General schedule employees in permanent positions (including those to which the employee has been promoted on a temporary or term basis for at least one year) are eligible for within grade increases, unless they are denied for poor performance, after the following waiting periods: 52 weeks for advancement to steps 2-4; 104 weeks for advancement to steps 5-7; and 156 weeks for advancement to steps 8-10.

Wage grade employees performing acceptably advance to the second step after six months, to the third after another 18 months and to the fourth and fifth after another two years each at their prior steps.


A WGI waiting period begins upon first appointment in the federal service, receipt of an “equivalent increase,” or after a period of nonpay status and/or a break in service in excess of 52 calendar weeks. Civilian employment in any branch of the federal government (executive, legislative, or judicial) or with a government corporation is creditable service in the computation of a waiting period.

Service credit is given for periods of annual, sick, and other leave with pay and service under a temporary or term appointment. See 5 CFR 531.406 for special rules regarding the crediting of military service, time in a non-pay status, time during which an employee receives injury compensation, and certain other periods of service.

Within grade increases not meant to be “routine”

OPM has stressed that within-grade raises must be linked to performance and “should never be viewed as automatic or routine.”

Various special pay authorities allow agencies flexibility in assigning step levels to employees.


Also, a “quality step increase” of one step can be awarded under some agency performance incentive programs. A QSI is a faster-than-normal WGI used to reward employees at any GS grade level who display high quality performance. To be eligible for a QSI, employees must:

  • be below step 10 of their grade level;
  • have received the highest rating available under their performance appraisal system;
  • have demonstrated sustained performance of high quality; and
  • have not received a QSI within the preceding 52 consecutive calendar weeks.

A QSI does not affect the timing of an employee’s next regular WGI unless the QSI places the employee in step 4 or step 7 of his or her grade. In these cases, the employee becomes subject to the full waiting period for the new step—i.e., 104 weeks or 156 weeks, respectively—and the time an employee has already waited counts towards the next increase. The employee receives the full benefit of receiving a WGI at an earlier date and has not lost any time creditable towards his or her next WGI.

Where pay banding is used, steps are eliminated and so are within-grade increases, including quality step increases. Typically, funds that otherwise would have been used for those increases become part of the performance pay pool.