Federal Wage System (FWS)

In November of 1965, Federal departments and agencies along with the Civil Service Commission (now Office of Personnel Management (OPM)) developed a coordinated wage system for Federal employees in trades and labor occupations. It is called the Federal Wage System (FWS).

The policies and practices of FWS are based on the principles that:

  1. wages shall be fixed and periodically adjusted as nearly as possible with prevailing rates (accomplished in a wage survey);

  2. there shall be equal pay for substantially equal work; and

  3. pay distinctions shall be maintained in keeping with work distinctions.

The classification of a position is decided by comparing the whole job with the appropriate job grading standard. To ensure interagency equity in job grading and wage rates, OPM develops and publishes common job grading standards and instructions which provide the criteria for grading, titling and coding jobs. These standards are based on fact-finding studies conducted in selected representative work situations. Because of the many differences in duties, skills and knowledge, and other aspects of trades and labor jobs, job grading standards are developed mainly along occupational lines.

The standard generally states the coverage by summarizing the kind(s) of work for which it provides directly applicable grade level criteria; indicates the title(s) of the jobs covered by the standard; provides explanatory information, such as details of the work covered, how to apply the standard, or information for distinguishing Trades and Labor work from General Schedule work (or equivalent white collar work, e.g., GG); and defines grade levels by describing levels for skill and knowledge, responsibility, physical effort and working conditions.

The standards do not attempt to describe every work assignment of each position in the occupation covered. The standards identify and describe those key characteristics of occupations which are significant for distinguishing different levels of work. They define these key characteristics in such a way as to provide a basis for assigning the appropriate grade level to all positions in the occupation to which the standards apply.

The nonsupervisory structure of the FWS has 15 grades. To establish a framework, OPM determined the relationships among certain key ranking jobs. The descriptions of these key jobs serve as grade-level "peg-points" for the 15-grade structure. They reflect the relative worth of different key lines of work and levels within lines of work, and control the alignment of grade levels in all nonsupervisory job grading standards. Key ranking jobs are not job grading standards and are not to be used to make final grade decisions for jobs. However, they can be used as a guide.

The coding plan in the FWS provides an orderly method for identifying jobs. The system uses a combination of letters and numbers to indicate pay categories, job family and occupation, and grade level. The pay category indicates the type of job and specific wage schedule from which the job is paid. Pay category is identified by a two letter prefix to the code for job family and occupation. The designations for regular schedule jobs are:

  • WG - Wage Grade (Nonsupervisory)

  • WL - Leader positions

  • WS - Supervisors

The various kinds of work performed by employees have been organized into occupations and job families. Each is defined in terms of the nature of work. These definitions establish the boundaries between the various occupations and families. A job family is a broad grouping of occupations which are related in one or more ways:

  • similarity of function performed

  • transferability of knowledge and skills from one occupation to another

  • similarity of materials or equipment worked on

An occupation is a subgroup of a family which includes all jobs at the various skill levels in a particular kind of work. Jobs within an occupation are similar to each other with regard to subject matter, and basic knowledge and skill requirements.

The grade level of a job represents a range of knowledge, skills, and responsibilities sufficiently similar to warrant a common range of rates of basic pay on a local area wage schedule. With the exception of Apprentice jobs, all jobs have a grade-level designation. Instead of the grade-level code, Apprentice jobs are designated by two zeroes.

Content last reviewed: 6/1/2006-LAR

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This page was last revised: 11/23/2011