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What are the pros and cons of excepted service?

Bureaupat has the answer

By Bureaupat Oct 22 2009, 08:11 AM

Dear Bureaupat,

A colleague who is currently a GS-5 is thinking of applying for a job in the judicial branch of the government, which is an Excepted service position. What would she have to lose, and would she be able to transition back to the Competitive service later? What are the pros and cons of making a switch? Thanks!

Dear Anonymous,

I've known many people who have moved from the Competitive service to the Excepted service and back again, and it has done them no harm. Most were in the intel community (all Excepted service) and had long, rewarding careers, often accompanied by rapid career progression.

For those not in the know, the Excepted Service can be defined as employment in a federal position or with an agency that is outside the federal Competitive service. Competitive status employees can move freely from one government job to another without going through OPM's competitive hiring evaluation again.

By contrast, the Excepted service 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 kinds of exceptions: positions and agencies.

Agencies that are considered to be primarily Competitive service have some Excepted service positions. In other cases, an entire agency may be excepted by statute from the Competitive service; it would be referred to as an "excepted agency."

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 advisers will be excepted).

More importantly, 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 and only a few hundred federal positions are filled through political patronage, also known as "Schedule C," leaving only 49% of federal jobs in the Competitive Service.

In other words, half of federal jobs are in the Excepted service. So what are some of its pros and cons?


- 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.

- 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.

- Excepted positions are usually open to all candidates.

- And lastly, experience gained in an excepted position may be invaluable when applying for a Competitive service position.


- 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.

- 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.

- Excepted service is just that, service which is excepted from the civil service laws. This means that while it's easier to get the job because the hiring authority can select whomever it wants, without competition, it's also much easier to lose the job than competitive service.

- 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.

If your friend is interested in the Excepted service, have her go for it and pursue her career goals. But please note that when 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.

Yours in Gov,



Read More Q&A from Bureaupat:

[+] Do I have to give notice when I take another federal job?

[+] What happens to my leave if I transfer to another agency?


Read More: Office Of Personnel Management (OPM), Careers, Job Openings, Surviving The Bureaucracy, Dear Bureaupat


December 5, 2011 4:15 AM


Just wondering...but what if you've been in the Competitive Service before, went to the Excepted Service and now looking to go back?  Do you still hold Competitive Service "status" or does that disappear when you've gone to the dark side?

Anonymous SCP
August 24, 2012 11:43 PM

Dear Bureaupat,

What if you retired from the Competitive Service and get a part-time job offer from Excepted Service, if you take the job, will you lose the monthly retirement income from the Competitive Service?

September 18, 2012 7:00 PM

Man I won't to be a CIA member do freaken bad.

But I don't know if I'll get in I'm FAT so I would probably have to work out a lot and loss a lot of weight I weigh 214 and I'm 15












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