Employment - Frequently Asked Questions

What does the Office of the Federal Public Defender (FPD) for the District of Oregon do?
The Federal Public Defender provides legal defense for those who have been charged with a federal offense but cannot afford an attorney.
Here are some YouTube Videos that provide a high level view of our office’s work: Role of the Federal Defender
Federal Criminal Trial Process
Criminal Justice Act
What kinds of cases does your office focus on?
We represent clients in any federal criminal matter if the qualify. Types of charges and incidents we represent clients for include but are not limited to: Firearms related charges, drug and drug conspiracy charges, sex crimes, bank robbery, offenses committed on tribal land, charges involving national security and terrorism, fraud and financial charges, federal probation violations, specialty courts, civil disobedience and protestor cases related to federal properties.
Is this a Federal government job?
Yes, the Federal Public Defender’s office is part of the Judicial Branch of the United States government.
We are employees of U.S. Courts Administration. We are hired by the Federal Public Defender for the District of Oregon, who is appointed to a 4-year term by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals of the United States Courts.
Is the FPD Office part of the Department of Justice?
No. We are federal employees, but we do not work for the President of the United States or the Department of Justice.
The Judiciary branch is legally separate and co-equal to the Executive branch (the President, the DOJ, ICE, DHS, the military etc.) and the Legislative branch (Congress and their staff.) Being part of the U.S. Courts creates some interesting and odd constitutional implications, which potential employees should be aware of, some of which are listed in this FAQ.
Can non-citizens work for the FPD Office?
You don’t have to be a citizen to work for the Federal Public Defender’s Office, there are some restrictions though:
By federal law, to be eligible, candidates must: be U.S. Citizens, or owe their allegiance to the U.S., or be admitted as a refugee or granted asylum and seeking citizenship, or be lawful permanent resident "actively seeking citizenship." Actively seeking citizenship in this case, specifically means that a lawful permanent resident is planning to apply for citizenship as soon as they are eligible, or has already applied for citizenhip within 6 months of becoming eligible. 
See https://www.uscourts.gov/careers/search-judiciary-jobs/citizenship-requi...
Should I be worried about the background check?
Applicants with concerns about their potential background check results are encouraged to bring their concerns up early in the hiring process. Omitting, falsifying or covering up information is grounds for immediately ending any volunteer or employment relationships with the office of the Federal Public Defender.   
As part of the late stages of the candidate selection process and prior to making job offers, our office will call applicant references and previous employers and will conduct a search of publicly available information, including social media profiles.
Hiring is provisional pending the successful completion of a fingerprint-based background check, and for some positions a more in-depth background investigation. As a federal employer, our background checks are more detailed than most private employers, and include arrest info (if any) and other details. Only the Personnel Administrator and the Defender see the results of these background checks. 
We are able to address background check issues on a case-by-case basis, depending on the requirements of the position, and are open to discussing the potential results of a background check with applicants. Potential background check issues should be brought up with the Personnel Administrator or Defender.
What is “at will” employment status? “At will” employment means you can resign at any time and your employer can end your employment at any time for any legal reason. “At will” employment is the common employment status for most private sector jobs in Oregon and most states in the U.S.
Why are FPD-Oregon employees “at will” if they are federal employees?
Since we are part of the Judiciary, an independent branch of the federal government, our benefits and positions are almost the same as other Federal employees. But our at-will employment status is one of the important differences. In addition to being at-will employees, our employment is also considered “excepted service,” and does not carry the tenure rights of the competitive Civil Service that some Executive branch employees receive.
What do I do if I think I’ve been discriminated against in the hiring process?
You can report it, request support, or get confidential advice from our office’s Personnel Administrator or Administrative Officer via the oregon_personnel@fd.org email; or the Ninth Circuit Office of Workplace relations.
Volunteers, applicants, contractors, as well as employees are able to use these tools to address their concerns.
More information can be found at the Ninth Circuit’s Office of Workplace Relations website: https://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/content/view_workplace.php?pk_id=0000000982
What is the work schedule?
Our office is open from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Monday through Friday, except federal holidays. Our office closes on occasion for inclement weather or other administrative reasons, and the Defender can grant administrative leave to eligible staff on these occasions.
How much flexibility is there in the schedule? Can I work from home?
Because of COVID-19, we have learned more than ever about telework and flexible scheduling. Most positions in our office are eligible for up to two days a week of telework, depending on performance.  Generally, new staff are expected to work in the office for their first six weeks.
Exceptions to this policy are currently in place due to COVID, but some in-office time is likely needed for new employees.
How does compensation work?
The Federal Public Defender rarely hires staff on an hourly basis. Such staff are short-term only, and not eligible for benefits.
Since we get paid biweekly (every two weeks), we receive 26 paychecks per year.
Most of our employees are paid on an annual salary basis based on the “JSP” or Judiciary Salary Plan, a salary scale that almost matches the “GS” or General Schedule, which governs most Federal Employees pay.
Assistant Federal Public Defenders (APFDs) use a separate “Administratively Determined” schedule that varies by region in accordance with the locality adjustments of the JSP/GS salary plans.
For specific Judiciary Salary Plan charts by region, look for Table RUS for our Eugene and Medford offices and Table POR for our Portland office at the US Courts JSP page: https://www.uscourts.gov/careers/compensation/judiciary-salary-plan-pay-rates
The Judiciary Salary Plan, or JSP, is based off of the federal GS schedule, and operates very similarly with regard to increases, there “Step” and “Grade” increases that essentially work the same way as the GS version. There are nearly automatic step increases that occur on a schedule that varies depending the current step. An employee that is at steps 1, 2, or 3 is eligible to receive a within-grade increase (WGI) to the next step after 52 weeks of service, as long as their performance is satisfactory. In steps 4, 5, and 6, the waiting period is 2 years, and in steps 7, 8, an 9, the waiting period is 3 years.
AFPDs and JSP staff are eligible for performance-based increases, independent of the WGI, as well as Congressionally funded “Employment Cost Index” increases every January. 
How are salaries set?
Initial salary is set based on (1) years of experience, both general and specific, and (2) job descriptions in the national Defender Offices Classification System (DOCS), which are made available to candidates during the hiring process. Previous salary rates as well as previous duties are used to determine the starting salary offer. An AFPD’s initial salary is based on experience per the AFPD schedule and equity within our offices with other AFPD’s with similar experience profiles in our offices.
Initial pay for transfers from other Federal Defender Organizations is subject to limitations based on U.S. Courts Administrative Office policy.
How do raises work?
Raises are subject to Congressional budgetary authorization, but generally include (1) annual cost-of- living adjustments (COLA) [if approved and budgeted], (2) scheduled increases, and (3) merit-based grade increases per the JSP. Promotions to higher grades are dependent on the DOCS job description’s minimum criteria, and the overall performance of the staff member.
AFPD raises are subject to Congressional budgetary authorization, but generally include annual COLA increases. Merit- and experience-based raises are given based on regular performance evaluations every 1 to 2 years, subject to budget constraints, and are generally set to match the equivalent increases that graded staff in similar ranges would receive.
Why is direct deposit required?
Federal employee payroll is handled centrally, and Federal employee salary is payable only by direct deposit.
What do I do if I don’t have a bank account?
If you have difficulty with banks and banking, we can provide some support and potentially point you in the direction of services that can help you set up a bank account.
What are the other benefits? Benefits include: public transportation reimbursements (suspended during COVID), paid annual, sick and parental leave; health insurance; dental and vision insurance; a “defined benefit,” or annuity, retirement plan (i.e., the Federal Employee Retirement Plan (FERS)); a defined-contribution retirement plan (similar to a 401k or IRA) (i.e., the Thrift Saves Plan (TSP)); and a group life insurance plan (FEGLI).
Who is eligible for these other benefits?
All salaried employees hired for more than 90 days are eligible for most federal employee benefits. Long-term, part-time employees with regular schedules are eligible for most benefits on a pro-rated basis.
Do I get health care coverage?
All salaried employees hired for more than 90 days are eligible for health insurance through Federal Employee Health Benefits program (FEHB), which offers many different options. For more information, visit one the links below:
What about dental and vision coverage?
All salaried employees hired for more than 90 days are eligible for Dental and Vision Insurance through the Federal Employee Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP). For more information, visit one the links below:
What are the life insurance options?
All salaried employees hired for more than 90 days are eligible for Federal Employee Group Life Insurance (FEGLI). Employees are automatically enrolled for a benefit equal to their annual salary rounded up to the nearest thousand, plus $2000. Additional coverage may be added, and coverage may be waived. For more information, visit one of these links:
What are the retirement plans?
All salaried employees hired for more than 90 days are eligible for two retirement plans.
First, FERS, the Federal Employee Retirement Plan, a “defined benefit,” or annuity plan. This plan has a 5-year vesting requirement. We are required to contribute to this plan. For more info, visit these links:
Second, the Thrift Savings Plan or TSP, a “defined contribution” (similar to a 401k or IRA) retirement plan, and the government matches up to 5% of our annual salary in contributions. Matching funds are subject to a 3 year vesting requirement with some qualifications. For more info, visit these links:
What about time off? Holidays, vacation, sick leave, parental leave etc.?
We get 11 Federal Holidays per year.
We accrue 4 hours of Sick Leave every pay period, or 104 hours per year, with certain limits this leave can be used for bereavement and to care for family members.
Annual Leave, or paid vacation, accrues at varying rate based on tenure with a Federal Defender Office or other qualifying federal employment.
Starting Annual Leave accrual rate is 4 hours per pay period, or 104 hours per year.
Employees with more the 3 years of full-time qualifying employment accrue 6 hours per pay period, with a bonus 4 at year-end for a round 160 hours per year.
Employees with more than 15 years of qualifying experience accrue at a rate of 8 hours per pay period, or 208 hours per year.
Annual leave balances are subject to an annual “roll-over” cap of 240 hours, subject to reinstatement under certain conditions.
Employees with greater than one year of full time or full time equivalent service with our office are subject to FMLA laws and the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act, and receive 12 weeks of paid parental leave, subject to judiciary policy provisions, as well as standard FMLA leave protections.
Finally, our empoyees are eligible for Federal Paid Parental Leave under the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act: After one year of employment, regular, full time staff are eligible for 12 weeks of additional paid leave in connection with the birth or placement (for adoption or foster care) of a child, with certain restrictions.  
For more information on benefits in general:
Visit the US Courts Employee Benefits Homepage: https://www.uscourts.gov/careers/benefits