NAO 202-351: NOAA Competitive Areas for Reduction-in-Force

Issued 03/30/90; Effective 03/19/90; as amended 02/24/00; Reviewed Last: 06/18/15


.01 This Order interprets Federal Personnel Manual (FPM) guidance for distinguishing which NOAA organizational units are headquarters and which are field, and, where these designations are used for reduction-in-force (RIF) purposes, specifying which organizational units belong in which category.

.02 5 CFR 351.402(b) states: "The minimum competitive area in the departmental service (headquarters) is a bureau, major command, directorate or other equivalent major subdivision of an agency within the local commuting area. In the field, the minimum competitive area is an activity under separate administration within the local commuting area."

.03 These definitions are elaborated in FPM Chapter 351. Organizations which meet the criteria for minimum competitive area are (1) separately organized and (2) clearly distinguished from others in operation, work function, staff, and personnel management. Merit System Protection Board (MSPB) decisions interpret personnel management or "personnel authority" to mean "the authority to make decisions to establish or abolish positions, to assign duties, and to take personnel actions, rather than the authority to issue the documents by which these decisions are effected." (Coleman v. Dep't. of Education, 21 MSPR 574, 577 (1984). Hence, while Line Offices would be the smallest headquarters organizations that could qualify as competitive areas in a commuting area - equivalent to a bureau, major command, or directorate - each field component whose chief was given the authority to make such decisions could be designated a competitive area. NOAA management has not chosen to do so.

.04 The most recent designations of competitive areas for NOAA, set forth in Appendix C of Department Administrative Order (DAO) 202-351 specify two types of competitive areas for each Line Office in a commuting area: headquarters or field. There are no other distinctions. All field units of a Line Office in a commuting area undergoing a RIF compete, regardless of reporting lines.



01. Headquarters units in NOAA are those units which have programmatic responsibility for given functions for the entire Line Office.

02. Field units in NOAA are those units which carry out the functions of the headquarters units for a geographic area.

03. Local Commuting Area means the geographic area that usually constitutes one area for employment purposes. It includes any population center (or two or more neighboring ones) and the surrounding localities in which people live and can reasonably be expected to travel back and forth daily to their usual employment.

04. Career paths in NOAA are a group of occupations similar in type of work, customary requirements for formal training or credentials, and patterns of advancement. The four career paths are defined as follows:


01. Line Offices may choose to distinguish competitive areas of their units from one another, within a commuting area, on the basis of whether those units are headquarters or field units.

02. Line Offices may propose changes to competitive area designations at any time, but not within 90 days of the effective date of a reduction-in-force, unless the Department has secured the prior approval of Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Any proposed changes should be sent to the Chief, Personnel Division (AD2) for review and coordination of the approval process specified in DAO 202-351.

03. ASC Personnel Offices will enter into the National Finance Center (NFC) Position Management System database the appropriate code (headquarters or field) for each position, except where the organization does not use the distinction. In those cases, the field may be left blank.

04. To identify competing employees in a commuting area, ASC Personnel Offices will request retention registers from NFC by geographic area code.

05. Where an ASC Personnel Office serves the large majority of competing employees (75% or more), that Office will conduct the RIF, regardless of the organizational unit in which the conditions engendering the RIF were initiated.

06. The ASC Personnel Office conducting the RIF will request Official Personnel Folders or copies of SF-171's from the other ASC Personnel Office, as necessary, in order to determine displacement, bump, and retreat rights.

07. The Office of the Under Secretary (including Staff Offices), the Office of Administration, NESDIS, and NMFS management have determined that all of their respective employees within a commuting area are in the same competitive area. NOS, OAR, and NWS distinguish between their sub-units on the basis of whether they are headquarters or field units.

08. List of Competitive Areas for Demonstration Project Organizations - positions are located in NESDIS, NMFS and OAR.

09. Additionally, the following organizations located outside the Washington Metropolitan Area have been determined, in consultation with management, to be Departmental (headquarters) and, therefore, not in competition with field organizations of the same Line Office in a given commuting area:

a. National Ocean Service

  1. Hazardous Materials Response Branch, Ocean Assessments Division, Seattle, WA
  2. Pacific Office, Coastal Estuarine Assessments Branch, Ocean Assessments Division, Seattle, WA (branch name is a misnomer)

b. National Weather Service

  1. National Severe Storms Forecast Center, Kansas City, MO
  2. National Reconditioning Center, Kansas City, MO
  3. NWS Training Center, Kansas City, MO
  4. National Hurricane Center, Miami, FL
  5. National Data Buoy Center, NSTL, MS
  6. NEXRAD Operational Support Facility, Norman, OK

10. To illustrate, in Kansas City, employees in NWS organizations which are designated HQ will compete with each other in any RIF, but will not compete with employees in the Regional Office which is designated FLD.




Director, Office of Administration

Office of Primary Interest:
Office of Administration
Personnel Division (AD2)