whether they will consider military spouses eligible for noncompetitive appointment in the job announcement and directs the agencies to promote military spouse hiring. |
Directs OPM and DOL to provide an annual report to the President regarding the implementation of E.O. 13832.
|NDAA FY 2017|
|NDAA FY 2017 amended 5 U.S.C. § 3330d(c) – Eliminated the time limitation on noncompetitive appointment for a relocating spouse. |
|NDAA FY 2013|
|NDAA FY 2013, Section 566(a) codifies E.O. 13473 at 5 U.S.C. § 3330d. |
Clarifies that the spouse of a 100% disabled Service Member is only entitled to one appointment under the authority.
Adds a provision stating that if there is no agency within the geographic area, then the geographic limitation does not apply.
|OPM Amends Regulation Implementing E.O. 13473|
|OPM amended 5 CFR § 315.612 to eliminate the two-year eligibility limitation for spouses of 100% disabled Service Members and spouses of Service Members killed while on active duty.|
|OPM Regulation Implementing E.O. 13473.|
|5 CFR § 315.612 Noncompetitive appointment of certain military spouses. |
|Executive Order 13473 of September 25, 2008 To Authorize Certain Noncompetitive Appointments in the Civil Service for Spouses of Certain Members of the Armed Forces|
|Certain military spouses eligible for noncompetitive appointments in the Civil Service:|
· Spouse of an active duty member of the Armed Forces who has recently PCS’d with their Service Member;
· Spouse of a 100% disabled retired or separated member of the Armed Forces;
· Unmarried widow or widower of a member of the Armed Forces killed while performing active duty.
Eligibility required spouses to be married prior to the Service Member’s PCS; utilize the appointment within two years of the PCS; and only allows a spouse to utilize the this appointment authority once per PCS.
|Employment Opportunities for Military Spouses, 10 U.S.C. § 1784|
Executive Order 12568 of October 2, 1986.
|Title 10, Section 1784 of the U.S. Code codifies some of the orders to the Department of Defense contained in Executive Order 12568 of October 2, 1968. Section 1784 instructs the President to order measures “necessary to increase employment opportunities for spouses of members in the armed forces” including excepting competitive service positions from the competitive service in the Department of Defense located OCONUS and providing “preference in hiring for positions” in nonappropriated fund (NAF) activities.|
OPM summarizes the history of the provisions above in their Proposed Rule amending 5 CFR Part 315, the Noncompetitive Appointment of Certain Military Spouses. 85 Fed. Reg. 32304 (May 29, 2020).