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Commerce Alternative Personnel System (Formerly DEMO Project) FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the overall objectives of the Commerce Alternative Personnel System?

The purpose of the Commerce Alternative Personnel System (CAPS) is to strengthen the contribution of human resources management in supporting the missions of specific operating units of the Department. To accomplish this goal, the project introduces certain changes in human resources management systems that include: simplifying the current position classification system for greater flexibility in classifying work and paying employees; establishing a performance management and rewards system designed to improve individual and organizational performance; and an improved recruiting and examining system to attract highly qualified candidates and get new hires on board faster.

Who is responsible for oversight and management of the Commerce Alternative Personnel System?

Oversight and evaluation of the CAPS is the responsibility of the Office of Personnel Management. The CAPS Management Board (CMB) manages the project at the Department level. Each major operating unit in the CAPS (e.g., OS, BEA, OAR, NMFS, and NESDIS) has its own Operating Personnel Management Board (OPMB) that manages and oversees internal operations. The DMB and OPMBs are collectively responsible for such activities as project evaluation, approving changes to the project, establishing project policies and operating procedures, delegating project authorities, approving exceptions to established policies or procedures, and training managers.

How will my salary change when I am converted to the CAPS? What happens to my salary if I subsequently move to a positions not covered by the project?

Employees’ salaries do not change upon conversion to the CAPS. Upon movement to positions outside the CAPS, employees’ salaries are adjusted to the proper grade level and step. If an employee’s salary falls between two steps of a grade, his/her salary will be adjusted to the higher step within the applicable pay schedule, including any locality pay or special pay rate.

Will I continue to receive annual general increase and locality pay as a CAPS employee?

All CAPS employees with an Eligible rating continue to receive annual general increases and locality pay increases as received under the General Schedule. The minimum and maximum rates of each pay band are adjusted each year to reflect these increases.

Will I continue to be eligible for periodic within-grade step increases as a CAPS employee?

The CAPS replaces grades and steps with broad pay bands. Therefore, within-grade increases no longer apply. However, under the project’s pay for performance system, employees are eligible for annual performance pay increases within the broad pay bands, and may also receive performance bonuses.

I understand that broad bands replace grade levels under the CAPS. How does pay progression occur under a broad banding system?

Progression through a pay band is accomplished through annual performance pay increases. By removing the pay barriers between the General Schedule (GS) grades that are placed in the same band, high-performing employees may earn higher salaries than they would under the current system. For example, banding of grades GS-7 and GS-8 allow employees who would have reached the top of the GS-7 grade to have access to the GS-8 pay range.

What safeguards are in place to assure equity in pay regarding starting salaries, promotions, performance increases, and bonuses?

The CAPS Management Board provides oversight of all authorities delegated to the Operating Personnel Management Boards (OPMB). The OPMBs oversee the pay authorities delegated to supervisors to assure pay equity within the flexibilities provided. Supervisors are responsible for exercising delegated authorities in a fair and equitable manner. Those who do not may have their authorities withdrawn by the responsible OPMB.

How are supervisors compensated under the CAPS?

Supervisors rated Eligible are considered for performance pay increases and bonuses in the same manner as non-supervisory employees. In addition, supervisors in all career paths are eligible for supervisory performance pay, which will increase their salaries by up to six percent higher than the maximum rate of Interval 3 of their pay bands. The higher salaries must be reached through the regular performance appraisal cycle based on performance.

How do Reduction-in-Force (RIF) procedures under the CAPS differ from those that currently exist?

Under the CAPS, competitive areas encompass employees within the same career path and operating unit (e.g. BEA, OAR, NMFS, NESDIS, and OS) within the local commuting area, rather than all employees in a specified geographic area. Under the current RIF system, employees can displace other employees at their own grade level and three grade levels below. Under the CAPS, employees are able to displace employees in the same pay band or the next lower pay band within their same career path. Employees currently receive up to 12 years of extra service credit based upon their performance rating. Under the CAPS, employees receive up to 30 years of extra service credit if they rank among the top performers (i.e., top 30 percent) in their pay pool.

In addition, five years of augmented service credit are given to current CAPS employees with an Eligible score (40 or above), or to new employees hired from other Federal agencies and employees converted to the CAPS as a result of expansion of new organizations, for a maximum of 15 years based upon the last three appraisals. These changes are designed to reduce the negative and disruptive effects of RIF and to provide a better fit between the skills of displaced employees and the positions offered under RIF. All other current laws and regulations, including veteran preference, remain in place.

How does implementation of the CAPS’s pay for performance system affect efforts to focus on teamwork? What information is available regarding the performance appraisals of other team managers?

The CAPS’s pay system is designed to better reward both individual and overall organizational performance. It encourages better teamwork by providing greater incentives for each team member to achieve a higher level of individual accomplishment, while contributing to the success of the team. Team members do not have access to information regarding other team members’ ratings, performance payouts, or bonuses.

How are performance incentive and bonus pools funded? What latitude do managers have in spending funds designated for these purposes?

A base cost assessment provides a basis for determining the amount of money allocated to incentive pools. Funds previously used for promotions which would have occurred within pay bands, e.g., within-grade increases, and quality step increases, are now used to fund performance pay pools. Funds previously used for cash awards such as service awards will be used to fund bonus pools. Funds for these separate pools may not be spent for any other purposes.

What information is available regarding an employee’s performance appraisal? Is performance appraisal information in other employees available?

Supervisors provide employees with information regarding their ratings, scores, performance payouts, and bonuses when final ratings have been approved by the pay pool manager. Employees are not provided any information regarding the rating, score, performance payout, or bonus of any other employee.

How does the new pay for performance system change the roles of supervisors and employees in the performance appraisal process?

The pay for performance system requires greater interaction between supervisors and employees. Under the CAPS, the employee, supervisor, and pay pool manager are involved in the development of the performance plan. The supervisor is expected to play a greater role in coaching employees and is required to conduct a formal mid-year review with the employee with ongoing feedback provided throughout the year. Employees are required to provide their supervisor with a list of accomplishments at the end of the rating cycle. The supervisor reviews the list of accomplishments with the employee and uses it to help determine the employee’s rating and performance and/or bonus payouts. Supervisors are required to recommend and justify performance appraisal recommendations to pay pool managers who have the final authority to approve ratings and performance and bonus payouts within their pay pools.

How are supervisors, already over-burdened with administrative and technical tasks, able to assume the additional tasks required under the CAPS?

The CAPS seeks to improve the supervisor’s ability to effectively manage human resources by increasing delegated authorities, simplifying and streamlining processes and procedures, and providing greater flexibilities in decision making. Some functions, such as position classification and staffing, may require less time, whereas performance management may require more. Supervisors may need to find creative ways to balance the amount of time spent on technical vs. supervisory tasks. For example, in the beginning, they may find it desirable to delegate some technical tasks to subordinate employees on a short-term basis.

How may I obtain further information about the CAPS?

Additional CAPS information can be found on the Commerce Alternative Personnel System Resources page.

Information on this site includes information about the formation of CAPS through the Demonstration Project, starting with a plan as published December 24, 1997 in the Federal Register notice and subsequent published modifications. This page also includes demonstration project evaluations, CAPS bureau point of contacts, Standard Operating Procedures and briefing materials.