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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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Welcome to the Northern Plains Area Personnel Service Section. This page includes useful personnel information, links and staff contact information. We're here to help and encourage you to contact us if you have questions or need additional information.

You can also find additional personnel and job information in our Careers and Outreach, Diversity & Equal Opportunity (ODEO) Service Sections pages.

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Career / Employment Info

Outreach, Diversity, & Equal Opportunity (ODEO)



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Personnel Documents:

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New Employee Orientation:

When new employees come on board, the Orientation Checklist sheets should be used for the  New Employee Orientation session. The checklist consists of the "Checklist for Appointment Documents", "LAO Discussion Items", and "Items for Discussion By Supervisor".

Category 1 scientists need to be fully briefed on the RPES system. Please provide them with a copy of Policy & Procedures 431.3 as well as Manual 431.3.  There is a separate  "Items for Discussion By Supervisor for Category 1 and Category 4 Scientists" which includes discussion of the RPES system and selection of peer groups for Category 1 scientists.

Please destroy all of your current Orientation Checklist documents and replace them with the attached revised copies.

Microsoft Word Documents:

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2013 Performance Plan/IDP Documents

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2012 Performance Appraisal Documents:

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 Performance Appraisal Facts:

Reference:  P&P 418.3

Length of Appraisal Period

Minimum of 90 days and maximum time is 15 months.  Employee must be under standards for a minimum of 90 days before he/she can be rated.

Appraisal Cycle

Effective October 1, 2008 the appraisal cycle for all employees will be October 1 through September 30.

Performance Elements

  • Must have a minimum of three elements and no more that ten
  • At least one element must be critical, but not all elements may be critical
  • Critical elements are given a weight of 2
  • Non-critical elements are given a weight of 1
  • Each element must be described at the Fully Successful level
  • Should be accurate, objective, measurable, attainable and understandable
  • Required elements:
    • Equal Opportunity/Civil Rights (EO/CR)
      • Reference: NPA PM-03-002 (PDF)
      • Required for all employees
      • Stand alone element for those classified as supervisors (usually those with the following included in their title:  Supervisory, Supervisor, Manager, Officer, or Administrator), or those who supervise more than five Federal employees
      • For non-supervisory personnel, this element must be combined with another critical element and cannot be a stand-alone element
      • Specific Goals are required for all Cat 1 personnel in Elements 1 and 2
      • Specific Goals are required for all other personnel at least within the element that contains the Strategic Alignment
    • Alignment to ARS Strategic Plan
    • Performance Plans for Standard Position Descriptions:
      • Administrative Officer
      • Financial Technician
      • Purchasing Agent
      • Program Support Assistant
      • Research Leader
      • Scientist

Appraisal Process

  • Periodic Review - There must be at least one documented periodic review during the performance appraisal period.  This may be accomplished by a discussion between supervisor and employee regarding performance.  Both will then sign and date the cover sheet of the Performance Plan.
    The review should be done with 5-7 months of the beginning of the appraisal period.  The only exception would be if the employee is being rated using the minimum period of 90 days. 
  • Documentation - A written justification is required for any element that is rated "Does Not Meet" and for overall ratings of "Outstanding".
  • Review Process - Ratings must be signed by the second-level supervisor prior to discussion with employee.
  • Employee Certification - Once discussion with employee is complete, employee signs and dates the performance appraisal.  If employee does not sign, the rating is annotated by supervisor giving reason why employee did not sign.  Whether the employee signs or not, this is still the rating of record.

Performance Awards

  • All award recommendations (AD-287-2) must be submitted with the performance appraisal
  • Employees who have been rated as Fully Successful or above are eligible for performance bonus awards
  • All awards must be accompanied by a written justification unless a justification has already been provided for an Outstanding rating
  • A QSI may only be recommended for an employee who received an Outstanding rating
  • An employee may only receive one QSI in a 52-week period and will not be held for processing at a later date
  • Supervisors may consider giving an employee a Time Off Award in lieu of a performance award if the employee has a low leave balance
  • Dr. Blackburn is the approving official for all performance-based awards

Final Process

Once all signatures have been obtained, employee and supervisor should retain copies for their files.  Each completed appraisal package should then be forward to the Area Office.

The appraisal package should be in the following order:

  • Original AD-287-2 (if performance award is to be given)
  • Original AD-43P
  • Justification (for Outstanding rating or award)
  • Original Performance Plan on which the rating was based

Accountability Sheets

Each unit will receive a list of employees who are to be rated for the performance cycle.  This accountability sheet is to be signed and dated by the supervisor to indicate the appraisal has been finished.  If an appraisal was not completed for an employee, there must be a note on the accountability sheet indicating the reason.  These are to be returned with the appraisal packages.

Accountability sheets are also distributed to account for Performance Plans.  This is to be signed and dated by the supervisor to indicate the Performance Plan has been set in place.

Accountability sheets are also distributed to account for Mid Year Reviews.  This is to be signed and dated by the supervisor to indicate the Mid Year Review has been completed.

All original accountability sheets are to be returned to the Area Office.

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Awards Information:

Information for supervisors giving awards:

  • All awards require an attached written justification.
  • All awards must have, as a minimum, the signature of a Recommending Official and Approving Official.
  • For all awards except Time Off and Spot, Dr. Blackburn signs as the Approving Official.  The RL's can sign as Approving Official for Time Off and Spot awards.
  • If an employee receives a rating of "Outstanding", a performance award must be given - either a Quality Step Increase (QSI) or cash award.

Awards Information Links:

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Foreign National Workers and Visitors In ARS Facilities:

All foreign nationals who work/visit in ARS facilities must be reported, regardless of the source of their visa sponsorship, their employer, or how/if they are paid. Weekly reports are to be submitted electronically to the Area Human Resources office for both workers and visitors.


  • Worker: 
    • Any foreign national in ARS facilities for 2 weeks or more. These foreign nationals are generally not ARS employees. However, all foreign national workers require an ARS-230 form submission. In cases where we are hiring a foreign national as a Federal post-doc, the ARS-230 must be submitted and a clearance obtained before any other paperwork can be done.
  • Visitor:
    • Foreign nationals who are in ARS facilities for less than 2 week are considered visitors. They must sign in and out on a log each time they enter/leave the facility.   

Ban on Entry:  

  • Citizens from countries that are on the Department of State's (DOS) list of State Sponsors of terrorism are not permitted in ARS facilities, even as visitors. At present these countries are Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, or Syria. The exception is visits that are sponsored by a Federal Government Agency such as DOS. In such instances, approval MUST be obtained from ARS Homeland Security (ARSHS) prior to the visit. Prior approval MUST be obtained for all non-citizen visitors to BSL-3 or Select Agent facilities.

Microsoft Word Documents:

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Customer Service Plan:


The Northern Plains Area Office is committed to providing quality operational and technical human resource services to its customers. This document addresses the type of services provided, the means of delivering the services, and a method of measuring the quality and effectiveness of these services.

Work Unit Description

The Human Resource Section provides a full range of human resource services to the Northern Plains Area. The unit consists of one Human Resources and Outreach Coordinator, one Program Support Assistant and one temporary student Office Automation Clerk. Our staff provides operational support to the Fort Collins locations and technical support and guidance to the entire Northern Plains Area.

Identification of Customers


  • All employees of the Northern Plains Area
  • Headquarters Human Resources Staff
  • EEO/CR Staff at Headquarters and in other Areas


  • The general public
  • Other Federal Agencies
  • Colleges and Universities

Work Services

The Area Human Resources Section provides a full-range of personnel-related services. These services include:

  • Staffing, classification and personnel actions
  • Employee Benefits - retirement, life and health insurance, Thrift Savings Program (TSP), Office of Workers Compensation Programs (OWCP) and Employee Assistance (EAP)
  • Policy & Special Programs - Pay and Leave; performance management; awards; employee development
  • Employee Relations

The Area staff must be personnel generalists with the ability to answer a broad range of questions. Headquarters staff members are all specialists. The Area provides "one-stop shopping" for our locations when they have questions/concerns.

Code of Conduct

The NPA Human Resources Section is committed to providing quality customer service in a timely and courteous manner. All customers are treated in an honest, open, courteous, respectful and fair manner. Every effort is made to solve employee problems and address concerns in the most expedient and fair manner possible. We work to address concerns and to solve problems while working within the framework of existing laws and regulations. We value the opinions of others and work in a professional manner to achieve the human resource goals of locations and research units. Confidentiality and sensitivity are an absolute requirement of the section.

Organization Performance Standards

Performance standards for all employees contain references/measurements for both quality and quantity of services provided. Because of the high volume of work and small staff we maintain pride in our quality of service.

Employees at all levels of the Area contact us on a daily basis with a myriad of questions. For payroll problems we must query the NFC database and determine the problem and then notify Headquarters to correct the error. We provide service to all levels of the Area in a timely fashion while producing a quality product.

We know our customers well and because of this knowledge we are better able to communicate between the location, Area and Headquarters levels. This results in a better quality of service provided in the most timely fashion.

Partnership Relationship

The Human Resource staff partners with all employees and management staff of ARS, both in the Northern Plains Area and in Headquarters. Successful partnering involves:

  • listening to customers needs
  • being knowledgeable about the agency
  • being accountable for our actions
  • providing quality and timely service
  • be open, honest, courteous, respectful and fair in all contacts
  • be proactive and anticipate customers needs
  • be flexible and innovative in seeking creative, but legal solutions to problems
  • share knowledge with customers and co-workers
  • be easily accessible and able to provide "one stop shopping"
  • protect the rights and benefits of all employees and customers

In order to receive best possible service, customers should:

  • be honest in identifying needs
  • provide complete information in a timely fashion
  • work in cooperation with Area and Headquarters HR staff to prioritize work and understand workloads of others
  • provide feedback on work that is accomplished

Periodic Review and Assessment

Feedback on human resource services and activities will be solicited periodically in a formal manner and is always encouraged in non-formal ways from our customers.

Lynda Jensen - Personnel Assistant

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Last Modified: 8/13/2016
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