OPM proposes new rules on higher pay for hard-to-fill jobs

The Office of Personnel Management has proposed new regulations to help more agencies use a flexibility allowing higher pay for hard-to-fill positions.

OPM's proposal, published Wednesday in the Federal Register, provides a regulatory framework for agencies to obtain permission to offer better pay for positions that require specific expertise in the scientific, technical, professional or administrative fields.

The flexibility, designed to help attract and retain talented workers, is "underutilized," the notice stated.

OPM is in charge of granting permission for agencies to use the flexibility, in consultation with the Office of Management and Budget. Once agencies obtain the authority, they can set the rate of basic pay for a critical position up to that for level I of the Executive Schedule -- $186,600 for fiscal 2007. Agency heads can seek additional approval to offer higher pay rates if they justify the need to do so, the notice said.

Employees who receive critical position pay have no other changes in their conditions of employment, such as eligibility for performance awards and retention and relocation incentives, the notice said. But by law, such employees may not be eligible for locality pay.

"OPM staff can only speculate that the ban on locality pay for such positions was in consideration of the fact that critical pay already provided a higher rate of pay for the position than otherwise would apply," said Nancy Kichak, associate director of strategic human resources policy for OPM.

The proposal seeks to clarify what information agencies must provide to OPM to obtain the critical pay authority, including the position title, the pay plan and grade level, occupational series and geographic location of the position and the current salary of the position or the incumbent.

The proposal also requires agencies to submit annual reports to OPM regarding their use of the critical pay authority and whether such authority is still essential to the agency's ability to recruit and retain talented workers.

Kichak added that no General Schedule employees currently receive the critical pay. She said it can take several months for agencies to obtain approval, depending on the quality of the material submitted, the suitability of the position or candidate and other factors specific to the request.

Written comments on the proposal must be submitted by June 25, and can be sent by e-mail to pay-performance-policy@opm.gov.

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