Some Agencies Directed to Consider Temporary Employees for Permanent Promotions

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Some agencies must now consider their seasonal employees when making internal promotions, according to new guidance from the Obama administration on a law the president signed in 2015.

Roughly 10,000 temporary federal employees can benefit from the enactment of the Land Management Workforce Flexibility Act, for which the Office of Personnel Management recently issued preliminary guidance. Obama signed the bill into law in August after two decades of lawmakers raising concerns about the federal agencies’ inability to convert seasonal workers into permanent employees.

While OPM still plans to issue formal regulations on the law, it provided questions and answers for the agencies that must reform their hiring practices. The new system applies to positions in which the hiring agency is only accepting applications from inside its own workforce and does not create a non-competitive hiring authority, OPM clarified.

Instead, employees on temporary appointment at the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Indian Affairs Bureau and Reclamation Bureau are eligible for internal, merit promotions currently only available to regular, full-time workers. When considering seasonal employees -- those on a temporary appointment of less than one year or those on a term appointment between one and four years -- for a permanent position, the hiring agency must adhere to merit promotion principles and collective bargaining agreements.

That process should lead to agencies ranking seasonal employees as they do other qualified candidates. Temporary employees can apply to an opening at any component of their department, meaning, for example, a National Park Service worker can apply for a permanent promotion anywhere in the Interior Department. They should not receive any preference in hiring, OPM said, including if the applicant is a veteran.

The hiring advantage applies to both current and former seasonal employees, so long as the most recent separation was within two years of the application and was not due to misconduct or performance. The temporary worker applying for a permanent job must have performed at an “acceptable” level, OPM said, at each of their previous appointments. Applicants must have worked on a temporary basis for at least two years to qualify for the hiring perk.

The new law provides no benefit for a worker applying for another temporary position. OPM asked relevant agencies to provide input on how they can notify seasonal employees of permanent positions as they become available.

Advocates of the reform have called the law a win-win, benefiting both workers seeking more stable employment and agencies looking to reduce turnover and associated training costs.

The implementation of the law could come as a boon at a time when the Agriculture Department has been reeling from record levels of wildfires. Seasonal firefighters will likely be among the biggest beneficiaries from the law. Many of those promoted to “permanent” positions would still only work part of the year, but would be placed on furlough status while not working rather than let go and be eligible for prorated benefits.

The law will not cure all that ails USDA’s wildfire fighting, however, as Congress once again failed last year to fundamentally reform the way the suppression is funded. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said last month he was “deeply disappointed” by the congressional inaction, but vowed to no longer raid the department’s other accounts to pay for firefighting. 

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