RIF regs reduce unfairness

The Office of Personnel Management has issued final regulations covering how agencies should credit employees' service for the purposes of a reduction in force. These final regulations cover what types of service are creditable when an agency establishes the order of retention for competing employees in a RIF. They also make it a lot easier for federal employees and their representatives to gain access to RIF records (see Federal Register, April 7, 1999, pages 16,797 to 16,801).

The regulations state that when a RIF is conducted, all civilian service employment is creditable for the purposes of determining the RIF rights of a competing employee. The case for military employees is different. Retired members of a uniformed service receiving retired pay based on 20 or more years of active service in the armed forces won't get credit for military service except for time spent in active service during a war or for active duty served in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge or expeditionary medal was authorized.

Organizations that support veterans objected to this provision, but OPM ignored them. To me, the regulation appears fair. A retired vet drawing military retirement pay based on peacetime service is already being rewarded for military service. To give that individual additional credit for years spent in the military would constitute "double dipping." I suppose the counter-argument would be that members of the armed forces must endure working conditions that civilian employees are never asked to bear. There certainly is validity to that argument, but it looks like applicable law does not reflect that point of view.

The new regulations similarly say that a federal employee cannot receive dual-service credit for service performed while on active duty in the armed forces during concurrent civilian employment.

The most significant change in these regulations concerns access to RIF records by employees and their representatives. An agency now must permit its retention registers and related records to be inspected by an employee who has received a specific RIF notice and/or a representative acting on behalf of that employee. Previously, an employee's representative did not have the authority to gain access to pertinent retention records. Under the previous set of regulations, if your lawyer wanted to check out an agency's retention records to determine whether your rights were being violated, he could only obtain this information if you filed a grievance.

An employee's representative now has the right to review all of an agency's retention records, not just those pertaining to the employee he represents. This definitely is a change that will benefit federal workers and one that will make it difficult for agencies to play fast and loose with RIF rules to favor certain employees unfairly.

An agency now must provide an employee (and his representatives) with access to retention records showing how the employee was selected for release from the competitive level, as well as access to any records related to the employee's potential bump and retreat rights. No longer can an agency claim that it met its obligation to provide retention information to a released employee simply by giving the employee a sanitized retention register with pertinent information blacked out.

To protect the privacy rights of federal employees, an employee who has not received a specific RIF notice has no right to review the agency's retention registers and related records. Each agency is responsible for ensuring that every employee's access to retention records is consistent with the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act.

Finally, to permit adequate time for employees to access records they are entitled to review, all agencies must preserve all registers and records relating to a RIF for at least one year after the date they issue a specific RIF notice. Apparently, there was no specific requirement governing this issue until these regulations came out. Hard to believe, but until now an agency could have legally ditched its RIF records any time it wanted.

--Bureaucratus is a retired federal employee who contributes regularly to Federal Computer Week.

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