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News Release

Friday, September 19, 2003
Contact: Brendan LaCivita
Tel: 202-606-2402

OPM Director Kay Coles James Issues Personnel Guidelines in Response to Hurricane Isabel

Federal Agency Heads Equipped to Mitigate Damage

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director Kay Coles James today issued guidelines to heads of federal agencies and departments on measures they can take to mitigate the effects of Hurricane Isabel on the federal work force.

In a memorandum, James stated her desire to bring agency heads up-to-date on actions being taken in response to the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel. "These actions with respect to Hurricane Isabel, are consistent with our guidance in previous natural disasters such as Hurricane Claudette earlier this year," wrote James. "We must do what we can to ensure the safety of federal employees and their families and the integrity of the federal government."

In the memorandum, James reminded agency heads of the options available to immediately assist them in hiring additional staff to respond quickly to this disaster. In addition, James asked heads of agencies and departments to excuse from duty without charge to leave or loss of pay employees who are affected by Hurricane Isabel and its aftermath and who can be spared from their usual responsibilities.

James specifically requested that excused absence be granted to employees who have been requested to assist in authorized emergency law enforcement, relief, or clean-up efforts by federal, state, or other officials having jurisdiction and whose participation in such activities has been approved by their employing agency; and employees who are prevented from reporting for work or faced with a personal emergency because of the hurricane and its aftermath.

James reminded agency heads of their authority to make exceptions to the biweekly premium pay limitations when he or she determines that an emergency posing a direct threat exists to life or property. In such case, an employee who is receiving premium pay for performing overtime work in connection with the emergency will be subject to an annual pay limitation rather than the biweekly pay limitation with the exception of certain fixed premium payments such as availability pay. "I encourage you to exercise this authority in the event any employee performs emergency overtime work in connection with Hurricane Isabel and its aftermath," James wrote.

In the memorandum, James wrote that President George W. Bush may direct OPM to establish an emergency leave transfer program to assist employees affected by an emergency or major disaster. The emergency leave transfer program would permit employees in an executive agency to donate unused annual leave for transfer to employees of the same or other agencies who have been adversely affected by the hurricane and who need additional time-off from work without having to use their own paid leave. "If you believe there is a need to establish an emergency leave transfer program to assist employees affected by Hurricane Isabel, please contact your OPM Human Capital Officer," wrote James.

James also addressed emergency critical hiring. Heads of agencies and departments may make 30-day appointments in the excepted service to fill a critical hiring need and that agency heads may extend them for an additional 30 days. "You may use this authority to fill senior level positions, as well as positions at lower grades, and you must determine what qualifications are required," James stated.

James reminded heads of agencies and departments of the Direct-Hire Authority which allows agency heads to appoint candidates directly to occupations where OPM determines there is a shortage of candidates or a critical need for particular occupations, General Schedule grades, and/or geographic locations. "This authority can be governmentwide or limited to one or more specific agencies depending on the circumstances," James wrote.

OPM has granted government-wide direct-hire authority for the following medical occupations at all grade levels and all locations: Medical Officer, GS-0602; Nurse, GS-0610; Diagnostic Radiologic Technician, GS- 0647; and Pharmacist, GS-0660; and Information Technology positions, specifically, Information Technology Specialist, GS-2210 positions at GS-9 and above, and at all locations, in support of government-wide efforts to carry out the requirements of the Government Information Security Reform Act and the Federal Information Security Management Act. "You may give individuals in these categories, occupations, and grades previously listed competitive service career, career-conditional, term, temporary, emergency indefinite, or overseas limited appointments as appropriate," James wrote.

James reiterated that heads of agencies and departments may contract with private sector temporary firms for services to meet their emergency needs, and that contracts may be signed for 120 days. Anything longer than 120 days is subject to displaced employee procedures. "By invoking the many options available to agency heads, the safety and security of federal employees and their families and the integrity of the federal government will be maintained," stated James.

James suggested agency Chief Human Capital Officers contact their OPM Human Capital Officer for needed assistance, and agency employees should contact their agency human resources office if they have questions or concerns regarding personnel matters.

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Our mission is to Recruit, Retain and Honor a World-Class Workforce to Serve the American People. OPM supports U.S. agencies with personnel services and policy leadership including staffing tools, guidance on labor-management relations and programs to improve work force performance.

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