"Compensatory time off for travel may be earned by an employee only for time spent in a travel status away from the employee's official duty station when such time is not otherwise compensable," the rules stated.
The final regulation will go into effect May 17, according to a notice published in the Federal Register. OPM reviewed comments submitted by agency officials, union representatives and members of the public in response to a 2005 draft proposal.
The National Treasury Employees Union, which had recommended that employees be compensated for work-related holiday travel, expressed disappointment.
"NTEU's efforts led to establishment of this important program for federal employees, and I would have hoped that OPM, in its rule-making, would apply it in the broadest possible context, consistent with Congress's intent," said Colleen Kelley, the union's president.
The 2004 Federal Workforce Flexibility Act allows agencies to compensate employees with time off for business travel they conduct outside of normal working hours.
"The need for all this resulted from inconsistent approaches by agencies for either granting or not granting comp time," said Mike Orenstein, a spokesman for OPM. "These rules put into regulation what is allowed and during what periods."
Under the final rules, the compensatory leave will be credited in direct proportion to the amount of time spent on authorized travel for work, and agencies will be responsible for managing their policies.
The regulations apply only to workers who are defined as employees under Title 5 regulations. This excludes Senior Executive Service personnel, Foreign Service Officers and wage grade employees, the notice said.
OPM also revised the definition of "travel" to clarify that time spent traveling in connection with union activities is not creditable for the purpose of earning compensatory time off. Also, travel time accrued as a result of a change of job or location is not eligible, the notice said.
The new rules also clarify that an employee must use his or her accrued compensatory time off within 26 pay periods after it is earned. The rules permit the head of an agency to extend this time limit if an emergency prevents an employee from using the benefit.
Additionally, in a departure from the draft proposal, employees do not have to exclude time spent for meals from the computation used to determine time off. It is not practical for agencies to make refined distinctions between employees who choose to eat at the terminal restaurant and those who choose to eat while walking or waiting at the gate, the notice said.
During the comment period, some agency officials expressed concern that employees who travel internationally on a regular basis would rapidly accrue compensatory time off, and suggested that OPM limit the amount of comp time an employee can earn. But OPM argued that any such change would have to be made by Congress.
"NTEU will be working with agency management to ensure that federal employees enjoy the full benefits envisioned in the compensatory time program," Kelley said.