How RIFs affect the SES


In my last column, I reviewed the rules governing reductions in force for everyone except members of the Senior Executive Service. This time, I’ll describe the rules governing them.

To begin with, an agency must lay out a plan that explains how its RIF procedures work and how they will affect members of the SES. Like the rules for other employees, the first steps are to establish competitive areas and retention registers. After that, the rules differ significantly from those applying to other employees.

Competitive areas

As a first step, your agency must define the area of competition. While it may designate the entire agency, it has the option of confining it to one or more major components of the agency. Note: For this purpose, an agency is defined as a Cabinet department (such as the Department of Defense or the Department of Agriculture) or an independent agency (such as the General Services Administration, the Security and Exchange Commission or the Office of Personnel Management).

Retention registers

Once it has defined the competitive area or areas, your agency must place you and other affected SESers in retention registers. These are based on performance and other factors included in its RIF plan. To see what those are, check with your agency personnel office.

If you are unfortunate enough to be an SESer with the lowest retention standing, you’ll be identified for RIF.

Placement rights

If you are identified for RIF, you are entitled to be placed in any SES position in your agency for which you are qualified. It’s important to understand that this right to placement is within your entire agency, not just the component originally established as the competitive area.

If there isn’t any position within the agency in which you can be placed, your agency head has to certify that fact to OPM in writing. From that point forward, OPM is responsible for providing placement assistance. However, your agency still isn’t off the hook. While OPM is providing assistance, the agency must continue to try to place you within the agency.

RIF notices

By now, you’re wondering if all of this happens without your being informed about what’s going on. The answer is no.

You are entitled to one notice, and maybe a second. The first lets you know that you’ve been released from the retention register and can’t be placed in your agency. It has to be given to you at least 45 days before you are removed from the SES.

You get the second notice only if OPM notifies your agency that it was unsuccessful in finding you a job. That notice is given one day before your removal date.

What happens next?

If OPM is unsuccessful in finding you an SES position in another agency, your agency will have to remove you from your position and place you in a vacant GS-15 position. If your agency doesn’t have a vacant GS-15 position, it will have to create one for you.

You can either accept the downgrading or appeal that decision to the Merit Systems Protection Board. Alternatively, if you meet the eligibility requirements, you may take a discontinued service retirement (DSR).

I’ll be writing about DSRs and other matters relating to those who are affected by a RIF in my next column.


About Author

Reg Jones was head of retirement and insurance policy at the Office of Personnel Management. Email your retirement-related questions to

Leave A Reply