Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service

Nurse Professional Advisory Committee

Personnel Systems

The General Service System
Federal Operating Divisions (OpDivs) use the General Schedule system for their civilian, i.e., non-military employees.  The General Schedule personnel system is managed by the United States Office of Personnel Management (USOPM) in Washington, D.C. and is divided into ten (10) regions.  General Schedule laws, rules, executive orders, regulations and policies that apply to Federal personnel are in the Federal Personnel Manual (FPM) and Supplements.  Job listings can be found at

General Service Position Descriptions
All General Schedule positions have a position description (PD) that describes the duties, responsibilities, and supervisory relationships of the position; the title, series, and grade of the position; and the knowledge and skill required for the duties of the position.  The position may have a billet description if a Commissioned Corps Officer can also fill it.

Occupational Series
All Federal government jobs, including General Schedule (GS) and PHS Commissioned Corps (CC) positions, listed by occupational series on the OPM website.  The USOPM uses Position Classification Standards to classify all positions based on duties, responsibilities, and qualification requirements.  Position Classification Standards define the occupation, explain significant factors for evaluating positions, and define work characteristics for various grade levels.

Most General Schedule nurses fall within the 610 series.  However, many General Schedule and Commissioned Corps nurses hold positions that are administrative or closely related to nursing.

General Service Job Qualification Standards
General Schedule job qualification standards are listed in the Qualifications Standards Handbook for General Schedule positions.  The handbook lists experience, training and/or knowledge, skills, and ability requirements for each grade.  Standards are coded for the appropriate occupational series.  This handbook is located online at: Job qualification standards are different from position classification standards.

Job qualification standards pertain to the kinds of skills, knowledge, and abilities needed to perform work defined by position classification standards as characteristic of the occupation and grade level of the position.  The following is a brief summary of the qualifications standards for the professional nurse (or 610) series.  For a complete list of requirements, read the Qualifications Standards Handbook.

General Service Promotion/Compensation
Compensation for General Schedule positions is based on the grade of the job.  Professional nurses generally start at the GS-5 or GS-7 level and move up to GS-9, GS-10, GS-11, GS-12, GS/GM-13, GS/GM-14, and GS/GM-15.  You are eligible for promotion to the next higher grade after one year of experience in your current grade and your performance is rated at least fully successful.  Promotion, however, is not guaranteed or automatic.  Advancement can also be achieved through step increases.

The Public Health Service Commissioned Corps
The Public Health Service personnel office is the Office of Commissioned Corps Operations (OCCO), and is located in the Tower Building at:

1101 Wootton Parkway
Plaza Level
Rockville, Maryland 20852

The telephone number for the Tower Building is 240-453-6000.  The operator can transfer you to the office you need.  You may be able to find the answers to your questions on the Commissioned Corps Management Information System web site located at: There is a great deal of information located there with the most current updates located on the home page.  Spend some time on this web site.

The Commissioned Corps Personnel Manual (CCPM) is maintained by the Office of Commissioned Corps Force Management (OCCFM).  The manual contains all the personnel rules for the Commissioned Corps.  The online site for the Electronic Commissioned Corps Issuance System is

Commissioned Corps Nurses Appointment Standards
The following paragraphs provide brief descriptions of the Commissioned Corps Nurse appointment standards.  See the Electronic Commissioned Corps Issuance System “General Appointment Standards “, Current Policy at for further information.

You must have earned a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree (with no qualifying baccalaureate degree) from an accredited nursing program.  Programs are accredited by the National League for nursing (NLN) or Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).  A current, unrestricted, and valid nursing license from 1 of the 50 States, Washington D.C., the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands or Guam is also required.  If you obtained your B.S. degree after December 1, 1988, you must pass the National Council of State Boards of Nursing Licensure Exam (NCLEX).  Graduate nurses may apply to the PHS Commissioned Corps but will not be called to active duty until proof of a current, unrestricted, and valid nursing license is received.   


Qualifying professional education
An applicant receives four years of credit for the qualifying degree (baccalaureate or master’s in nursing) retroactive from the first day of the first month after receipt of initial licensure.  No additional credit is permitted for any academic work, undergraduate or graduate, completed prior to the qualifying degree in nursing

Graduate education
The completion of the qualifying baccalaureate, or master’s degree in a field deemed allied and relevant to professional nursing activities of PHS Commissioned Corps nurse officers is fully creditable.  Time credit is given based on the length of time spent in full-time graduate study or its equivalent.  Acceptable advanced degree courses, in addition to those in any field of nursing, include, but are not limited to, those in public health, the biological, physical, and social sciences, and in health care administration.

Non-creditable education
Post-qualifying degree study that is not designated as, or is not comparable to, the nursing allied and relevant fields listed above is not creditable.

Fully creditable experience
Experience in the fields of nursing occurring after attainment of the qualifying degree, including clinical nursing practice at any level, teaching nursing (both practical and professional) in an accredited institution, consultation, research, and administration is fully creditable.  Credit is based on the actual time worked.

Optional creditable experience
Experience in a non-nursing position is creditable only if the board deems it relevant to professional nursing activities of PHS Commissioned Corps officers.  The board shall determine the amount of time creditable.

Non-creditable experience
Work experience which does not meet the above criteria, or which cannot be fully substituted for such experience is not creditable.

Special experience requirements for permanent grades
The number of years of training and experience required for appointment at permanent grades 0-3 and 0-4 must include at least one year of clinical experience in nursing (direct patient care).  Only experience after the qualifying degree can serve to meet these requirements.

Regular Corps (Assimilation)
The Regular Corps is the career component of the overall Commissioned Corps.  If you are considering the corps as a career, you should strongly consider assimilation into the Regular Corps.   Advantages to joining the Regular Corps include: 
* Increased job security during times of manpower reductions
* Increased promotion potential
* The possibility of promotion beyond the 0-6 grade level

To be eligible to apply for appointment to the Regular Corps, an officer must: Have completed a minimum of 2 years of continuous active duty in his/her current tour of duty at the time of application (applications will be reviewed by a board after the officer has completed 3 years of service)

Meet the specific educational requirements (as applicable) of the professional category for Regular Corps appointment (refer to category Exhibits in Book 2, Chapter: 3, Section 1, Instruction: 01, “Appointment Standards and Appointment Boards,” of the Commissioned Corps Personnel Manual (CCPM))

Meet the required medical standards Meet the current professional license/registration/certification requirements (as applicable) 

Received an overall score of “D” or “E” on most recent Commissioned Officers’ Effectiveness Report (COER).  Please note: Narrative COERs do not meet this requirement.

Meet readiness requirements:  Refer to the Office of Force Readiness and Deployment (OFRD) Web for most current requirements at:    A checklist can also be found at.


All commissioned officers must have a satisfactory background investigation on file with the Office of Commissioned Corps Operations (OCCO) prior to completing the assimilation process. At the time of application, application for security clearance must be completed and received by OCCO. Additionally, officers may not be on limited tour status at the time of application.

Any Reserve Corps officer who wishes to be a member of the Regular Corps who has not already applied for Regular Corps assimilation and who believes that he or she meets the above requirements is invited to submit form PHS-7034, “Application for Assimilation into the Regular Corps”.

More information is available on the Commissioned Corps Management Information System web site at:   Further information is also available at the Commissioned Corps Issuance System in Book 3, Chapter 2, Section 4, Instruction 1 and Book 3, Chapter 4, Sections 1, 2, and 3, Instruction 1.   Form PHS-7034 is available at:  Applications must be accompanied by a statement about the reasons for requesting appointment to the Regular Corps and the officer’s commitment to a career in the PHS Commissioned Corps. The officer’s immediate supervisor must endorse the application and forward complete packet to the following address:

Office of Commissioned Corps Operations
Division of Commissioned Corps Officer Support
ATTN: Assimilation Coordinator
1101 Wootton Parkway, Plaza Level, Suite 100
Rockville, MD 20852

Once a year, Assimilation Boards convene to evaluate and rank the officer’s qualifications with all other candidates, across category lines, for assimilation. The assimilation board prepares a list of candidates for nomination by the President and confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

Law restricts the maximum number of officers authorized to be on active duty in the regular corps to 2,800 in each of the permanent grades.  Within this total, ceilings for each of the permanent grades are established.  All assimilation nominations are subject to Presidential nomination and Senate confirmation.  No more than 10% of the total appointments by statute can be at the O-4 grade or higher.

The Office of Commissioned Corps Operations (OCCO) notifies officers not recommended for assimilation by a Board.  The next assimilation board will review all recommended but not nominated officers.  An officer will only be considered three times for each application.  After the third board, if not forwarded for confirmation, the officer must submit a new application for assimilation.

Commissioned Corps Compensation/Promotion
Commissioned Officer pay is based on grade, location, and the base pay entry date (BPED).  Pay increases when the officer is promoted, and usually when the officer reaches longevity milestones at 2, 3, 4, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 20, 22, 24, and 26 years after the BPED is established.  The BPED is usually the initial date of military service, COSTEP, or PHS service.  A Basic Pay Chart is available on the “Commissioned Corps Management Information System website at: under the heading of Payroll Issues.  Contact the Office of Commissioned Corps Support Services – Compensation Branch for current Variable Housing Allowance (VHA) information for a particular zip code.

Nurses are eligible for Non-Physician Board-Certified pay, if they hold certain nurse certifications.  See Book 6, Chapter 3, Section 3, Instruction, 03 for additional information on Non-Physician Board-Certified Pay.

Your OPF contains the information that forms the basis for all decisions about your career progression as an officer.  Competitiveness for job selection, temporary and permanent promotions, and assimilation into the Regular Corps are just a few examples of the information in your OPF.  Clearly, it is critical that this information be complete and accurate.  Review your OPF regularly, but particularly before making any major career decisions.  OPF’s are available online at under the secure heading.

As an Officer, you are automatically eligible for promotion “in your own right” based on training and experience (T&E) as established from records in your Official Personnel Folder (OPF).  Typically, officers are eligible for temporary grade promotions after they have accumulated 8 years of T&E (for 0-3); 12 years of T&E (0-4); 17 years of T&E (0-5) and 24 years of T&E (0-6).  Officers are also eligible for Exceptional Proficiency Promotions (EPPs).  EPPs are temporary grade promotions before obtaining T&E eligibility.  EPPs initiated by supervisors require OpDiv head recommendation for consideration; EPPs are limited and extremely competitive.  More information can be found in the Commissioned Corps Issuance System in Book 3, Chapter 3, Section 2, Instruction 1.

Promotions to 0-4 through 0-6 are highly competitive.  Nurse promotion boards consist of at least five 0-6 officers from most OpDiv, but may include 0-6 officers from another category.  The boards also include minority representatives as well as other nurse officers from outside the Washington, D.C. area.  A promotion board assesses each nurse based on OpDiv recommendations and the documentation in his or her eOPF.  Each nurse is scored and rank-ordered with other nurses at the same grade level.  Except in the case of EPPs, nurses do not compete directly with other categories.  Current nursing precepts or weighted criteria used by the promotion board include can be found at:

Career Development Resources

Unlike General Schedule nurses, promotions for Commissioned Corps nurses are independent from obtaining new positions.  Commissioned Officers are informed of their eligibility for promotion that provides some time to prepare for the promotion process.   Here are a few instructions for preparing for promotion:

Ensure that you are in a billet graded higher than or at your current grade.  Be in the position far enough in advance so that at least two annual COERs can be completed while you are in this position prior to promotion consideration.

Avoid transfers or OpDiv changes just prior to your last annual COER before promotion consideration unless the transfer of change involves a substantial increase in responsibility.

In your COER, describe your duties and level of responsibility in detail; however, do not exceed one attached typed page.  Consider dividing the description into headings such as Duties, Accomplishments, and Goals, with bullets under each heading.

Review your OPF to ensure that it contains all information that will adequately represent your career progression, increased levels of responsibility, recognition, and other promotion precepts.

Include a current dated Curriculum Vitae (CV) in your OPF.

Read the monthly Commissioned Corps E-Bulletin at:

Commissioned Officer Evaluations
The annual Commissioned Officer Effectiveness Report (COER) is one of the most important documents in the career of PHS officers.  The COER is reviewed and consulted whenever an officer is being considered for promotion, assimilation, award, and/or reassignment.  As these actions become more competitive, the need for COERs in your eOPF that accurately reflect your performance is paramount.

Officers who are assigned to non-PHS OpDiv are frequently rated by persons who are completely unfamiliar with the PHS evaluation system.  It is vital for officers to ensure that an accurate rating is given.  They can do this by making certain that the reviewing officials understand the PHS system, duties, and responsibilities.

At the beginning of each evaluation period, review the responsibilities of the position and the rater’s expectations for the year.  Most Federal and non-Federal OpDivs have established performance standards for General Schedule employees.  While the standards do not apply to PHS officers, they can form the basis for an evaluation.  Suggested responsibilities include:

Explain the COER form in detail to the rater and the reviewer.  Discuss your supervisor’s interpretation of each element of the COER.  If performance standards are used, discuss the relationship of each standard to the components of the COER.  Explain the importance of the COER to the rater, paying particular attention to the potential impact of the COER on your career.

Keep accurate records of your various activities, difficulties, issues, telephone calls, meetings, and accomplishments.

To avoid surprises at the end of the year, routinely meet with the rater to discuss your performance to date.  A one-half to one hour meeting every month works best. Meetings will allow you and the rater to identify any weaknesses and to implement corrective actions thus avoiding any negative impact on your evaluation.  The importance of an atmosphere of cooperation in these meetings cannot be overemphasized.

The COER is completed online then forwarded to your rater within the designated time period.  Take the time to explain the purpose of the COER and the significance of its completion.

As needed, give the rater names and telephone numbers of senior PHS officers with whom the rater can discuss the COER and the effects of the various ratings.

Commissioned Officer Billets
The function of the commissioned officer billet is to describe the relative level of responsibility of a particular role or position.  This is not the same as the General Schedule position description.

A series of standard billets designed to facilitate career progression form the billet system.  Billet scores determine the grade of the billet.  The Commissioned Corps is a rank-in-officer system, rather than a rank-in-job system like the General Schedule.  For example, a qualified 0-5 officer who could supervise other 0-5 officers or possibly some 0-6 officers can permanently fill a 0-6 Branch Chief billet.

Although many nurse officer billets are in the standard billet series, many are also in OpDiv-specific billet series, i.e., job series that are unique to a specific OpDiv mission or OpDiv non-standard billet series, i.e., unique individual jobs.  Nurse Officers may also qualify for multi-disciplinary billets.  These billets may also contain non-nurses, such as scientists, Health Service Officers (HSOs), etc.

Billet descriptions are available online.  Study the standard billet series.  By examining the progressive requirements and responsibilities, you will be better prepared to acquire these billets in the future.  In effect, you can start working on those requirements now.  For example, most senior officer billets require certification and/or graduate level degrees.

Since this information is subject to change, you may wish to contact your OpDiv Commissioned Corps Liaison Officer and the Division of Commissioned Personnel Nurse Staffing Officer for copies of the standard billets and for the most current OpDiv specific data.

Assignments: Civil Service and Commissioned Corps
In the General Schedule system and largely in the Commissioned Corps as well, the nurse initiates most transfers and reassignments.  Typically, job vacancies are advertised under the General Schedule merit promotion plan.  Although qualified General Schedule and Commissioned Officers may apply for these positions, a CO, however qualified, may not be able to apply for all advertised General Schedule positions.  Jobs within USPHS are accessed on the Internet on Direct Access is located at:

Job postings in Direct Access may be viewed through Self Service by following the directions in the PHS Self-Service Procedure Guide located at An overview of Direct Access is located

CO details to organizations outside of the eight PHS OpDivs are usually initiated through the outside organization by request to the Office of the Surgeon General.  Other details may be suggested, advertised, and filled directly by one of the PHS OpDivs.  For more information on CO details, contact the DCP Officer Development Branch.  Ask for the officer responsible for detail assignments. For example, nurses have had long-term assignments with the World Health Organization and short-term assignments in the Caribbean, Kuwait, Somalia, and Eastern Europe.

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Page Last Modified on 3/23/2021

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