The Office of Personnel Management on Monday moved to finalize new regulations making it easier for federal agencies to bring back former employees at a higher salary than when they left government.
Currently, federal agencies have the authority to rehire former federal workers outside the competitive hiring process, but they can only offer them positions at the same pay grade they held before they left federal service.
Under a final rule set to be published in the Federal Register Tuesday, effective July 8, agencies will be able to use that process to rehire former federal workers at higher salaries than when they left government, accounting for the experience and skills they gained through education and the private sector. The rule was first proposed in December 2019.
In its filing, OPM said the change will allow agencies to staff in-demand positions more easily, particularly in technical fields, and recognizes the growing preference, especially among younger workers, to move jobs more often and more freely than previous generations.
“The federal government can benefit when an employee leaves federal service if the employee obtains new experiences in the private sector, the non-profit sector, academia, or state and local government that enrich the knowledge, skills and abilities of the employee,” OPM wrote. “Facilitating the return to government of people who have broadened their work experience in this way advances the civil service’s goal of an effective and efficient government. Apart from providing the agency with additional choices in making selections for current vacancies, it enables agencies to build a workforce of individuals who bring a variety of knowledge, training and experiences to their work.”
Former federal workers who left before reaching the “career tenure” mark of three years in federal service may only return to federal agencies under this authority within three years of their departure. Those who worked for the government for three years or longer will have no limitation on when they can be rehired at a higher pay grade outside of the competitive process.
And in order to be eligible to be rehired at a higher pay grade, former federal workers must have been given a fully successful performance rating in their final year of service before leaving government.
Some agencies, individual commenters and a federal employee union expressed concerns through the rulemaking process that the rule change could lead to current federal employees being improperly passed over for promotion opportunities and other instances of abuse. But OPM noted current feds have access to a number of exclusive opportunities, and agencies can only explore rehiring noncompetitively after going through a number of other requirements.
“Discretionary actions [like this one] must be taken in accordance with the hiring agency’s merit promotion plans . . . and any collective bargaining agreements the hiring agency has in place,” OPM wrote. “Before an agency may select a former employee and reinstate him or her to a position at a higher grade level or with higher promotion potential than the position the individual previously held, the agency must provide public notice through a job opportunity announcement, clear its Reemployment Priority List as well as its Career Transition Assistance Plans and Interagency Career Transition Assistance Plans; consider applicants under the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act of 1998, and the Land Management Workforce Flexibilities Act, as applicable; and assess whether the individual meets all qualifications requirements for the position to which the individual is being reinstated.”
OPM also stated that it will review all agencies’ use of the new authority through its regular oversight of agency hiring. And depending on how widely the new rule is used, the agency may conduct a specific evaluation of the flexibility after one year.