What You Need to Know: Financial Incentives

By Eric Yoder
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 10, 2008; 7:01 PM

Basic pay is only one way a job puts money in an employee's pocket. The government is turning more and more to other types of financial incentives in its bid to attract and keep good employees.

Unlike basic pay and the federal employee insurance and retirement programs, agencies have control over how much they use these special payments. It's a matter of setting aside the funds for them, and agencies increasingly are doing just that.

The biggest set of incentives is what the government calls the 3Rs-recruitment, retention and relocation incentive payments. In 2007, agencies doled out about 33,000 such payments, worth a total of more than $200 million--more than four times the amount paid in 2005.

The Defense Department pays the most incentives, followed by Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Justice and Commerce. By occupation, the greatest numbers go to patent examiners, followed by medical officers, nurses, electronics engineers and pharmacists.

Even if you're not in one of those agencies or one of those fields, don't be shy about asking whether you can get one of these payments. Since the payments are geared toward keeping high-performing employees, it helps to be one of those. It also helps to be able to show that other potential employers have an interest in you.

Agencies also may give employees money to be used toward paying off their student loans, up to $10,000 per year and $60,000 lifetime. This authority is getting more popular, too. Agencies made more than 6,600 such payments in 2007, nearly 10 times the number of five years before. The average payment is rising as well, from about $4,600 to about $6,400.

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