New OPM regulations will allow for temporary employees at land management agencies like the U.S. Forest Service apply for permanent career-track jobs.

New OPM regulations will allow for temporary employees at land management agencies like the U.S. Forest Service apply for permanent career-track jobs. Jeff Greenberg / Getty Images

A new rule may help land management temps get permanent federal gigs

The Office of Personnel Management is set to publish final regulations establishing a pathway for current and former temporary workers at land management agencies to apply for permanent posts through merit promotions procedures.

The federal government’s HR agency is set to publish new rules Wednesday that will finalize a pair of recently enacted laws aimed at making it easier for temporary federal workers at land management agencies to secure permanent positions in government.

Currently, federal employees who are hired on a temporary basis—typically for terms of one year—are barred from applying for non-entry-level permanent posts through promotion procedures because they are reserved for career and career-conditional employees, effectively prohibiting them from any avenues to advance their careers aside from essentially applying for promotions as if they were jobs at another employer. This is more common at federal land management agencies, since a larger proportion of their entry-level workforce serve as temporary or seasonal employees.

A pair of laws—the 2015 Land Management Workforce Flexibility Act and the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act—together authorize the creation of a “pathway” for temporary land management employees to attain permanent career-track jobs. The Office of Personnel Management first published proposed regulations to implement the laws in 2020 and sought comments from stakeholders.

On Wednesday, a final rule formally implementing the laws, with minor revisions, will be published in the Federal Register, and it will go into effect on Jan. 5. It will apply to six agencies: the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Reclamation.

In order for a current or former temporary land management employee to be eligible for promotion to a permanent role within the competitive service, they must have spent at least 24 months in their current post, without a break of two or more years, and they must have received at least “acceptable” performance ratings for the entirety of their tenure.

Former temporary employees, such as those who left after their term of service expired, must also have at least two years of tenure, though they must wait at least two years after leaving federal service before applying for a permanent position.

“Prior to enactment of the act, these individuals competed for federal jobs open to U.S. citizens through an open competitive process (unless the land management eligible [employee] had previously acquired competitive status,” OPM wrote. “These employees now have statutory eligibility to compete under merit promotion procedures under certain circumstances. Thus, the law treats these individuals as if they had competitive status for purposes of applying for permanent federal jobs advertised under an agency’s merit promotion procedures.”

Though OPM said it lacks data to predict how the rule change will impact federal hiring and promotions at land management agencies, the agency posited that it could increase demand and competition at least in some cases, potentially increasing an already long “time to hire” period. Military veterans also could see greater competition, since prior to these regulations they were the only group able to apply for jobs under promotion procedures despite being outside an agency’s workforce.

“Lastly, this rule could impact current employees of land management agencies serving in career-ladder positions,” OPM wrote. “An employee in a career ladder position may be non-competitively promoted to the next highest grade-level, provided the next highest grade-level is within the career-ladder, the employee meets time-in-grade requirements, and is otherwise qualified for the duties at the next highest grade level. Because the act extends eligibility to individuals outside the agency’s or the federal government’s workforce, employees in career-ladder positions may now find themselves pitted against these external candidates.”