OPM regs threaten permanent employees

Last September the Office of Personnel Management issued proposed rules designed to streamline the process by which the government hires nonpermanent employees. These regulations could produce negative consequences for permanent employees. In 1962 agencies were authorized to use term appointments spanning up to four years for project work with the approval of the Civil Service Commission (the predecessor to OPM). A few years later agencies were given authority to fill such positions without prior approval. In January 1995 OPM broadened the conditions under which agencies could make term appointments to include nonpermanent situations other than project work.

Some agencies have questioned whether they can appoint an employee to a second term in the same position in cases involving a continued need for an employee beyond the four-year limit. The proposed regulations allow an agency to extend a four-year appointment if officials document the reasons for the continued need and seek OPM approval.

I fear some agencies may use this device to sidestep civil service regulations. Given the choice of hiring temporary or permanent employees in the current environment most people would naturally choose temporary ones. A manager who places an employee in a temporary position can essentially terminate the employee at any time. The manager would need to state only that the agency no longer requires the employee's services.

The proposed regulations also include changes to the procedures managers must follow when hiring term employees. OPM and other agencies used to maintain standing registers of potential employees eligible for various positions. As OPM began decentralizing its hiring authority the agency moved away from the concept of maintaining registers. Consequently the old system of agencies seeking authority to hire employees not listed on registers to fill term appointments is no longer needed according to OPM.

In addition OPM said term and permanent employees should be appointed in the same manner because term appointees can serve for long periods of time and are entitled to benefits similar to permanent employees. Term appointees would have to serve a trial or probationary period just as permanent employees do OPM said.

The proposed rules would also:* Permit agencies to noncompetitively reappoint employees who previously held temporary positions and were injured on the job. Such employees could be reappointed to any position for which they are qualified if their injury - from which they have recovered - disqualified them from performing the duties of their previous jobs.

* Allow agencies to noncompetitively appoint individuals with disabilities to term positions. This would give the individuals an opportunity to demonstrate their potential for successful job performance with or without accommodation. If an appointee successfully demonstrated her ability to work with or without accommodation the agency could remove the time limit on her appointment and convert the employee to career or career-conditional status. Of course if the employee were receiving a disability retirement benefit it would cease.

Loosening the criteria for establishing and filling temporary and term positions is bad news for federal workers. Federal managers love to play all sorts of games instead of concentrating on their jobs. These regulations will contribute only to more game playing to the detriment of dedicated and conscientious permanent federal employees.Bureaucratus is a retired federal employee who is a regular contributor to Federal Computer Week.

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