In what amounts to something of a going-away present to federal employees, the Obama administration has raised the cap in effect since 2011 on performance-based and other cash awards, while eliminating restrictions on several other types of awards in place since then. A joint OPM-OMB memo says that effective in fiscal 2017, which started October 1, agencies may spend up to 1.5 percent of their aggregate salaries for employees below the SES and other senior levels for performance and special act awards for those employees. The cap had been set at 1 percent by a similar memo in 2011, a policy extended by several follow-up memos. The two agencies early this year had allowed an exception for high-demand occupations such as cybersecurity, which is no longer necessary, the memo says. A separate August memo had lifted the cap on performance and special act awards for SES, senior level and senior scientific and technical employees to 7.5 percent of the aggregate salary for them, up from the 5 percent level imposed in 2011. The new memo also repeals the 2011 memo’s policy of restricting to 2010 levels the allowed spending on group awards; referral bonuses; suggestion/invention awards; recruitment, relocation, and retention incentives; and quality step increases. However, it adds that agencies should continue to use those programs “judiciously and in compliance with applicable regulations.” A 2010 freeze on discretionary awards, bonuses, and similar payments for political appointees remains in effect, the latest memo adds.
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