Chapter 2 Data

The data of this study comes from the Office of Personal Management (OPM), consisting of the federal employees data from 1988 to 2011. It contains not only an employee’s personal information such as gender and race but also career-related information such as years of services, pay plan, and salary. The study used 10% samples of the OPM data, with 36,751 total employees.

Personal Information
Variable Name Short Description Type
Sex gender of an employee categorical
Race race or national origin of an employee categorical
Education educational degree an employee obtained categorical
Career-related Information

Variable Name Short Description Type
Start Year fiscal year an employee started working continuous
Service Fiscal Year Count number of years an employee has worked in the government excluding any break in services continuous
Department Switch number of times an employee switched department continuous
Occupational Category occupational category based on the nature of the work categorical
Pay Plan a two-dimensional matrix of basic pay rates for certain employees prescribed by law or other authoritative sources categorical
Grade hierarchical relationships among positions covered by the same pay plan or system categorical
Step Rate an indicator of salary range within certain pay plan and grade categorical
Pay Basic an employee’s basic pay rate adjusted for inflation based on 2011 standard continuous
Promoted an indicator variable of whether an employee has ever been promoted into the Senior Executive Service (SES) position categorical

The underlying goal of this study is to better understand the SES promotion outcomes without political sponsorship. Currently, the SES positions account for less than 1 percent of all positions in the government. With such low proportion, it is important to identify potential candidates before conducting statistical modeling and inference.

First, we defined our population to be career-track employees who started working in the federal government between 1978 to 1997 and had at least 15 years of working experiences. The reasons to choose this time period are twofold. First, it took around 22 years on average for a federal employee to be promoted in to the SES position (Powell & Butterfield, 1994). Because 2011 is the last year recorded in the OPM data, employees starting after 1997 would have less than 15 years of working experiences and are unlikely to be promoted within such a short period of time. We found it appropriate to remove them. Second, the OPM database was not established until 1988, so obtaining information of employees starting in the 1950s or 1960s periods would be challenging. Furthermore, the characteristics of employees in the past were much different from characteristics of employees nowadays. For example, the attainment of higher education and the proportion of women working are significantly higher nowadays. Given such constraints, we excluded employees who started before 1978.

Second, though it usually took more than 10 years for a federal employee to get promoted into the SES position, we recognized that very few employees achieved the SES position with less than 10 years of working experiences. Since we were more interested in understanding the long-term career promotion, we excluded employees who were promoted into the SES positions with less than 10 years of working experiences.

Third, we observed that those who got promoted usually made significant progress in their mid-career, which can be illustrated by features such as salary and grade achieved at working year 10. An employee’s grade demonstrates the hierarchical relationships among positions covered by the same pay plan or system. For example, the grades for General Pay Schedule (GS and GM pay plans) range from 1 to 15, with 15 being the highest grade. Since both pay plans account for approximately 75% of the employees in the data, we can gain some insights from the grade distribution of employees with GS or GM pay plan at working year 10. Specifically, most GS or GM pay plan employees who got promoted achieved grade 13 and above at working year 10, with few between grade 9 to 12, and none below grade 8. Based on this information, we believed employees with GS or GM pay plan had limited chance for promotion if they did not achieve grade 9 and above at working year 10; therefore, we found it suitable to exclude GS/GM pay plan employees whose grade were below 9 at working year 10.

Grade achieved at yr10 for employees who were later promoted into the SES position with GS or GM pay plan

Grade 1-8 Grade 9 Grade 10 Grade 11 Grade 12 Grade 13 Grade 14 Grade 15
0 5 2 16 50 96 126 146

Lastly, the federal government classifies each employee’s occupation into five occupational categories based on the nature of the work. Respectively, they are Blue collar, Professional, Administrative, Technical, Clerical, and Other white collar. The table below shows the detailed descriptions of each occupational category. We noticed that none of the SES positions contained Blue collar occupational category and less than one percent contained Technical and Clerical, we removed employees in these occupational categories.

Occupational Categories

Occupational Category Description
Blue collar Occupations comprising the trades, crafts, and manual labor
Professional White collar occupations that require knowledge in a field of science or learning characteristically acquired through education or training equivalent to a bachelor’s or higher degree with major study in or pertinent to the specialized field
Administrative White collar occupations that involve the exercise of analytical ability, judgment, discretion, and personal responsibility, and the application of a substantial body of knowledge of principles, concepts, and practices applicable to one of more fields of administration or management
Technical White collar occupations that involve work typically associated with and supportive of a professional or administrative field
Clerical White collar occupations that involve structured work in support of office, business, or fiscal operations
Other white collar White collar occupations that cannot be related to the above professional, administrative, technical, or clerical categories