OPM OKs exceptions to 2010 recruitment spending caps

Recognizing a governmentwide shortage in cybersecurity talent, the Office of Personnel Management is letting agencies break a 5-year freeze on spending for recruitment, relocation and retention (3Rs) incentives.

New guidance from Acting OPM Director Beth Cobert grants agencies exceptions to the spending limits the agency and the Office of Management and Budget imposed in 2011. Previous guidance, which  expired at the end of 2015, asked that agency spending on the 3Rs not exceed 2010 levels.

Agency chief human capital officers or human resources directors must describe what critical need they plan to fill and how additional resources will help them address talent gaps and hire new professionals before gaining OPM approval.

“OPM recognizes the 3Rs are essential pay flexibilities for agencies facing serious staffing challenges,” the memo said. “Agencies may need to resort to more expensive solutions or may have difficulties accomplishing their missions if the 3Rs are not available for use.”

One critical area, which OPM specifically suggested agencies might need help with, is in the cybersecurity field.

Under federal Chief Information Officer Tony Scott’s Cybersecurity Strategy Implementation Plan (CSIP), agencies had until Dec. 31 to identify major skills gaps and finish the job coding for specialized cyber positions and report them to OPM.

And since Scott listed cyber recruitment and retention as one of his top five priorities under the CSIP, agencies are beginning to ask for special hiring authorities to find and hire new talent.

The Homeland Security Department, for example, got the green light from OPM in November to fill 1,000 new cybersecurity positions.

By April 30, OPM and OMB, along with DHS and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, are expected to finish a study of the federal cyber workforce and make recommendations to improve recruiting, hiring and training for new cyber professionals.

As agencies make their cases for special recruitment and retention exceptions, OPM is reminding them of its role in the process.

“OPM and agencies, through their CHCO and/or HR director, have specific approval, oversight and accountability responsibilities in administering the 3Rs program,” the guidance said. “This includes the requirement for agencies to establish a plan prescribing payment approval criteria and requirements, document thoroughly the basis for paying each incentive, and review all retention incentives and group recruitment incentives at least annually to determine whether they should be revised or discontinued.”

When OMB placed spending caps on the 3Rs to 2010 levels, it mandated agencies limit spending on individual awards for senior level employees to no more than 5 percent of the aggregate salary for those positions. Spending for all other employees was capped at no more than 1 percent of aggregate salaries.

Agencies spent nearly $350 million on 3R initiatives in 2009, the last year a report was made available.

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