Agencies' top tech employees eligible for public-private sector swap

The Office of Personnel Management has unveiled rules setting up a program to allow high-performing information technology employees at the GS-11 grade or higher to take temporary positions in the private sector to enhance their skills.

The Federal Information Technology Exchange Program, authorized by the 2002 E-Government Act, allows agencies to send top-rated IT workers to private companies for training and development. OPM published the final set of rules in the Federal Register Monday. The program becomes effective Sept. 14.

Under the rules, agencies must consider the benefits to the government in sending an employee to a private firm. The personal desires or needs of an employee are not to be a primary consideration, the rules state.

Senior Executive Service members are eligible; temporary employees are not. Opportunities must be publicized, but the details of how to do that are left up to agencies. The program concludes Dec. 17, 2007, but employees loaned out for a time frame extending past this date may finish their time in the private sector.

According to the rules, the length of a loan is limited to a minimum of three months to one year. Three-month extensions may be granted for no more than a year and an employee may not be detailed for more than a total of six years over the course of a career unless approved by the agency chief.

A written agreement among the agency, the private company and the employee involved must include required duties, length of loan and extension terms. A development plan for the employee must be written into the agreement, including the technical skills that the employee is expected to learn.

Those loaned to private organizations keep all rights and benefits that come with their government employment status, the rules state. Agencies are not permitted to loan workers with the intention of going around personnel ceiling limits, and are not required to issue a vacancy announcement when an employee is loaned.

The OPM rule defines an "exceptional employee" as one rated at the highest levels of the appropriate appraisal system and who demonstrates continued excellence significantly above expectations. The Office of Management and Budget definition of an IT employee is used for the purposes of the program.

Private sector groups interested in participating must register with the Central Contractor Registration Database. Nongovernment employees interested in being loaned to agencies must meet federal citizen requirements for government employment.

A set of proposed rules for the program was published on Jan. 15, 2004, in the Federal Register, and comments from eight federal agencies, a professional organization, a labor organization and nearly two dozen individuals were taken into consideration in crafting the final rule.

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