OPM has told agencies that they may request a waiver of the normal limits on recruitment, relocation, and retention incentives “to address a critical agency need, such as agency programs or projects related to the President’s declaration of a national emergency concerning the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Agencies may request OPM approval of an incentive waiver for a single position or for a group of positions,” it said, adding that in making a request agencies need not provide a highly detailed justification, only that “a case can be made that the position(s) would likely be difficult to fill (for recruitment and relocation incentives) or employees would be likely to leave (for retention incentives) during this national emergency.”


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.

OPM has not issued a report on usage of the incentives since one showing that about 43,000 federal employees received them in 2009, with several occupations in the medical field—positions always in top demand for federal agencies and especially so now—among those most commonly receiving the payments.

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