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Outstanding Scholar Program

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Outstanding Scholar Program

Update: It does not appear possible for agencies to use the Outstanding Scholar or the Bilingual/Bicultural hiring authorities and also comply with the veterans’ preference provisions in title 5 as the MSPB now requires. Accordingly, OPM believes that agencies should discontinue their use of these special hiring authorities.

The Outstanding Scholar Program is used to appoint those college graduates from accredited schools who obtained a grade point average of 3.5 or higher on a 4.0 scale for all undergraduate courses completed toward a baccalaureate degree. It was also used to appoint those who stand in the upper ten percent of a baccalaureate graduating class, or of a major university subdivision such as a College of Arts and Sciences. Appointments under the program could be made without going through an examination procedure for jobs at grades GS-5 and GS-7 in covered occupations.

Announcing Vacancies. Prior to making appointments under the program, an agency was required to advertise positions, including posting them through OPM's job information system. Visit  Student Jobs in the Federal Government, and Employment Options for additional information.  There are three basic reasons why the positions must be announced:

  1. By law, the principle of merit principle requires fair and open competition, which in turn requires public notice of vacancies so all who are eligible may apply [5 U.S.C. 2301];
  2. Another law requires agencies to report to OPM and to the United States Employment Service of the Department of Labor, each vacant position in the agency which is in the competitive service or the Senior Executive Service and for which the agency seeks applications from persons outside the Federal service [5 U.S.C. 3327]; and
  3. The regulation establishing the Interagency Career Transition Assistance Plan (ICTAP) for Displaced Employees requires agencies to report all vacancies to OPM when accepting applications from outside the agency (including applications for temporary positions lasting 120 or more days)[5 CFR 330.705]. Applicants who met the ICTAP requirements had to be selected before Outstanding Scholars. [See also, Relationship to Competitive Examining, above.]

Timing of Appointments. Outstanding Scholars could not be appointed until they had actually become "college graduates." They could, however, be given conditional offers pending graduation. Although Outstanding Scholar candidates do not have to appear on a certificate, their consideration had to be concurrent with the priority consideration of displaced employees eligible for ICTAP selection (see above). The Outstanding Scholar selection and offer needed to be made within 90 days from the time a certificate was returned to the agency personnel office, based on an announcement open to ICTAP candidates. If a selection had not been made within those 90 days, the agency was required to re-advertise the vacancy. 

After the selection, the candidate should be appointed to the position within a reasonable amount of time. To accommodate special situations, however, such as the completion of education, a geographical move, obligations to current employers, temporary agency hiring restrictions, and the processing of security clearances, an agency could delay appointment up to six months from the date of selection. If an agency exceeded six months, it was required to re-advertise the vacancy. Requests for extensions beyond six months were entertained by OPM on a case by case basis. The decree set no time limit after graduation for Outstanding Scholar eligibility, nor did it set a limit on the number of times an individual could receive Outstanding Scholar appointments.

Grade point average. The decree prevented the use of graduate grades in calculating grade point averages (GPAs). It also required using grades received in all undergraduate courses leading to the degree. This included courses from all undergraduate schools attended, not just courses taken at the school providing the degree. That requirement also meant that the candidate had the 3.5 GPA at the time of graduation; any conditional offers made prior to graduation had to be rescinded if the GPA was not maintained. Since the grade point average had to be calculated on a 4.0 scale, agencies also needed to adjust GPAs that were based on a scale that allowed a 4.5 (A+) grade.

Class Standing. The decree was specific in limiting to the upper 10% of a graduating class, or of a major university subdivision, eligibility based on class standing. A major university subdivision was a college or school and was not merely a department or program of study. For class standing to be used, it had to be determined formally by the college, school, or university.

Relationship to Qualification Standards. To be selected through this program, a candidate has to meet both the eligibility requirements for the Outstanding Scholar program and the qualification standards for the position. Basic qualifications are described in OPM's Operating Manual, Qualifications Standards for General Schedule Positions. Agencies may add their own job-related requirements. The manual describes such things as the requirement that education be from accredited colleges and universities and the established procedure of rounding GPAs to the nearest tenth of a percent (i.e., 3.45 rounded to 3.5). The manual also describes the requirements for the Superior Academic Achievement (S.A.A.) provision. The S.A.A. designation is solely grade-determining. It establishes eligibility to appoint at the GS-7 level instead of at GS-5, but does not in itself provide an appointment opportunity.

Direct hire. Although the decree used the term "direct hire," the decree essentially provided for a noncompetitive appointment to the competitive service. Rating and ranking were not required, so neither the "rule of three" nor veterans' preference applied. There were requirements, however, that the positions be announced, that displaced employees be given preference, and that the program only be used as a supplement to competitive examining.

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