3R Recruitment Bonuses: What You Need to Know

Recruitment incentives are another of the 3R bonuses available to federal agencies to help them find the most talented individuals to fill open positions. Here, we discuss when this incentive can be applied and whether you may be able to qualify for or use one. 

What are they?

Recruitment incentives are paid to newly appointed federal employees when an agency determines that the position would otherwise be very difficult to fill if such an incentive is not provided. Primarily, positions are considered difficult too fill if the agency cannot find candidates with the proper knowledge, skills, or abilities.

Who is qualified?

Those qualified for the incentive must be appointed to one of the following: a General Schedule, senior-level, scientific or professional, FBI/DEA SES, SES, Executive Schedule, prevailing rate, or law enforcement officer position. Those excluded from receiving recruitment incentives include Presidential appointees (unless the person is a career SES employee), SES non-career appointees, those positions excepted from competitive service for a specific reason, agency heads or those expected to become agency heads, and SES limited term appointees or SES limited emergency appointees who must receive clearance from the White House. OPM has the authority to give approval for a new employee outside the covered positions to receive a recruitment incentive so long as the head of the hiring agency makes such a request to OPM in writing.

Former federal employees are eligible for the incentive, so long as the employee has been separated from federal employment for at least 90 days. Employees currently under the service period for a relocation or retention incentive may not receive a recruitment incentive. If an agency has a group of traditionally hard-to-fill positions, the agency can consider providing recruitment incentives on a group basis.

How much can someone receive?

The recruitment incentive does not traditionally exceed 25% of an employee’s rate of basic pay at the start of the service period multiplied by the number of years of the service period. If an agency requests, OPM can give authority to increase this amount to 50%, so long as the incentive is not greater than 100% of the employee’s initial basic pay under the service agreement.

The incentive is generally paid in one of three ways: as a lump sum at the start of the service period, as a lump sum at the end of the service period, or in installments.

What is required of the employee and agency?

In order to offer a recruitment incentive, an agency must provide written information on how it was determined that the position would be hard to fill, how much will be paid and when, and how long the service period will last. This information is reviewed by an agency official and then the incentive is either approved or denied. The proposal of an incentive must be made before the employee enters service.

In order to receive a recruitment incentive, the employee must sign an agreement that denotes the required period of service with the agency. This period of service must be more than six months, but less than four years. The written agreement signed by the employee will include start and end dates; the total incentive; how and when the incentive will be paid; potential reasons for termination and obligations of the agency and employee if the agreement is terminated; and other terms and conditions governing the payment of the recruitment incentive.

How often are these incentives used?

In calendar year 2009 (the last year for which the OPM provided data), 45 federal agencies paid out 12,402 recruitment incentives totaling more than $105 million. On average, each person who received a recruitment incentive was paid $8,504. Half of those incentives were paid to new employees in entry- and developmental-level positions, and the incentives were most frequently paid to those in the health care and engineering fields. The Department of Defense paid out the greatest number, giving the incentive to 7,487 new employees.

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