OPM outlines incentives to attract, retain federal AI workforce

New memo follows the Office of Personnel Management’s authorization of direct-hire authority for AI positions in December.
The Theodore Roosevelt Federal Building that houses the Office of Personnel Management headquarters is shown June 5, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The Office of Personnel Management sent guidance to federal agencies Tuesday outlining pay and benefits flexibilities for AI positions as the administration works to attract and retain a workforce equipped to address the budding technology.

The memo and guidance from OPM Director Kiran Ahuja, which was shared with FedScoop, summarizes the “considerable discretionary authority” that agencies have for pay, incentive pay, leave and workforce flexibility programs for AI and other key technical jobs, and includes tips for agencies seeking to use the incentives. 

Among the benefits noted in the guidance: Recruitment and retention incentives, student loan repayment, a higher annual leave accrual rate for certain positions, multiple mechanisms for allowing higher pay, alternative work schedules and remote work.

The guidance was required by President Joe Biden’s October executive order, which placed an emphasis on federal AI hiring and included plans for “a national surge in AI talent in the Federal Government.” As part of those efforts, OPM announced in December that it authorized direct-hire authority for AI positions in government to create more flexibility for recruitment.


“For the few flexibilities that require OPM approval — special rates, critical pay, and waivers of the recruitment, relocation, and retention incentive payment limits — we stand ready to assist agencies and respond to their requests for enhanced compensation tools,” the memo said.

The flexibilities OPM outlined include a recruitment incentive for new employees and a relocation incentive for existing employees in difficult-to-fill positions of up to 25% of basic pay times the number of years in a service agreement, with a maximum four years. The guidance noted that for both of those incentives, OPM’s approval of direct-hire authority can serve as an agency’s justification that a position is difficult to fill without any further evidence.

Agencies can also offer a retention incentive for certain workers who are likely to leave the federal government of up to 25% of basic pay for a single employee or 10% for a group. To qualify for that incentive, employees don’t have to have a job offer from outside the federal government, OPM said.

Already, agencies are working to attract AI talent quickly. Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security announced a “hiring sprint” to build a team of 50 AI experts for its “AI Corps,” modeled after the U.S. Digital Service. That sprint, the agency said, will use OPM’s direct-hire authorization for AI positions to expedite and streamline the process.

Caroline Nihill contributed to this article. 

Madison Alder

Written by Madison Alder

Madison Alder is a reporter for FedScoop in Washington, D.C., covering government technology. Her reporting has included tracking government uses of artificial intelligence and monitoring changes in federal contracting. She’s broadly interested in issues involving health, law, and data. Before joining FedScoop, Madison was a reporter at Bloomberg Law where she covered several beats, including the federal judiciary, health policy, and employee benefits. A west-coaster at heart, Madison is originally from Seattle and is a graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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