A House committee approved a bill yesterday that would permit more-generous recruitment and relocation bonuses for federal employees and give time off to employees who travel during off-duty hours.

The legislation has been in the works since last year and appears likely to be the only bill calling for changes in federal employment policy that will pass in Congress this year.

In a bid to build consensus and speed approval in the Senate, Rep. Jo Ann S. Davis (R-Va.), the bill's chief sponsor, offered a modified version of her original bill to the House Government Reform Committee, which adopted it on a voice vote.

The modifications by Davis bring the bill in line with similar legislation -- sponsored by Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) -- that was approved by the Senate in April.

The Davis-Voinovich effort is primarily aimed at providing agencies with greater hiring flexibility for hard-to-fill positions.

Under the legislation, agency heads and the Office of Personnel Management would be able to waive the 25 percent limit on bonuses and provide payments of up to 50 percent of an employee's pay. The total could not exceed 100 percent of an employee's annual salary over a four-year period.

The legislation also would allow federal employees who travel on their own time -- for example, spending Sunday on an airplane to attend a Monday morning meeting -- to reclaim those hours.

Agencies would be required to provide compensatory time off for the hours spent traveling. Current rules make it difficult for most employees to qualify for pay while traveling outside duty hours.

The Davis bill approved yesterday dropped provisions that would have eliminated "open seasons" in the Thrift Savings Plan, allowed annuities to begin on the day after retirement and permitted the White House to convert certain General Schedule employees to Senior Executive Service status.

Overtime Change at Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security issued a rule yesterday that places 18,000 customs and border protection officers under the same overtime and premium pay system.

The change eliminates variations in pay and scheduling that resulted from three different systems for inspection personnel who were transferred from the Agriculture, Justice and Treasury departments as part of the Homeland Security merger.

Rather than create a new system, which would have required legislation, the department opted to move about 8,000 immigration and agriculture officers into the overtime and seven-day workweek system that covered legacy customs officers.

The customs system was chosen, in part, because it more closely aligns overtime and premium pay to the work that is performed by officers and gives the department a chance to more efficiently manage work schedules. For the officers, it also offers the most-generous benefits of the three systems.

Under the customs system, most officers will receive higher premium pay rates for work performed on Sundays, holidays or at night. They also can count a substantial portion of their overtime pay toward retirement and obtain a higher pension.

A typical officer makes about $60,000 annually in base pay and, depending on location, can receive as much as $25,000 in overtime and premium pay this year.

"It's a big step for us," said Donna DeLatorre, acting executive director for operations at U.S. Customs and Border Protection. "We want to be able to recruit and retain a high-caliber employee."

Talk Shows

Steven L. Katz, author of "Lion Taming: Working Successfully With Leaders, Bosses and Other Tough Customers," will be the guest on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. today on federalnewsradio.com.

Carolyn Clancy, director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, will be the guest on "The Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. tomorrow on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).

"Who Is the Best Presidential Candidate for Employees?" will be the topic for discussion on the Imagene B. Stewart call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL radio (1450 AM).

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com.