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Hurricane Season May Entitle Feds to Advance Pay, Enable Agencies to Skip Hiring Procedures

OPM puts out guidance to help employees and agencies deal with extreme weather.

The Obama administration is reminding agencies they have an array of flexibilities to address emergency workforce needs during hurricane season.

The Office of Personnel Management urged agencies to “make advance preparations” for various measures they may need to undertake to assist employees affected by extreme weather or to fill gaps in their workforces. OPM noted flexibilities ranging from pay and benefit adjustments to telework options to emergency hiring authorities.

Employees affected by hurricanes may be entitled to advanced pay, evacuation stipends, excused absences and other benefits as laid out in a 2008 memorandum. If the president declares an emergency, federal employees can donate their vacation days to colleagues adversely affected by the storms. Agencies must have up-to-date policies for leave donation, however, and OPM encouraged them to ensure those guidelines were firmly established. Employees with telework agreements can also telework on their non-regularly scheduled days throughout emergency situations, OPM said, adding the details of those circumstances should be spelled out in each agreement.

Agencies can make 30-day appointments to fill “a critical hiring need” in an excepted service position, regardless of the grade. OPM reminded agencies of the current positions authorized for direct hiring -- meaning applicants can be on-boarded without going through the normal vetting and preference processes -- such as medical officers, information technology managers and acquisition personnel. Officials can also contact OPM to ask for direct-hire authority for agency-specific positions in support of relief and recovery efforts.

Direct hires can be placed in regular, full-time; conditional; term; or temporary positions.

To further address potential workforce gaps created during hurricane season, agencies can bring back retirees for one year or less. The redeployed workers would not be subject to the normal salary deduction to offset their annuities. Employees who had taken a buyout, however, may have to repay it. OPM may give agencies permission to keep retirees on staff for more than a year in certain circumstances.

Agencies can make temporary appointments of less than 120 days, which OPM said may help identify “well-qualified displaced federal employees who are available for immediate employment.” They can bump employees temporarily into Senior Executive Service positions and contract with private sector temp firms for up to eight months.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently announced there is a 45 percent chance of a “near-normal” hurricane season -- which lasts from June 1 through Nov. 30 -- and a 30 percent chance of an “above-normal” season.

OPM recently put out guidance encouraging employees to telework and take advantage of other flexibilities during extreme heat.