The Consortium recently received a request for guidance in applying the term “agency” in a classification workshop.

Many position classification standards include references to “agency” in different factor level descriptions, particularly at higher levels.  For example, a classification standard may contain criteria such as “the work regularly influences broad agency policy objectives and program goals.”  A key factor used in classifying both supervisory and non-supervisory positions is the scope of the work assignment, i.e., whether the position’s work impacts the immediate organization, an entire field office, a bureau or regional-level office, functions throughout an entire agency (including subordinate bureaus or field offices), or the work could impact several agencies or even the entire government itself. The classifier must understand whether or not the word “agency” applies to the position being classified.

OPM’s general guidance is that the term “agency” is defined by Title 5, USC sections 101, 102, and 5102: 

  • 5 USC section 101 lists 14 Executive Departments as “agencies.”
  • 5 USC section 102 names the military departments of Army, Navy, and Air Force as agencies.
  • 5 USC section 5102 defines “agency” as an Executive agency, Library of Congress, Botanic Garden, the Government Printing Office, Office of the Architect of the Capitol, and the District of Columbia government.  The statute states specifically that the definition does not include, among others, a Government controlled corporation or the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The General Schedule Supervisory Guide (GSSG) defines the word “agency” for the purpose of applying the criteria in that GuideAn Executive or military department as specified by 5 U.S.C. 101, 102, and 5102, which has primary authority and responsibility for the administration of substantive national programs enacted by Congress; a comparable independent agency; or a large agency next below the Department of Defense with worldwide missions and field activities, multibillion dollar programs or resources to manage, and major mission(s) directly affecting the national security. The head of an agency is usually appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. For example, the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Army, Navy, Air Force, the General Services Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Office of Personnel Management, and the Defense Logistics Agency are Agencies for purposes of this guide.

In addition, where five or more of the following conditions apply, an activity next below departmental level may be considered as equivalent to this definition for purposes of applying this Guide:

  • The activity comprises or manages more than half of a cabinet level department’s resources.
  • The activity has an international mission, and/or numerous Nationwide and worldwide field offices.
  • The activity manages multibillion dollar funds accounts typically separate from normal, departmental budgets (e.g., Social Security trust funds, IRS collections).
  • The activity deals directly with Congress on major budgetary, program, or legislative matters affecting large segments of the population or the Nation’s businesses, or both.
  • The activity head is appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.
  • The activity exercises special statutory powers such as a Nationwide, quasi-judicial function affecting major industries or large segments of the population.
  • The activity manages directly delegated or statutorily assigned programs that have an impact which is Governmentwide or economywide and that receive frequent, intensive, congressional and media scrutiny.

The GSSG also defines “bureau” and “major organization” for the purpose of applying the criteria in the Guide:   

  • Bureau – An organizational unit next below the agency level (as defined above) which is normally headed by an official of Executive Level IV or V, or Senior Executive Service (SES) rank, or the equivalent. It is a component of a civilian agency directed by an appointed executive who reports to the Agency Director or the Director’s immediate staff. Examples of bureaus include the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service.
  • Major Organization – An organizational unit located next below bureau or major military command level and headed by an official of SES rank, GM-15, or GM-14, or the civilian or military equivalent. For example, a line, staff, or program office next below bureau level, the head of which reports directly to the Bureau Director; or a comparable office or directorate which is next below a major military command, the director of which reports directly to the Commander or Director of the major command. At agency headquarters, major organizations include the offices of the heads of major staff functions at the agency level (e.g., Agency Personnel Directorate, Agency Budget Directorate, Agency Logistics Directorate, and Agency Directorate of Administrative Services), and major line organizations, the heads of which report directly to an Assistant Secretary or other office next below the Secretary of the Agency.

Should you have questions on the above discussion, please feel free to send an email to Susan Custard at!

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