Firefighters are among the temporary workers whose benefits could change.

Firefighters are among the temporary workers whose benefits could change. Neal Herbert / Interior Department

OPM Is Planning Major Changes for Temporary and Seasonal Federal Employees

Changes would enable them to stay in government longer and provide new benefits.

The Office of Personnel Management is planning a series of changes for non-permanent federal employees, creating new avenues for those workers to stay in government longer. 

One regulation OPM plans to issue next year would allow agencies to make appointments of up to 10 years for employees in certain science and engineering positions. OPM said the proposal, which it plans to formally kick off in January, will give agencies more flexibility to hire for scientific projects that “span several years, yet are not permanent.” Those projects are often limited by funding restrictions and rely upon non-career employees.

OPM included the details of its plans in the Trump administration’s fall Unified Agenda, released by the Office of Management and Budget this week to detail the regulatory actions planned in the coming year at each federal agency. Anthony Marucci, an OPM spokesman, said the agency was aiming to "provide agencies with the tools they need to succeed in their mission." He said the scientists hired under the new authority would not be career employees, but would be entitled to due process protections after a probationary period. 

A second regulation, expected next month, would enable agencies to keep seasonal employees on the rolls longer than existing policy allows. Currently, agencies are prohibited from rehiring the same seasonal employees if they have already met their caps for the year. Agencies have indicated to OPM, however, that this has inhibited them from more fluidly dealing with seasonal issues that may persist longer than that cap. OPM noted wildfire season, for example, is lasting longer than ever before. 

“This requires temporary employees to work longer periods to help combat this crisis which is of an increasingly variable duration,” OPM wrote in its summary of the forthcoming regulation. “The current regulatory limitations hamper an agency’s ability to reemploy trained and experienced staff needed for mission-critical responses for situations such as this.”

President Trump previewed these changes in his fiscal 2020 budget proposal, when he said his administration would seek to use more temporary hiring to bring “highly qualified experts” to the federal government and expand the limits of temporary and term hires. The White House also included in its budget a proposal to eliminate retirement pensions for term employees in favor of more generous contributions to the Thrift Savings Plan, the government's version of a 401(k) retirement savings plan.

Another forthcoming proposal, however, would make temporary and seasonal employees eligible for dental and vision insurance benefits for the first time. Non-permanent feds only won regular health care under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program in 2015. OPM said the regulation would bring Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program eligibility requirements in line with FEHBP. 

Earlier this year, OPM proposed legislation to Congress that would make it easier for temporary employees to get hired into normal positions.

Other new rules OPM anticipates include enabling direct hire authority during emergencies, removing administrative law judges from the competitive service as Trump called for via executive order and a regulation to finally implement a 2016 law that sought to overhaul federal agencies’ use of administrative leave.

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