The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued a rule last week allowing agencies to hire some employees for certain roles requiring STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skills on a temporary basis for terms lasting as long as ten years.
OPM’s action finalizes a proposal first put forward by the Trump administration.
While previous regulations required agencies to get special permission from OPM to keep any term employee on staff for longer than four years, this new ruling gives agencies the flexibility and discretion to hire individuals for STEM-related jobs for a decade.
“The regulation will provide agencies with greater flexibility to staff foreseeably long-term projects of a STEM-related nature when the need for the work is not permanent,” the regulation notice reads. “The intended effect of this change is to allow agencies the flexibility and discretion to hire individuals with knowledge, skills, and abilities tailored to a specific project that may not be required permanently or transferable to other functions of the agency.”
The rule was under review for more than two years as OPM weighed its priorities in the new administration and comments from a dozen groups and individuals – including from Federal employee unions who criticized the rule for undermining civil service hiring rules and the benefits provided to regular, career workers.
However, OPM assured that there will be “robust oversight regarding the use of this 10-year term hiring authority.” OPM also explained that this authority is not intended to be a substitute for regular agency hiring practices. Instead, it will supplement existing hiring authorities that are targeted for longer-term projects that are not permanent, according to OPM.
In addition, OPM believes that this longer-term appointment rule may also assist agencies in recruiting individuals with certain specialized knowledge, who may be interested in acquiring further skills and experience working on a project basis and would be less likely to pursue or accept a career position.
“By providing uninterrupted employment for up to 10 years, this flexibility will lessen the likelihood that a time-limited employee appointed under the current rules will leave an existing term position due to uncertainty over whether the position will be extended,” OPM said. “This outcome promotes retention of these employees which leads to continuity during project work and thus benefits both agencies and employees alike.”