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OPM Fact Sheet – Recruitment, Relocation, and Retention Incentive Waiver Requests for COVID-19 Pandemic Health Crisis

Agencies may request that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) waive the payment limits on recruitment, relocation, and retention incentives (3Rs) to address a critical agency need resulting from the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic health crisis.  To further expedite requests made in response to the COVID-19 emergency, OPM offers the following guidance for such waivers.

The 3Rs are compensation flexibilities available to help Federal agencies recruit and retain employees.  These incentives are administered under 5 U.S.C. 5753 – 5754 and 5 CFR part 575, subparts A, B, and C.  (See /policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/recruitment-relocation-retention-incentives/.)

Federal agencies have the authority to approve a recruitment or relocation incentive without OPM approval for payments 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).  Similarly, agencies have the authority to approve a retention incentive for an individual employee without OPM approval for payments of up to 25 percent of the employee’s rate of basic pay.  Finally, agencies have the authority to pay a retention incentive of up to 10 percent of basic pay to an eligible group or category of employees without OPM approval.

Agencies may request that OPM waive one or more of these limits 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. To assist agencies with submitting a request to OPM for waivers of the normal 3Rs payment limitations, templates are posted on the OPM website at /policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/recruitment-relocation-retention-incentives/#url=Fact-Sheets.  The fillable templates are intended to help agencies include all the required information which will facilitate the request and approval process.

To further expedite requests made in response to the COVID-19 emergency, OPM offers the following guidance for completing the templates:

  • For item 1 on each template, multiple occupations and grade levels can be included in the same request if the supporting information applies to all covered positions.  Agencies may provide an estimated or expected (e.g., in the case of surge hiring) number of positions by pay plan code(s), occupational title(s), occupational series, and grade level(s).
  • For item 2 on each template, agencies may generally describe agency missions, programs, or projects supporting the President’s declaration of a national emergency concerning COVID-19 for the critical agency need.
  • For item 3 on the recruitment and relocation incentive templates and item 4 on the retention incentive template, it may not be necessary for an agency to address every factor or  complete each field of the template so long as 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.  In addition, an agency may simply state that a position or group of positions are likely to be difficult to fill for item 3 of the recruitment and relocation incentives template if OPM has approved the use of a direct-hire authority for the position(s); other factors would not require a response. (See 5 CFR 575.106(c) and 575.206(c).) 
  • For the items on the templates concerning incentive rates, payment delivery, and service agreement lengths, agencies may request maximum flexibility. For example, agencies may request the flexibility to grant incentive payments up to the maximum 50 percent rate (with supporting justification), to deliver incentives in a variety of methods (e.g., lump sum and installments), and to determine a variety of service agreement lengths.

Agency headquarters-level human resources offices may contact OPM at for additional information.  Hiring officials and managers must contact their agency human resources office for further information or to submit waiver requests.

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