Civilian Reductions in Force Register Pecking Order
Are You Kidding Me? RIF Tiebreakers?

I’ve recently mentioned that I have separated from federal service.  The below discussion about RIF’s was not a consideration in my depature, but if I was a newly-hired employee, it certainly would have been the very first thing to factor in to my decision.

Here goes.

During many of the recent FY14 budget discussions, SECDEF has mentioned that DoD Civilian RIFs may be part of the solution for reducing Defense Spending under Sequestration. He also mentioned that if he had his druthers that Performance would be a deciding factor in deciding who to RIF first.

Why has he asked Congress to use Performance in deciding who gets RIF’ed first?  NSPS (National Security Personnel System, aka Pay for Performance) died back in 2010, and just about everyone went back on to the General Schedule in 2011.

Here’s the GubMints analysis.

According to the regulations as applied by OPM (5 C.F.R. Part 351), The law provides that the RIF regulations must give effect to four retention factors:

  1. Tenure of employment (i.e., type of appointment);
  2. Veterans’ preference;
  3. Total creditable Federal civilian and uniformed service; and
  4. Performance ratings.

Let’s create a hypothetical example of three employees at NAVAIR, all Project Engineers in the same Position Description, hired on the same day (January 02, 2009).

The three employees are Nellie Newbie, Mid-Career Mike, and Retiree Rick.

 Nellie Newbie served in the Army for two years, then went to college and graduated on the GI bill. Nellie worked in the private sector for a few years, and joined the employ of Uncle Sam on January 02, 2009. Nellie’s Service Computation Date – Civilian is January 02, 2009. Her Service Computation Date RIF is back-dated 2 years to January 02, 2007.

Mid-Career Mike also started employment at NAVAIR on January 02, 2009. Mike served active duty Navy for exactly seven years, zero months. Mike’s SCD RIF is therefore back-dated seven years to January 02, 2002. Mike has a ‘Veterans Preference’ on his personnel printout (TWMS) since he is a Veteran.  Mike’s SCD Civilian is 2009 because he started employment for Uncle Sugar in 2009, just like Nellie Newbie.

Retiree Rick served a 25-year Active Duty Career in the Air Force and is retired from Active Duty, drawing Retired Pay. Rick has ‘Veterans Preference’ for his hiring status, but does not have ‘Veterans Preference’ for RIF status, since he is drawing Active Duty retired pay. This is a subtle but important block to look at on Retiree Rick’s personnel/TWMS printout:

 By law (i.e., the Dual Compensation Act of 1964, as presently codified in section 3501(a) of title 5, United States Code), a retired member of the Armed Forces is a veteran under the RIF regulations only if the employee meets one of the following three conditions:

  • The Armed Forces retirement (without regard to  benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs) is directly based upon a combat incurred disability or injury; or
  • The Armed Forces retirement is based upon less than 20 years of active duty; or
  • The employee has been working for the Government since November 30, 1964, without a break in service of more than 30 days.

Retiree Rick had Veteran’s Preference for Hiring, but he does not have Veteran’s Preference for RIF.    This is a common point of confusion.  Rick’s SCD-RIF is therefore the same as his SCD Civilian – January 02, 2009.

Under the assumption that all 3 candidates are in the same job description, same geographic area, and all received “Acceptable” ratings of record for the last 3 years (Note that under the General Schedule, the only “Rating of Record” is either “Acceptable” or “Unacceptable”), the RIF pecking order is as follows:


Nellie Newbie Mid-Career Mike Retiree Rick
Type of Employment Permanent Permanent Permanent
Veterans Preference (RIF) YES YES NO
SCD RIF 2007 2002 2009
Rating of Record (last 3) Acceptable Acceptable Acceptable

Here’s where it gets weird. If you think NFL-Playoff scenarios discussed every December are convoluted, get ready for this: If NAVAIR decides to RIF two of the three employees in the same hypothetical Project Engineer Position Description that Nellie, Mike, and Rick are all in, the order they will be RIF’ed is:

  1. Retiree Rick – First to get pink-slipped (No Veteran’s RIF preference, SCD RIF 2009).
  2. Nellie Newbie – Next to get pink-slipped (Veteran’s RIF preference, SCD RIF 2007).
  3. Mid-Career Mike – Safe for now (Veteran’s RIF preference, SCD RIF 2002).

In case you have not figured it out, this is why SECDEF wants to move Performance up the “Tiebreaker” list for RIF preference.  Hardly anyone has been on Pay-for-Performance in the last 3 rating cycles, since NSPS was abolished in 2010.  Plus, the current RIF regulations favor career tenure and will wipe slick newly-hired (but experienced) Retired Military Employees alongside young, newly-hired nonveterans. All other things being equal, Mid-career employees will likely be untouched. Putting it another way, absent prior military service, young Federal Employees may be the first to get Pink-Slipped under Reductions in Force (RIF).  

So, why does SECDEF want to move Performance up the tiebreakers list?  Because Uncle Sugar may not save a lot of dough using RIFs as a budgeting tool if all he can do is RIF newly-hired employees who have not yet had a chance to climb the GS wage-grade scale.

For more info on how the RIF pecking order works, see the OPM RIF page or have a look at the detailed instructions FAA promulgated during their 1994 RIF round (I don’t think the rules have changed significantly since then).

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2 thoughts on “Young Feds, Do You Have a Target on Your Back?

  1. You’re right, it sure is a “target on the back” issue– the RIF rules seem designed to protect the RIFees from the RIFers. More young workers have to be RIFed to save as much money as RIFing a few “more experienced” workers.

    From the target side of the shooting range, the theory would be that the military retiree has some financial assets to survive a RIF while the younger employee has a better chance of leaping right back into the job market. The mid-career guy, however, might face quite a bit of aged-based hiring discrimination, especially if he’s in a narrow skillset and has been away from the civilian job market for a few years.

    I doubt that’s much consolation to anyone. The key to a “good” RIF is finishing the process by deleting the billets from the database. If SECDEF is really trying to save the big bucks, this is where a RIF can have the most impact.

    By the way, I’m going to use this post as one more example of why it’s good to consider a career in the drilling Reserve/National Guard! Is your new job with a Reserve-friendly employer?

    • Doug –

      Yes, the new employer has all kinds of NG/Reserve-friendly policies in place. I’m not drilling for pay right now, so their compliance with USERRA was a non-factor in my decision to switch jobs.

      Agreed that restructuring billets is the way to trim headcount. But in order to cut the number of heads, you need to cut the number of staffs… and in order to cut the number of staffs, you need to cut the number of Flag/SES billets. We’ll see soon enough whether SECDEF is going to pursue the ‘smart’ route (reducing the # of Combatant Commanders) or if he will choose the ‘dumb’ path and let sequestration RIF young civilians.


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