Yesterday, Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Acting Director Margaret Weichert announced that the agency was authorizing new direct hire authority for a variety of scientific, technical, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) positions as well as cybersecurity and related positions where there has been an identified severe shortage of candidates and/or a critical hiring need. As you are aware, the use of direct hire authority allows individuals to be appointed to the competitive service without regard to veteran’s preference. The authority for STEM positions lasts five years and the authority for cybersecurity positions may be used indefinitely or until OPM terminates it.
In addition, Acting Director Weichert announced that OPM would create a series of new pay systems for certain occupations using existing authority under the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act (FEPCA), which has never before been deployed. Under FEPCA, the President’s Pay Agent — consisting of the Secretary of Labor, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and the Director of OPM — can establish an alternative pay system for job categories in which the normal standards do not function adequately. The Pay Agent must post a proposal in the Federal Register, submit the suggestion to Congress, hold a public hearing and consult with affected agencies and unions. The base pay under the alternative system is capped at Executive Schedule level five, which is $153,800 for 2018, but the law does not prohibit locality pay on top of that. OPM announced it will issue the first alternative pay system for economists in the federal government. The agency has formed an interagency working group to identify additional occupations for a new pay and classification system and expects to create proposals for three-to-five additional jobs over the next year.
I will keep you updated as OPM moves forward with changes to employee hiring and pay.