Mark Van Scyoc /

OPM Moves to Allow Agencies to Appoint Some Employees Into 10-Year Temporary Jobs

Trump administration says regulation would provide key flexibility, but it could also circumvent normal hiring procedures and benefits.

The Trump administration is looking to allow agencies to hire employees in certain positions on a temporary basis for up to 10 years, more than doubling the current cap limiting the assignments for those workers. 

The Office of Personnel Management issued a proposed rule on Monday that would enable federal agencies to appoint employees in STEM jobs, or positions on temporary or new projects or organizations, for a decade. OPM said the change would give agencies more flexibility when tackling long-term science, technology, engineering and mathematics projects and other non-permanent work. Current regulations require agencies to get special permission from OPM to keep any term employee on staff for longer than four years. 

The rule would make federal jobs more attractive for STEM professionals only interested in joining government on a project-by-project basis “to build their resumes,” OPM said, assisting in bringing on those with specialized knowledge and skills. STEM projects in government often last longer than four years, with OPM citing as examples medical research, data analysis and the development of new technologies. 

“OPM believes this flexibility promotes retention and continuity, workforce planning, and minimizes disruptions during project work,” the agency said in the rule. 

President Trump previewed these changes in his recent budget proposals, 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.

OPM has also announced its intent to 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. Under the proposed rule, OPM said agencies would be able to recruit better STEM talent by offering health insurance and other benefits it would not offer to contractors. 

Term employees can often be hired outside of the normal competitive process, making it easier for agencies to onboard applicants through the bypassing of normal hurdles. Federal regulations allow agencies to hire term employees under direct hire procedures or, in some cases, through other noncompetitive appointments. OPM has said 10-year term employees would not be career civil servants, but would enter federal service in a probationary period before earning due process protections like regular federal workers. 

The Trump administration promised “oversight regarding whether [agencies] are using this appointment appropriately” and said the rule was not intended to be “a substitute for a permanent workforce or for appointing employees to permanent positions for work of a permanent nature.” 

Last year, OPM proposed legislation to Congress that would make it easier for temporary employees to get hired into normal positions. OPM is accepting comments on the new proposal through Nov. 10.