OPM refines standards for reductions in force

The Office of Personnel Management on Monday issued final regulations that will allow agencies to group employees based on their pay system during downsizings.

The regulations, published in the Federal Register, set new standards for determining the pool of employees who will compete with one another to keep their jobs during a reduction in force. Current regulations require agencies to define competitive areas on the basis of geography or where employees fit within the organization. But OPM's new regulations will let agencies separate out employees in pay-for-performance systems.

OPM proposed the change in a Federal Register notice in April. OPM said as agencies move portions of their workforces into alternative pay systems, inconsistencies could develop.

"A payband personnel system may also include specific staffing, classification, pay and performance management provisions that differ significantly from the [General Schedule] and/or [Federal Wage System]," the notice said. "These distinctions between payband and other positions could be magnified when all of the positions are included in the same RIF competitive area."

Agencies use official position descriptions to determine the duties, responsibilities and qualifications of employees involved in a RIF. But agencies must take extra steps to make the job descriptions of workers in pay-for-performance systems comparable to those of GS or FWS employees.

"A separate, competitive area for payband positions eliminates the requirement to create position descriptions that must conform to those in another personnel system," OPM said.

In a letter sent to OPM in May, Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, urged the agency not to enact the rule change, noting that it limits employees' rights to move into the position of another employee with less seniority.

"By allowing agencies to treat paybands as separate competitive areas, the competitive area is smaller and does not include other grade scales or organizational units, and thus, there are fewer positions into which RIFed employees can bump or retreat," she wrote.

Kelley also noted that the regulations would make it easier for agencies to improperly target specific groups of employees, including those with a disproportionately large number of union members.

"OPM stated that it had no way of knowing how the design of this proposed rule would actually impact employees involved in a RIF," she wrote. "Clearly, OPM has failed to consider the adverse consequences that employees might experience."

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