EPA needs to better calculate the value of time off

Federal agencies have the discretion to offer their employees time off instead of or in addition to a monetary award for exemplary work, but the Environmental Protection Agency has failed to develop a standard for determining the value of time off, according to an agency Inspector General report issued Dec. 30.

According to regulation, an agency may give an award of $5,000 or less without higher-level approval, and it is up to leadership to ensure that the award offered equals the value of the work done.

“EPA does not determine the equivalent value for time-off awards because there is no defined methodology or formal guidance documenting how time off awards should be valued. Without a defined value for time off awards, the agency cannot determine whether a combined award is commensurate with the employee’s achievements,” the report said.

“For example, under the EPA’s interim policy, the following two awards would be assessed as having the same value, and neither would require higher-level approval: a $5,000 monetary award; a $5,000 monetary award and 40 hours of time off. Further, a single monetary award of $5,001 would require a higher-level approval than the combined award of $5,000 and 40 hours, which would not require any additional review.”

The lack of a standard for time-off awards’ value means that supervisors have to come up with their own methods for determining what kind of work merits what kind of award, and employees from different units could end up getting radically different awards for the same work.

“For example, one supervisor we interviewed determines the equivalent value of time-off awards by using the ‘average’ hourly rate for staff reporting to that supervisor,” the report said.

“We identified one combined award where the manager increased an employee’s monetary amount by $840 and reduced the time off amount by 4 hours. This substitution could give the appearance that the manager equated 4 hours of time off to $840, resulting in an effective rate of $210 per hour, which was considerably higher than the employee’s hourly rate.”

The IG recommended that the agency update its policy to include a methodology for determining the value of time off and require that the combined value of monetary and time-off awards be used to determine if the award is commensurate with the employee’s achievements and has the appropriate level of review and approval.

EPA, however, disagreed with the recommendations, saying that Office of Personnel Management guidance does not set time-off awards with a cash value.

The IG acknowledged that while OPM does not explicitly determine the cash value of time off, it does recognize that there is a cost associated with offering such an award, which the agency must consider. For example, from 2015 through 2017, the agency awarded 355,511 hours, or the equivalent of 170 full-time positions, in time-off awards.

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