Quality Step Increase (QSI) Program Developments


The IRS has announced a new QSI policy. The Interim Guidance on Quality Step Increase Policy purports to describe updated QSI policy and procedures for appraisal periods ending on or after Sept. 30, 2015. Under the policy, supervisors may nominate employees for QSIs who meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Are below step 10 of their grade level;
  • Have an outstanding rating of record;
  • Have demonstrated sustained performance of outstanding quality;
  • Have not been granted a QSI within the preceding 52 consecutive calendar weeks; and,
  • Occupy a “permanent position”.

Eligible employees who elect a QSI but are not granted one will be issued an NPAA award. Previously, the IRS had committed to a QSI target rate of 10 percent.  That commitment was originally made in 2009 to settle grievances filed by NTEU based on data showing that QSIs were being granted in a discriminatory manner.  When the union renegotiated the current contract, citing budgetary reasons, the IRS exercised its reserved right to rescind that commitment and to have the sole discretion to determine which eligible employees will receive QSIs.  As NTEU repeatedly told the IRS during bargaining, without objective standards for the distribution of QSIs, similar inequities in the distribution of QSIs will return. NTEU has requested QSI distribution data to determine if that is already the case. NTEU has filed a grievance challenging the IRS’ decision to only grant QSIs during the first quarter of the fiscal year. This is a departure from the IRS’ past practice, done without bargaining with NTEU, and NTEU believes it is contrary to OPM’s regulations, which state that QSIs “should be made effective as soon as practicable after it is approved”. The grievance will likely be arbitrated this winter.

Update on Phased Retirement Bargaining Nearly two years ago, NTEU opened bargaining with the IRS for a phased retirement program and drafted proposals. Recently, the IRS has presented NTEU with interim guidance rather than concrete counter-proposals. This step comes after the agency delayed bargaining until the Department of Treasury issued a phased retirement policy and guidelines. The IRS interim guidance covers its phased retirement policy, mentoring agreement and the agreement for terminating phased retirement status. This helps move the issue forward but NTEU advised the agency that it has an obligation to give the union formal proposals. Because the union and agency are in bargaining over these issues, the IRS cannot impose interim or final policies on phased retirement in lieu of negotiations with NTEU. The NTEU bargaining team will address the draft policy during negotiations starting next week. Additional issues on the table will include eligibility criteria, the approval process, the definition of mentoring and how it is evaluated during phased retirement, the impact of phased retirement on other work, and the impact on telework and alternate work schedules.

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