Federal agencies have a number of ways to improve the compensation of their employees if salaries for their occupations are not competitive, but for funding and other reasons those authorities are used relatively little, GAO has said, citing the need for greater managerial and HR training on their usage.

A report examining seven such financial incentives found that only 6 percent of federal employees receive any of them over 2014-2016, at the two dozen departments and major agencies reviewed.

The most frequently used was “special rate” authority which offers higher pay for high-demand occupations, benefitting about 74,000 employees. Retention incentives were the second most used, above 13,000 per year, followed by “superior qualifications and special needs” pay, student loan reimbursements, recruitment incentives, and relocation incentives. “Critical position” pay was paid to just seven employees in two of those years and in the other to just 34.

GAO said such authorities can be valuable in addressing what the government calls “skills gaps”–the result of difficulty in recruiting and retaining employees who could do better financially elsewhere–and that agencies consider them effective, although they typically don’t document the impact. Nor does OPM explored trends in the use of those authorities, missing an opportunity to help agencies make the best use of them, it said.

The report said that lack of available budget money was the greatest hindrance against paying such incentives, cited as regularly or always a problem by 13 of the 26, occasionally by 10, and rarely or never by just 3. Documentation and approval requirements were the next most frequent, followed by lack of clear benefits, management resistance and unclear requirements.

More training of agency managers was cited as the potential change most likely to increase use of the payments, followed by more training of HR staff and revisions to OPM and agency rules and guidance.