Federal employees could be listed in temporary rather than permanent positions for far longer than current regulation allows, under a new rule proposed by the Office of Personnel Management Sept. 14.
Currently, a temporary appointment to federal service lasts between one to four years, with agencies required to obtain special permission from OPM to extend an appointment past that four-year mark.
But the new rule would allow agencies to list or extend temporary positions in the STEM field for a maximum of 10 years, without needing to ask permission from OPM.
According to the proposed rule, the change would target only “positions needed to stand-up, operate and close-out time-limited organizations which have a specific statutory appropriation; and time-limited projects which have been funded through specific appropriation; for up to 10 years.”
“OPM is proposing this rule to provide agencies with greater flexibility to staff foreseeably long-term projects of a STEM nature when the need for the work is not permanent, and other time-limited work when authorized by specific funding by Congress,” the proposal summary continues.
“The intended effect of this change is to allow agencies the flexibility and discretion to hire individuals with knowledge, skills and abilities tailored to a specific project or Congressional funded work that may not be required on a permanent basis or transferable to other functions of the agency. This longer-term appointment may also assist agencies in recruiting individuals with specialized STEM knowledge who prefer the opportunity to work on a project-by-project basis to build their resumes and maintain current skills.”
The proposed change is based on several studies that have found that there is both a considerable skills gap in STEM fields and that the knowledge required to work in those fields is evolving at a more rapid pace than in other professions.
But federal employee groups have consistently opposed extending the time limits for temporary appointments, as they deny employees the benefits offered by a permanent position.
“These appointments deprive individuals of any type of job security and the benefits that they deserve,” National Treasury Employees Union National President Tony Reardon said in a June statement before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
“As an employer, the federal government should not be expanding its use of these type of limited employment opportunities that provide no benefits, limited career advancement possibilities and no standing when an individual in one of these appointments applies for a full-time position. Many agencies have blatantly abused the current term and temp hiring authorities, with some individuals serving for years and years rotating from one temporary position to another without job security and without proper access to benefit programs.”
The proposal also comes at a time when the Trump administration has pushed for policies that would make it easier to fire federal employees.
“OPM’s proposed rule takes us one giant step closer to the disposable federal workforce that this administration envisions," American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley said in a statement.
"Employees want career employment; they don’t want their jobs to end abruptly after some arbitrary time period. The rule effectively fires anyone hired under it after some set period of up to 10 years, and the employee has no right to appeal. Even if the intentions are benign, it sets the stage for a ‘leased’ federal workforce that can be passively terminated at the end of arbitrary terms.”
Comments on the proposed rule can be submitted through the federal rulemaking portal by Nov. 10.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.