Todd Davidson/Corbis

Career ladder promotions climb

Noncompetitive promotions have jumped 75 percent in the past three years, <i>Federal Times</i> reports.

Want a large pay raise even when federal salaries are frozen? Try the ladder.

So-called career ladder promotions for federal workers have jumped by more than 75 percent during the past three years, according to Office of Personnel Management data that Federal Times has analyzed. For some employees, as reported Monday, the pay boost can be more than $10,000 a year.

Under career ladder promotions, new employees move up one or two complete grades in the General Schedule in a virtually automatic, noncompetitive process for every year they remain on the job as they learn new skills. Raises can be between 10 percent and 20 percent in one year, and many of these promotions are handed out almost instantly after an employee reaches his or her one-year time-in-grade requirement, according to Federal Times.

In 2011, more than 108,000 employees received career ladder promotions, making up 35 percent of all higher-grade promotions within government that year compared to 21 percent in 2008, the newspaper reported. The paper’s figures show the federal government spent between $634 million and $852 million on career ladder promotion raises in 2011, even though civilian pay was frozen.

Career ladder promotions were designed to help entry-level employees move up through the ranks quickly, and can boost retention of younger employees. But former OPM executives told Federal Times their extensive use is emblematic of the government’s failure to properly evaluate employee performance and promote accordingly. In a 2011 OPM survey of federal workers, 35 percent felt promotions were not based on merit.