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Cummings Releases GAO Report Finding That “Special Pay Authorities” Help Agencies Recruit and Retain, But Could Be Used More Effectively with Adequate Resources

Dec 14, 2017
Press Release

Cummings Releases GAO Report Finding That “Special Pay Authorities” Help Agencies Recruit and Retain, But Could Be Used More Effectively with Adequate Resources


Washington, D.C. (Dec. 14, 2017)—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, released a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examining how federal agencies use special pay rates and other incentives to address gaps in mission-critical skills and positions that are difficult to fill.

Agencies can use special pay authorities to offer employees incentives to improve recruitment and retention of key staff.  The seven authorities available are:  (1) special rates; (2) recruitment incentives; (3) relocation incentives; (4) retention incentives; (5) superior qualifications and special needs pay setting; (6) student loan repayments; and (7) critical position pay.  

GAO found that these special pay authorities “positively contributed to areas such as employee retention, applicant quality, and ability to meet staffing needs.  However, GAO also found that these current authorities are underutilized, concluding that “opportunities exist to enhance strategic use of special payments.”

Based on a survey of 26 agencies that participate in the Chief Human Capital Officer (CHCO) Council, GAO reported that the lack of sufficient resources at federal agencies was the most frequently identified challenge for agencies seeking to utilize special pay authorities more effectively to keep or hire key employees:  “insufficient resources was the most common challenge they experienced in using special payment authorities.  Most CHCO agencies reported they rarely or never experienced other challenges.”

“GAO’s report confirms that special pay authorities are an important way to recruit and keep the best of the best in our government,” Cummings said.  “Gaps in mission-critical skills continue to be a big challenge for federal agencies—not because they don’t have the authorities they need, but because they don’t have enough resources to fully utilize them.”

GAO also found that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and other agencies did not document or track the effectiveness of the use of these authorities as efficiently as they could.  GAO made three recommendations:

  1. OPM and the CHCO Council should track government-wide data to assess the effectiveness of special pay authorities in improving employee recruitment and retention and determine whether changes to the authorities are needed;
  2. OPM and the CHCO Council should provide tools and guidance to agencies, such as best practices and frequently asked questions regarding the authorities; and
  3. OPM should establish written procedures to evaluate special pay authority requests requiring OPM approval. 

Cummings originally requested the report with then-Chairman Jason Chaffetz on January 20, 2016.

Click here to read a copy of the report.

115th Congress