OPM has finalized rules to allow agencies to hire on a “term” basis for up to 10 years—a substantial lengthening of the time allowed for such appointments—under certain circumstances, although narrowing the authority from its original proposal in September 2020.
Final rules in the December 1 Federal Register would allow term appointments of up to that long in science, technology, engineering, mathematics positions in projects that are time-limited in nature but expected to last beyond four years. “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 that may not be required on a permanent basis or transferable to other functions of the agency,” it said.
“This longer-term appointment may also assist agencies in recruiting individuals with certain specialized knowledge, who may be interested in acquiring further skills and experience working on a project basis and would be less likely to pursue or accept a career position. This authority is not intended to be a substitute for regular agency hiring but is instead intended to be a supplement to existing hiring authorities that is targeted for longer-term projects that are not permanent in nature,” it said.
When using term appointing authority, agencies may use “direct hire” and other non-competitive procedures. Such appointments are designed for special short-term agency needs and at the end the employees do not have the permanent status that otherwise would provide them some protections against being laid off and reinstatement priority, and they further do not have rights to be noncompetitively converted to permanent positions.
Under traditional policy, term appointments generally have been for needs expected to last one to four years—temporary appointments typically are used for those expected to last less than a year—although the appointments can be extended under certain circumstances with OPM approval.
OPM said that in response to comments to the proposed rules showing the need for longer appointments is highest in the STEM fields, it dropped its original plan to extend the period for all positions in time-limited organizations or projects. Agencies can continue using the traditional procedures for other positions, it added.
Employee organizations commonly argue that agencies can abuse time-limited hiring authorities to bypass competitive service hiring procedures and avoid hiring permanent employees who would have additional protections. However, OPM said in its notice that it is “not aware of any documented instances of abuse or adverse effects.”