When an agency conducts a significant job reduction, it must use formal reduction in force procedures published by the Office of Personnel Management. These rules create four standards for determining which employees are released, and which are retained, either in their current positions or in another position:

  • tenure group (type of appointment–permanent vs. term/temporary);
  • veterans preference;
  • length of service; and
  • performance ratings.

An agency is required to use the RIF procedures when an employee is faced with separation or downgrading for a reason such as reorganization, lack of work, shortage of funds, insufficient personnel ceiling, or the exercise of certain reemployment or restoration rights. A furlough of more than 30 calendar days, or of more than 22 discontinuous work days, is also a RIF action. (A furlough of 30 or fewer calendar days, or of 22 or fewer discontinuous work days, is an adverse action.)


The agency has the responsibility to decide whether a RIF is necessary, when it will take place, and what positions are abolished. However, the abolishment of a position does not always require the use of RIF procedures. The agency may reassign an employee without regard to RIF procedures to a vacant position at the same grade or pay, regardless of where the position is located.

Reduction in Force Competitive Area

First, the agency defines the competitive area (the geographical and organizational limits within which employees compete for retention). A competitive area may consist of all or part of an agency. The minimum competitive area in the departmental service is a bureau, major command, directorate, or other equivalent major subdivision of an agency within a local commuting area. An agency must obtain approval from OPM before changing a competitive area within 90 days of a RIF.

RIF Competitive Level

Next, the agency groups interchangeable positions into competitive levels based upon similarity of grade, series, qualifications, duties and working conditions. Positions with different types of work schedules (such as full-time, part-time, intermittent, seasonal, or on-call) are placed in different competitive levels. Because of differences in duties and responsibilities, positions of supervisors and management officials are placed in competitive levels of only those positions. Finally, competitive and excepted service positions are placed in separate competitive levels.

Note: Where some employees are under a pay banding system, the agency may not create competitive areas or competitive levels for employees under that system separate from those who are not.


RIF Retention Register

The four retention factors are applied and the competitive level becomes a retention register listing employees in the order of their retention standing (except at the Defense Department as described below):

1) Tenure. Employees are ranked on a retention register in three groups according to their types of appointment:

  • Group I—Career employees who are not serving on probation. (A new supervisor or manager who is serving a probationary period required on initial appointment to that type of position is not considered to be serving on probation if the employee previously completed a probationary period.)
  • Group II—Career employees who are serving a probationary period, and career-conditional employees.
  • Group III—Employees serving under term and similar non-status appointments. (An employee serving under a temporary appointment in the competitive service is not a competing employee for RIF purposes and is not listed on the retention register.)

2) Veterans Preference. Each of those groups is divided into three subgroups reflecting their entitlement to veterans preference:


  • Subgroup AD—Veterans with a compensable service-connected disability of 30% or more.
  • Subgroup A—Veterans not included in subgroup AD.
  • Subgroup B—Nonveterans.

A retired member of the Armed Forces is considered to be a veteran for RIF purposes only if one of the following conditions is met:


  • the armed forces retired pay is directly based upon a combat-incurred disability or injury;
  • the armed forces retirement is based upon less than 20 years of active service; or
  • the employee has been working for the government since November 30, 1964, without a break in service of more than 30 days.

3) Length of Service. Employees are ranked by service dates within each subgroup. The service dates include creditable civilian and military service, and additional service credit for certain performance ratings.

4) Performance. Employees receive extra RIF service credit for performance based upon the average of their last three annual performance ratings of record received during the four-year period prior to the date the agency issues RIF notices. The four-year period is the earlier of the date the agency issues RIF notices, or the date the agency freezes ratings before issuing RIF notices.

Note: Under P.L. 114-92, the Defense Department made an employee’s “rating of record” the first determining factor there, followed by tenure group, average score, veterans’ preference and DoD service computation date. The “rating of record” is the average of the employee’s last two performance evaluations, rounded up to the next whole number. For tenure groups, temporary employees and those with term appointments (Tenure Group III) always will be separated before any employees with career status (Tenure Group I) or with career-conditional status (less than three years of service; Tenure Group II). The “average score” is the average of an individual’s ratings on specific performance standards, not rounded. Regarding veterans’ preference, first priority is for those with a 30 percent or more disability rating, then others with preference, then non-veterans—as is government-wide standard policy. Other policies, for example defining the “competitive area” and the rights of employees to “retreat” to available lower-level positions under certain circumstances, did not change. P.L. 117-81 of 2021 granted authority to the Defense Department to return to the retention order provisions applying elsewhere by requiring only that performance be “among” the retention factors rather than it be the first. Subscribe to the FEDweek newsletter at www.fedweek.com for the latest information.

An employee is given additional service credit based on the mathematical average (rounded in the case of a fraction to the next whole number) of the value of the employee’s last three annual ratings. If an employee received more than three annual ratings during the four-year period, the three most recent annual ratings are used. If an employee received fewer than three annual ratings during the four-year period, credit is given for an assumed rating of “Fully Successful” to bring the employee’s ratings up to three, regardless of the employee’s actual length of service.

Service credit is broken down by:

  • 20 additional years for an “outstanding” rating;
  • 16 additional years for an “exceeds fully successful” rating; and
  • 12 additional years for a “fully successful” rating.

For example, an employee with two years of federal service has one annual rating of “Outstanding” (20) and one of “Exceeds Fully Successful” (16). The employee would receive additional RIF service credit based upon the two actual ratings plus one assumed rating of “Fully Successful” (12), or 20 + 16 + 12 = 48, divided by 3 = 16 years of RIF credit for performance.



Employees are released from the retention register in the inverse order of their retention standing (such as the employee with the lowest standing is the individual who is actually reached for a RIF action). All employees in Group III are released before employees in Group II, and all employees in Group II are released before employees in Group I. Then within subgroups, all employees in Subgroup B are released before employees in Subgroup A, and all employees in Subgroup A are released before employees in Subgroup AD. Any employee reached for release out of this regular order must be notified of the reasons.

Rights to Other Positions

Employees in Groups I and II with current performance ratings of “Unsuccessful,” and all employees in Group III, have no assignment rights to other positions. Employees holding excepted service positions have no assignment rights unless their agency, at its discretion, chooses to offer these rights.

Employees in Groups I and II with current performance ratings of at least “Minimally Successful” are entitled to an offer of assignment if they have “bumping” or “retreating” rights to an available position in the same competitive area. An “available” position must: last at least three months; be in the competitive service; be one the released employee qualifies for; and be within three grades (or grade-intervals) of the employee’s present position.

“Bumping” means displacing an employee in the same competitive area who is in a lower tenure group, or in a lower subgroup within the released employee’s own tenure group. Although the released employee must be qualified for the position, it may be a position that he or she has never held. The position must be at the same grade, or within three grades or grade intervals, of the employee’s present position.

“Retreating” means displacing an employee in the same competitive area who has less service within the released employee’s own tenure group and subgroup. The position must be at the same grade, or within three grades or grade intervals, of the employee’s present position. However, an employee in retention subgroup AD has expanded retreat rights to positions up to five grades or grade intervals lower than the position held by the released employee. The position into which the employee is retreating must also be the same position (or an essentially identical position) previously held by the released employee in any federal agency on a permanent basis.

An employee with a current annual performance rating of “Minimally Successful” only has retreat rights to positions held by employees with the same or lower ratings.


Severance pay is paid to permanent employees with at least one year of service who are separated through no fault of their own, such as in a RIF. See below for details.

Flexible spending accounts are closed on separation. Unspent money in a health care FSA is not refunded, although claims for purchases up to the date of separation still will be paid. Unspent money in a child care FSA will remain available for use through the plan year.


Both Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance and Federal Employees Health Benefits coverage continue free of charge for 31 days after a RIF separation. Those retiring can carry FEHB and FEGLI coverage into retirement under the same terms as voluntary retirees.


For those not retiring, FEHB coverage can be continued for up to 18 months by paying both the employer and employee share of the premium plus an administrative fee. (Note: Certain persons involuntarily separated for reasons other than misconduct may be eligible for assistance with this premium.


For those not retiring, FEGLI coverage can be converted to an individual policy without the need for a physical exam, with the enrollee paying all premiums.

Coverage under the Federal Dental and Vision Insurance Program ends upon separation.

Coverage under the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program continues so long as the enrollee continues to pay the premiums.

Retirement during RIF

Retirement is allowed during a RIF at standard age and service requirements. Early retirement, with its more lenient combinations, generally is offered during RIFs, sometimes accompanied by buyout offers when the agency is eligible to make such offers. Employees also may elect a deferred annuity at age 62 if they have at least five years of service at separation. FERS employees also are allowed a deferred annuity at their minimum retirement age with 10 years of service, although the annuity is reduced 5 percent for each year the annuitant is under age 62 when benefit payments begin.


RIF Appeals and Grievances

An employee who has been separated, downgraded, or furloughed for more than 30 days by a RIF has the right to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) if he or she believes the agency did not properly follow the RIF regulations. The appeal must be filed during the 30-day period beginning the day after the effective date of the RIF action.

An employee in a bargaining unit covered by a negotiated grievance procedure that does not exclude a RIF must use the negotiated grievance procedure and may not appeal the RIF action to MSPB unless the employee alleges the action was based upon discrimination. The time limits for filing a grievance under a negotiated grievance procedure are set forth in the collective bargaining agreement.

Career Transition Assistance and Special Selection Priority

Competitive service employees in Groups I and II who have received a specific notice of separation by a RIF are eligible for placement assistance in finding other positions.


Under the Interagency Career Placement Program, all surplus and displaced employees who work in executive branch agencies are eligible to receive career transition assistance from their agencies. They also may receive special selection priority for positions in their agency within the local commuting area for which they apply and are found well qualified. Eligibility begins when the employee receives either a specific RIF notice of separation, or a more general notice that the employee is likely to be separated through RIF, or for declining a directed reassignment to another commuting area. Employees are entitled to see a copy of their agency’s career transition assistance plan detailing the services available, and the special selection priority for which they may be eligible.

The Reemployment Priority List is a post-RIF program that provides separated employees first opportunity for positions within their former agency that would otherwise be filled by their agency from outside the agency. Provided that the separated employee did not refuse a RIF offer of assignment to a position at the same grade, the separated Group I employee is placed on the RPL for two years; a separated Group II employee is placed on the list for one year.

Excepted service employees who are eligible for veterans preference and who are separated by a RIF are eligible to have their names placed on a reemployment list that gives them future consideration for excepted positions filled by their former agency.

Special Defense Department Career Transition Services

The Defense Department has various authorities to help affected employees including:

Priority Placement Program

The Priority Placement Program (PPP) is an automated program that enables eligible displaced employees to receive mandatory placement rights for DoD jobs within their selected geographic area of availability.


Annual leave restoration

Normally, employees can’t carry forward more than 240 hours of annual leave from one year to the next. However, if your installation has been designated for realignment or closure through the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, any excess leave that you forfeit may be restored so long as you continue to work at your current activity.

Severance pay is a payment made to employees separating through no fault of their own, such as in a RIF. The amount is determined by a formula that considers years of creditable civilian service, basic pay at the time of eligibility and an adjustment for employees over age 40.

You may be entitled to severance pay if your separation is involuntary and, if on the date of separation, you have been employed by the federal government for at least the preceding 12 months. This may include non-temporary and temporary employment provided there was no break in service of more than three calendar days between appointments. “Reduction-in-force” and “resignation-RIF” actions are considered to be involuntary separations only when you have received a written notice of RIF separation.

If you are eligible for an immediate annuity or are receiving an annuity under any retirement law or system that applies to federal employees or members of the uniformed services, you are precluded from receiving severance pay. This prohibition remains in effect even if you decide not to retire.

If, at the time of your involuntary separation, you are offered and decline to accept a reasonable offer, you cannot receive severance pay. A reasonable offer must be made in writing. You must meet the established qualification requirements. The offered position must be:


  • in your agency;
  • within your commuting area, unless geographic mobility is a condition of employment;
  • of the same tenure and work schedule (that is, part time or full time); and
  • not lower than two grade or pay levels below your current permanent grade or pay level, without consideration of grade or pay retention.

Statutory requirements prohibit the concurrent receipt of severance pay and certain Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) benefits. Specifically, compensation for temporary total disability may not be paid for the period covered by severance pay. An election between the FECA benefits and the severance pay will be required in order to avoid an overpayment of benefits. Medical benefits under FECA as well as compensation for partial disability, however, are exempt from this prohibition.

Unemployment Compensation

Employees separated for lack of work due to a RIF or other reasons normally are eligible for unemployment compensation. The Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees program is administered by states as agents of the federal government. This program is operated under the same terms and conditions that apply to state unemployment insurance.

There is no payroll deduction from a federal employee’s wages for unemployment insurance protection. Benefits are paid for by the various federal agencies.

In general, the law of the state in which your last official duty station in federal civilian service was located will be the state law that determines eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits, benefit amounts, number of weeks benefits can be paid, waiting periods before benefits begin, and other conditions.

You should contact your state unemployment insurance agency as soon as possible after becoming unemployed for details and application procedures. The Department of Labor has a listing of state offices at www.careeronestop.org/LocalHelp/service-locator.aspx.


To support a claim, you will need a Social Security card, official notice of the separation (SF 50, Notification of Personnel Action), and a Standard Form (SF) 8, Notice to Federal Employee About Unemployment Compensation (provided on your last day of duty). However, you should not wait to file your claim for unemployment compensation benefits until these forms are received as it may affect your eligibility.

Payments you receive such as severance pay, retirement annuity, incentive pay, or lump sum annual leave may affect your eligibility for unemployment compensation. The applicable state agency will make that determination.