OPM has reminded agencies of their authority to pay recruitment, relocation, and retention incentives, commonly called the 3Rs, for high-demand occupations, focusing on how they can gain permission to pay even higher amounts in some circumstances.

Without OPM approval, agencies may pay recruitment or relocation incentives of up to 25 percent of an employee’s annual rate of basic pay times the number of years in a service agreement (not to exceed 4 years or 100 percent of annual basic pay); retention incentives for an individual of up to 25 percent of the employee’s rate of basic pay; and retention incentives of up to 10 percent of basic pay to a group or category of employees.

However, agencies may further request authority from OPM to pay incentives of up to 50 percent in the case of “critical” agency needs. “To assist agencies with submitting a request to OPM for waivers of the normal 3Rs payment limitations, we have developed new templates and posted them on the OPM website. The fillable templates are intended to help agencies include all of the required information and facilitate the request and approval process,” OPM said.

The payments essentially are a form of recognition that salaries that the government pays in certain occupations–with cybersecurity being a prime example–often are not adequate compared with what the private sector offers. A recent GAO report found that 3Rs incentives–along with other incentives, such as student loan reimbursements, and various special pay authorities–were paid to only 6 percent of federal employees over 2014-2016.

Further, where such payments are made, they are concentrated in a relative few occupations and agencies, GAO found.