USDA Forest Service Employment Information
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What we do, where we do it, where we came from

Job Descriptions

How much we pay our employees and what kind of employee programs we have

How to see a vacancy announcement, how to get an application, where to submit an application

Frequently-asked questions about getting a job with the Forest Service

Special hiring emphasis Nov 2000-June 2001:  Fire Fighting and Fire-related jobs


"Permanent" versus "Other"
One way to categorize employment is to separate Permanent employment from Other employment. Most Federal employees are permanent employees. Their appointment does not have a termination date. The Forest Service has approximately 29,500 permanent employees. Unlike most federal agencies, the Forest Service also has many employees who are called "Other" or Non-Permanent. These include, but are not limited to, temporary, summer, seasonal, student employment programs, and term appointments. These appointments usually are full-time, but have a date in which the appointment (job) ends. This date could be a couple months after the appointment or as long as 4 years. In the Forest Service, Other employment typically is about 3,000 employees in January and grows to over 15,000 employees in July. A person can be a Forester with a permanent appointment or a Forester with an Other appointment. Many Forest Service employees work with the agency as temporary employees prior to finding a permanent appointment.

Occupational Series
The federal government has developed a numerical code for each occupational category. This has many advantages, but one is that all agencies have a single method to classify jobs. The Forest Service employs over 200 different occupations as defined by this coding convention. For example, a forester is a 460, a forestry technician a 462, wildlife biologist a 486, civil engineer an 810, clerk/typiest is a 322, etc. When jobs are advertised, their title, series and grade will be publicized. Once a person understands what series and grades they qualify, it's much easier to determine what jobs to apply.

Pay Plan, Grade and Step
The Forest Service, like most agencies, generally pays employees according to one of 3 pay plans: General Schedule (GS), Wage Grade (WG), and Senior Executive Service (ES). Most of us are mainly interested in the GS jobs. Of the agency's 29,500 permanent employees, about 28,000 are GS, 1,450 WG, and 50 are ES.

ES jobs are the top leadership jobs in the agency. They include the Chief, Deputy Chiefs, Regional Foresters, Stations Directors, and other key leadership positions. Their pay is around $90,000 to $120,000 per year.

WG are skilled technician positions like electricians, heavy equipment operators, mechanics, etc. They get paid according to a local pay scale of those in the private sector with similar skills.

piechart GS employees work in grades 1 to 15 with each grade having 10 steps. I will discuss the steps later. Professional and administrative employees usually are hired as grade 5, move to 7 in one year and then to 9 in one more year. It then may take years for further promotions. The next advance would be to grade 11 and then each promotion is a single grade, e.g. 12, 13, 14, etc. The lead for a district, a District Ranger, is a grade 12 or 13 and the lead for a National Forest, a Forest Supervisor, is a grade 14 or 15 depending on the size and complexity of the unit they are leading.

Technician, clerical and other employees usually are hired about grade 4, but many exceptions (up and down) occur. Promotions occur in single-grade jumps, e.g. 4 to 5 to 6, etc. Most of these jobs top out at around grade 7, but some of these employees eventually qualify for administrative positions which have higher grade potential.

Each GS grade has 10 pay steps with each step increasing pay about 3 percent. If a person stays in grade for a certain period and performance is satisfactory, the person may move up one step in pay. The waiting period is one year for steps 2, 3, 4; two years for steps 5, 6, 7; and three years for steps 8, 9, 10. Therefore, a grade 5 step 10 makes about 30 percent more than a grade 5 step 1. It takes about 18 years to move from step 1 to 10 if the person does not change grade. If a person is promoted, the step waiting period begins again and the person's step is adjusted. Without going into detail, promotions typically are 6 to 9 percent increases so depending on grade level, a person's step is adjusted downward to keep the pay increase due to a promotion to 6-9 percent.

In addition to the pay increases due to promotions and step increases, federal employees usually get a comparability increase--kinda like a cost-of-living increase. This increase usually occurs in January and varies by locality. This year the increase is between 2 and 3 percent. However, during tight budget situations, this increase has been sharply reduced or completely eliminated. This is a joint Presidential/Congessional decision.

PATCOB Categories
Federal positions often are categorized as either professional, administrative, technical, clerical, other, or blue collar. These categories are named PATCO or PATCOB. As mentioned above, entry-level professional and administraive employees are typically hired at higher grades than the other 4 categories, advance at a faster rate, and can move to higher grades. The PATCOB category has nothing to do with permanent/other or work schedule (full or part-time). A professional can be permanent or other and can work full or part-time.

piechart Professional positions typically require education or training equivalent to a bachelor's degree or higher with a major field of study in a specialized field. Examples include accountant, microbiologist, civil engineer, forester, geologist, and wildlife biologist. Usually, if you do not have formal education in the area, you can't be selected for the job. There are approximately 11,000 professional employees in the agency.

Administrative positions do not require a formal education in a specific field, but require training, experience, or education equivalent to a bachelor's degree. Examples include administrative officer, computer specialist, budget analyst, program manager, criminal investigator, public affairs, and personnelist. There are approximately 4,000 administrative specialists in the agency.

Technical positions typically support professional or administrative workers. Formal education is not required but many associate (2~year) degree programs offer training in these areas. Technicians are found in every program area in the agency. Examples are accounting technician, forestry technician, engineering technician, budget assistants, and personnel assistants. There are approximately 10,000 technicians and assistants in the agency.

Clerical positions involve support work in office, business, or fiscal operations. These positions are found in every program area in the agency. There are approximately 3,000 employees in permanent clerical positions in the agency.

Other positions in the Forest Service mainly include students in training programs and security guards.

Wage grade positions involve trade, craft, or labor work. Post high school education generally is not required, but a specific knowledge or skill usually is required. Examples are equipment operators, maintenance mechanics, and automotive repair workers. There are over 1,000 wage system employees in the agency.