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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Recruitment, Relocation and Retention Just Got Harder

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Back in January 2011, the Office of Personnel Management issued preliminary rules to crack down on incentive payments to recruit, relocate and retain talented federal employees.

More than two years later, these rules will finally take effect.

OPM has finally issued its final rules for implementing the changes to the special bonus programs. The new policies will require agencies to review recruitment bonuses for hard-to-fill jobs annually to ensure the payments are still warranted. An authorized official will have to sign off on the assessment.

Another new provision will require employees receiving relocation payments to remain in their new geographic zone for the duration of their service in the relocated position. OPM clarified in its final rule that it is up to each agency to define the acceptable zone for relocated employees, as well as the documentation necessary to prove the employees have “maintained residency.”

The human resources agency said this requirement is necessary, as employees could otherwise get a new residence in their new location for a short period of time, then move back to their old home while continuing to receive their relocation bonus. Employees can keep their old home as their primary residence, so long as they can prove they have also maintained residence in their new location.

If employees receiving relocation incentives once again relocate for a job that is otherwise difficult to fill, they can keep the payments they already received but must apply for new incentives if they wish to continue receiving the extra cash.

Agencies must now draft a succession plan before offering an employee retention payments. OPM rejected a proposal to require individuals to show proof of another job offer before an agency provides the incentive.

This marks the second step the Obama administration has taken to tighten the purse strings on the “3Rs;” OPM and the Office of Management and Budget issued a directive in 2011 -- which remains in place today -- that spending on recruiting, relocating and retention bonuses cannot exceed 2010 levels.

Federal employees received one small silver lining: OPM adjusted their proposed rules to allow agencies to waive the limitation on recruitment payments to employees “based on a critical agency need.” The proposed rules had set the limit at 25 percent of the employees’ annual salary. 

FEEA Running Out of Money

Roughly 400 furloughed federal employees have received more than $225,000 in no-interest loans, thanks to the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund.

FEEA is now strapped for cash, the organization said, and may have to begin turning away feds in need.

This is bad news for the more than 500 applicants whose requests for loans are currently pending at the charity group. FEEA is still receiving applications every day.

"So far, we have been able to help all qualified applicants who have come through the door," said FEEA Executive Director Steve Bauer, "but that may not be the case by the end of this month if we don't receive significant new donations.”

Bauer added the 2008 financial crash, on top of several consecutive years of pay freezes, have increased demand for FEEA’s emergency loan program. He warned the current wave of furloughs could be “the straw that breaks us.”

Donations can be made to the organization via credit card on FEEA's website at www.feea.org/Give. Donations via check made out to "FEEA" may be sent to: FEEA Headquarters, 3333 S. Wadsworth Blvd., Suite 300, Lakewood, CO 80227.

Eric Katz joined Government Executive in the summer of 2012 after graduating from The George Washington University, where he studied journalism and political science. He has written for his college newspaper and an online political news website and worked in a public affairs office for the Navy’s Military Sealift Command. Most recently, he worked for Financial Times, where he reported on national politics.

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