As sequestration tightens its hold and Congress carves away at agency budgets, losing your job is a distinct possibility. To be prepared, you need to have a clear understanding of the rules governing reductions-in-force (RIFs).
Every agency has to follow RIF procedures, which require them to establish competitive areas, competitive levels and retention registers. Here is what you need to know:
Competitive areas are the geographical or organizational limits within which you’ll be competing for retention — in other words, keeping your job. A competitive area can consist of all or part of an agency. However, it can’t be any smaller than a subdivision of your agency, which is under separate administration within a local commuting area.
Employees with the same employment characteristics are put in competitive levels. Each level consists of interchangeable positions with similar grades, series, qualifications, duties and working conditions. When positions have different types of work schedules, such as part-time, intermittent or seasonal, they are placed in different competitive levels.
Employees are put on retention registers in rank order using four factors: tenure, veterans’ preference, length of service and performance. Tenure is divided into three groups based on type of appointment. Group I is made up of career employees who aren’t serving a probationary period. Group II is made up of employees who are serving a probationary period and career-conditional employees. Group III is employees serving under term appointments and others without status.
Veterans’ preference is also divided into three categories within the above groups. Subgroup AD consists of veterans with a compensable service-connected disability of 30 percent or more. Subgroup A includes any veterans not assigned to subgroup AD. Subgroup B consists of non-veterans and veterans who aren’t eligible for preference. In other words, everyone else.
Length of service
Within each of these subgroups, you will be ranked by your service computation date (SCD). Your SCD will be based on your creditable civilian, plus any additional service credit granted for the quality of your performance (see below). Credit for active-duty military or non-appropriated fund service may be added under certain circumstances, such as having served during a war declared by Congress.
Extra service credit may be awarded based on the average of your last three annual performance ratings of record. If you had fewer than three ratings, the ones you did receive will be averaged. If the averaging results in a fraction, the number is rounded up to the next whole number.
While there are a variety of performance rating systems, a commonly used one would assign credit as follows:
20 additional years for an “Outstanding” rating.
16 additional years for an “Exceeds Fully Successful” rating.
12 additional years for a “Fully Successful” rating.
For example, if you received two “Exceeds Fully Successful” and one “Fully Successful” rating, you’d be credited with 16 additional years (16+16+12 ÷ 3 = 14.6, which would be rounded to 15).
Order of release
Employees are released from the retention register in the inverse order of their retention standing — the person with the lowest standing is the first to be hit by the RIF.
Rights to other positions
Employees in Groups I and II who are rated at least “Minimally Successful” and who have “bumping” or “retreating” rights are entitled to be assigned to an available position in the same competitive area. To be considered “available,” a position must be expected to last at least three months, be in the competitive service, be one for which you qualify, and be within three grades of your present position.
Your agency isn’t required to offer you a vacant position in a RIF. If it does, it will have to follow subgroup retention standings. Such an offer must be in the same competitive area and within three grades of your current position.
Next time I’ll talk about the retirement options open to those who receive a RIF notice.