Recruitment, Other Cash Incentives Concentrated on a Few

To the extent that agencies are using financial incentives available to them for their employees at all, the money is concentrated in a relative few occupational areas and in certain departments and agencies, GAO has found.

It said that incentives were concentrated in fields including cybersecurity, acquisition, HR, health care, and the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields.

GAO noted that those fields–along with auditing and economics–have been identified as particular areas of concern for government recruitment and retention. Shortages of employees in such fields underlie 15 of the 34 issues on its listing of government programs at high risk, it added.

It said that while 23 of the 26 agencies studied had made retention incentive payments during 2014-2016, 11 paid them to 10 or fewer employees per year. Similarly, of the 24 that used the “superior qualifications and special needs” authority to set higher rates of pay, 13 used it for fewer than 100 employees per year.

Some use of authorities were agency-specific, reflecting their missions; for example, Treasury stood out for offering recruitment incentives for auditors, while DHS used recruitment, retention and relocation incentives for law enforcement officers. Similarly, just five agencies–DoD, VA, Justice, State and the SEC–paid the large majority of student loan reimbursements, with the SEC for example concentrating them on attorneys, auditors and securities compliance examiners.