The three R’s: Recruitment, relocation and retention

Joe Davidson
Columnist August 31, 2011

Is there a better way to spend a beautiful late summer day than to look at reports from the Office of Personnel Management?

We all know the answer to that, but nonetheless, occasionally there are a few interesting nuggets in the reams of material OPM distributes.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. View Archive

Take the latest report, covering calendar year 2009, on the three R’s — not reading, ’riting and ’rithmetic — even though it is back-to-school time. These three R’s stand for the recruitment, relocation and retention of federal employees.

Even during times of high unemployment, Uncle Sam sometimes feels the need to flash some cash to get highly talented people to join his staff, or to stay or to move where they are needed most.

Here are a few interesting details:

●“Miscellaneous clerk and assistant” is second on the list of occupations for which agencies most frequently paid recruitment incentives. It seems as if it would be pretty easy to find clerks, particularly when many other occupations high on the recruitment list are those in the sciences. Nurse is No. 1, mechanical engineer is No. 3. Others in the health professions and the sciences dominate the rest of the top spots.

In 2009, Sam paid recruitment incentives worth almost $2.1 million to 622 clerks; 612 were in the Defense Department. The average incentive was more than $3,300.

●The position of “miscellaneous administration and program” is found in each of the three R categories. It is in third place on the recruitment table, fourth place in relocation and 12th among the top 20 occupations for which retention bonuses were paid. Apparently, miscellaneous administration and program people are really in demand. Who knew?

●Forestry technician was the top occupation receiving retention incentives.

“A large portion of these (1,962 out of 2,072) were paid by Agriculture [Department] as part of a group retention incentive authorization covering forestry technicians in the Pacific Southwest region who are firefighters,” the report explains. “This region is in the area hardest hit by seasonal wild land fires and Agriculture must compete with State and local entities for employees with firefighting skills.”

Agriculture established a new incentive program for these workers in 2009. Without the forestry technicians group, the overall number of retention bonuses would have dropped by 2.3  percent. Instead, incentives to keep employees who were likely to leave the federal service without that inducement rose more than 5 percent.

“Retention incentives paid to employees likely to leave for another Federal position increased from one incentive in calendar year 2008 worth $1,602 to 30 incentives in calendar year 2009 worth $127,244,” the report said.

Bosses must have decided they needed to do something to keep their good workers from being raided by other federal agencies.

Short-term assistance

Once again, the Federal Employee Educational and Assistance Fund (FEEA) is moving to assist federal workers who have been caught short because of natural disasters and disasters that Congress engineers.

FEEA provides short-term, no-interest loans to federal employees who need a little help to get through unexpected situations.

One such situation was the furlough thrust upon Federal Aviation Administration employees when Congress did not provide funding to keep the agency operating. FEEA has received almost 50 requests from FAA employees and so far has loaned more than $36,000 to them, said FEEA’s Robyn Kehoe.

Like other FAA employees, Ruthie Jefferson in Atlanta hasn’t received her back pay and her two most recent checks have been much lower than normal. Her usual take-home pay is $869 every two weeks, but she said her last two checks were $214 and $244.

“That was nowhere close for me to pay my rent or anything,” said the single mother of two teenagers. With her $600 loan from FEEA, at least she can pay her rent.

The 4,000 employees who were furloughed from July 23 to Aug. 5 will receive a full check Sept. 6, according to the FAA.

Another bit of good news: On Wednesday, President Obama called on Congress to provide “back pay for the [FAA] workers who were laid off during the last shutdown.”

FEEA is just beginning to get requests from employees who need help in dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, Kehoe said.

“It will likely be a week or more before we see the largest number,” she said, “with so many people still without power and in the initial stages of determining what repairs will cost, there is often a slight delay before feds seek our help.”

More information about FEEA is available at www.feea.org.

Follow the Federal Diary on Twitter: @Joe DavidsonWP.

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