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

New Recruitment Incentives, Agriculture Telework Policy Delayed, and More

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The Office of Personnel Management announced updates last week to how agencies can offer recruitment and retention incentives to federal employees and candidates for government jobs.

Agencies currently have the authority to offer recruitment, relocation and retention incentives to current or prospective federal workers up to 25 percent of the position’s annual rate of base pay or up to 100 percent of one year of base pay spread over four years without preapproval from OPM. Additionally, agencies can offer incentives up to 10 percent of annual base pay for groups of critical employees without OPM approval.

But in order to meet a “critical agency need,” departments can request waivers to these incentive limits. In an effort to simplify and expedite the approval process, OPM officials have updated templates for agency waiver requests, and posted the forms on its website.

“The fillable templates are intended to help agencies include all of the required information and facilitate the request and approval process,” wrote Mark Reinhold, OPM’s associate director for employee services.

Meanwhile, the Agriculture Department has reportedly delayed enforcement of a policy announced last month that would significantly curb employees’ ability to telework.

Last month, the agency rolled back an Obama administration directive allowing full-time telework, instructing employees that they must limit their use of the practice to twice per two-week pay period, or effectively once per week.

But Federal News Radio reported Tuesday that the rule, which was to take full effect Monday, has been delayed an additional 30 days, following concerns from employees.

“All employees who are able to comply with the requirements of the new telework directive are encouraged to do so this pay period,” officials said in a memo obtained by Federal News Radio. “If you need some additional flexibility due to an extenuating circumstance, we encourage you to discuss your situation with your supervisor, who can approve additional telework days for employees on an infrequent basis.”

In retirement news, the federal government’s 401(k)-style retirement savings program encouraged participants to stay the course following a volatile three days for the stock market. After months of sustained growth, the Dow Industrial Average dropped more than 600 points on Feb. 2, and fell another 1,175 points on Monday. Tuesday saw more wild swings, as the market dropped an additional 500 points before recovering and ending in the black.

In an email to participants, the Thrift Savings Plan stressed that when saving for retirement, people should not react hastily, and instead keep focused on long-term financial goals.

“The stock and bond markets can change rapidly,” the agency wrote. “By the time you react to the situation, the market may be moving in the opposite direction, and you could miss out on significant gains. Remember that investing for retirement is for the long-term. Try not to let short-term market movements steer you off course.”

Officials highlighted an online fact sheet, entitled Stick to Your Plan, which stresses the importance of committing to a long-term investment strategy rather than reacting to individual changes in financial markets.

Erich Wagner is a staff correspondent covering pay, benefits and other federal workforce issues. He joined Government Executive in the spring of 2017 after extensive experience writing about state and local issues in Maryland and Virginia, most recently as editor-in-chief of the Alexandria Times. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

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