The Office of Personnel Management has launched an effort to enhance the oversight of recruitment, relocation and retention (3R) bonuses, largely due to concerns about the continued growth of such payments given recent labor market conditions.
In a Feb. 3 letter posted online on Wednesday, OPM Director John Berry said he was concerned about the growth of the bonuses, noting that 47 agencies paid out more than $284 million in 3R payments in 2008. Between 2007 and 2008, he added, the total number of incentives paid increased by more than 21 percent, and the total incentive cost increased by more than 37 percent.
With the nation's sluggish job market and the unemployment rate around 10 percent, Berry noted that the government may be overpaying to recruit and retain in-demand skills.
Berry also noted concern that agencies do not actively oversee or manage the 3Rs program, and instead delegate the administration of their 3Rs programs to subordinate organizations or to field offices. Many agencies simply rely on OPM's annual 3Rs report to Congress to understand the nature of the incentive payments, but this data reflects practices in the previous calendar year, Berry said.
Still, the 3Rs program has provided agencies with valuable compensation tools for attracting and retaining critical skills, Berry said. The personnel chief vowed to review the 3Rs data for agencies that have used the greatest number of incentives and develop additional guidance and tools to help agencies write stronger justifications for 3Rs authorizations and improve their plans for using them. "Once the 3Rs data is validated, OPM and agencies will be better able to track 3Rs trends on an ongoing basis, and, if necessary, investigate any 3Rs data anomaly and take corrective actions immediately," Berry wrote.
I've written some on how the private sector IT job market has begun to show some signs of recovery in 2010. IT skills will undoubtedly continue to be critical, in-demand skills for the federal government, and incentive payments will likely play a role in recruiting and retaining top-notch IT talent. Is the government overpaying for IT skills? How critical will incentive payments prove to be in luring IT experts to the federal sector?