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A proposal from OPM would increase the role of ratings in RIF retention, leap-frogging over veterans preference and years of service as called for by one of the May 2018 White House executive orders on federal employee rights.

The proposal would keep tenure as the first retention factor, with employees on permanent appointments always being protected ahead of those on temporary or term appointments. However, with the exception of the Defense Department—where performance ratings already are the next-highest factor—the order of the following factors would be changed.


Under current policy, preference is next given to veterans with a compensable service-connected disability of 30 percent or more, then others with veterans status, and then non-veterans. Next is length of actual service, with performance the last factor. The most recent three ratings of record are used to artificially increase years of service, with 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.

Under the proposed rules, for non-Defense agencies, preference for permanent employees would first be sorted by the most recent three ratings. They would be given a numeric value (5 for outstanding, 4 for exceeds fully successful and so on) and averaged together. After that would come veterans preference and then actual years of service.

The proposal is the latest bid by OPM to put into regulation various provisions of those orders although the outcome is uncertain. The comment period will expire only several days before President Biden’s inauguration and he has said he will override all three of those orders.

If OPM acts quickly and finalizes the rules before then, the agency under Biden would have to go through a similar process to cancel them. That already is the case with a set of rules recently finalized under the same order involving disciplinary practices.

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2022 Federal Employees Handbook