Federal Employees:

OPM Data Do Not Identify if Temporary Employees Work for Extended Periods

GAO-02-296: Published: Mar 1, 2002. Publicly Released: Apr 2, 2002.

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In the early 1990s, concerns arose that federal agencies were retaining employees in an ongoing series of temporary appointments without benefits or tenure. For fiscal years 1991 through 2000, 10 agencies accounted for 90 percent of all temporary limited employees hired governmentwide. During this period, the number of temporary limited employees hired governmentwide declined by 47 percent--from 282,135 in fiscal year 1991 to 150,395 in fiscal year 2000. Most temporary limited employees were full-time hires in white-collar jobs who received some benefits, including annual pay adjustments and premium pay. A survey done at the 10 agencies indicated that seasonal work was the primary reason for using such employees, followed by peak workloads. The office automation clerical and assistance series was the most often reported occupational series for fiscal year 2000. Recent studies suggest that federal agencies and private sector firms use temporary employees for similar reasons--often staffing flexibility. Because temporary limited employees were serving for years under temporary appointments without the benefits afforded other long-term employees, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) revised its regulations in 1994 to ensure that temporary employees were "used to meet truly short-term needs." The revised regulations created a two-year limit for individual temporary appointments in both the competitive and excepted service. OPM officials said that the Office of Merit Systems Oversight and Effectiveness, when assessing agencies' compliance with personnel laws and regulations, routinely included some individual temporary appointments in its periodic oversight reviews, but generally did not look at the work history of temporary limited employees in those appointments. OPM data show that many temporary limited employees hired in fiscal year 2000 had worked for the federal government for at least five years.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Per GAO's recommendation, OPM conducted a study to identify the number of temporary employees who have been working for continuous extended periods (8 to 10 years) in temporary limited appointments. According to the preparation notes of the OPM analyst who conducted the study, based on current CPDF data, there appear to be questionable practices occurring in the retention of employees in an ongoing series of temporary appointments. For example, in one case, an OPM analyst identified an employee at the National Park Service who had 31 temporary appointments from January 6, 1996, through November 11, 2001. In analyzing these data, the preparation notes state that an assumption can be made that many "seasonal" employees may not be performing legitimate "seasonal" work.

    Recommendation: The Director of OPM should direct OMSOE to conduct a study to identify the number of temporary limited employees who have been working for continuous extended periods in temporary limited appointments and the reasons and conditions that permitted such cases to occur.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Upon completion of a GAO-recommended study of agency use of temporary employment, OPM amended regulations governing procedures for making temporary appointments. Specifically, OPM revised 5 U.S.C. sec. 316.402(a).

    Recommendation: The Director of OPM should use the results of this study to modify the regulations governing temporary limited employees to address any problem areas found

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2002, the acting Assistant Director for Merit Systems Oversight directed all OMSOE oversight divisions to review temporary limited appointments to ensure that such appointments were not used to appoint individuals continuously for extended periods of time. OMSOE has incorporated a sample of temporary limited employees into their regularly scheduled oversight reviews of agencies.

    Recommendation: The Director of OPM should require OMSOE to include a sample of temporary limited employees and their work histories as part of its periodic oversight reviews of agencies.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

 

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