This depends on what you mean by move up a few steps and how you are applying. If you are looking to move up steps within a grade or you want to move up one grade, then that is completely feasible. If you are looking to move up more than one grade, you can only do this through a competitive open to all US Citizens type vacancy and you will need to use external recent experience to qualify you.
If you are applying to vacancies that are open to status applicants, you are limited to time in grade requirements and can usually only apply to vacancies within one grade of your highest grade held. Keep in mind that each grade has ten steps to you.
Regardless, you can move from one federal agency to another and get a promotion.
I was a GS-15 in one series, left the government and came back as a GS-11 in a different series and am about to make GS-13. How long before I can move to GS-14 in my current series and can I move back into my old series as a GS-15 or do I have to do the time in grade thing to regain my old rank?
Thanks! Lets say I am currently GS12 step 3. If I switch to another Federal agency, can I negotiate for GS12 Step 5? I was told by HR, that there can only be lateral transfers. Yes, my time in the current grade/step will be carried over along with other benefits/leave etc.