ORA Policy on Reimbursement of Expenses Incident to Employee Permanent Changes of Station
April, 1 1998
To ensure uniform application and management of policies regarding reimbursement of employee relocation expenses for field and headquarters employees within the environment of fiscal restraint, while still fulfilling ORA’s need for employee mobility.
Employee relocation expenses have been a large line item in the ORA budget for many years. These funds are intended to reimburse employees for relocation expenses incurred due to a geographic move which is in the best interest of the government. Reimbursable expenses include real estate transaction expenses (limited by statute for both sale and purchase of residence), transportation of household goods, travel for employee and dependents (generally mileage and per diem), temporary quarters subsistence (discretionary), storage of household goods at new duty site (first 90 days entitled; extensions discretionary), relocation income tax reimbursement (to offset employee tax liability for taxable reimbursements), use of the home purchase contract (discretionary), and miscellaneous expenses. The current ORA average transfer now costs about $40,000. For those involving approved use of the home buyout contract, expenses can be as much as $80,000 to $90,000.
ORA has traditionally placed a premium on employee mobility, for two principal reasons:
- to ensure an adequate pool of employees with broad experience in the variety of FDA regulated industries; and,
- to ensure that positions in remote or hard to fill locations would attract an adequate number of candidates (employees may not relocate to a remote location if they believe a future reassignment to a more desirable location may not be possible).
Shrinking resources now dictate that ORA carefully review its policy regarding reimbursement of employee relocation expenses.
- Reimbursement of relocation expenses will only be offered in conjunction with advertised merit promotion or lateral transfer opportunities as part of a competitive process, and where applicants are to be considered from both within and outside the commuting area. Exceptions to this policy may be approved by the Director, Office of Resource Management, to accommodate individual reassignments judged to be in the best interest of the ORA organization.
- Reimbursement of relocation expenses will not be offered for employee-requested transfers (FMD-127).
- Local approval of such discretionary benefits as temporary quarters (60 days) and house hunting trips should be managed according to the following guidelines:
Any authorization for temporary quarters, including the initial authorization, is discretionary and should not be considered an entitlement. Prior to authorization of any temporary quarters, local management should review with the employee his/her particular situation.
- House hunting trips, if approved, are to be counted as part of the allowable time in temporary quarters.
- Management should work with individuals to establish entrance on duty dates so as to minimize or eliminate the necessity for temporary quarters.
Once a selection for the position is made, the involved parties (employee, current and new supervisors, and the personnel management staff) will negotiate and agree on a reporting date to the new duty station. ORA policy requires that the reporting date negotiation address the needs of the involved components AND the budget implications for the transfer cost, e.g., time needed in temporary quarters and for storage of household goods. Once the Department of Health and Human Service Employment Agreement (HHS-355) is signed and the Travel Order approved, the employee can legally incur expenses. A delayed reporting date, if possible, can greatly reduce the need for temporary quarters at the new duty station and/or use of the home purchase contract.
- If necessary in light of items a and b above, an initial authorization of no more than 30 days of temporary quarters (including time allowed for house hunting trips) will be permitted in order for relocating employees to acclimate themselves to their new duty station. However, beyond the acclimation period, there is no need for a continued government subsistence subsidy if an employee's mortgage obligation at the former duty station has been fulfilled. Therefore, requests for time beyond the initial 30 days will not be considered in the absence of a financial obligation on a residence at the previous duty station. If necessary, requests for second thirty days should be submitted in writing, with appropriate justification, for consideration as follows:
Field employees -- gaining District Director (or equivalent)
Headquarters employees -- Director, Division of Management Operations
- Authorization for temporary quarters beyond the initial 30 days will discontinue immediately upon employee sale and settlement of his/her previous residence, either through private sale or use of the home purchase contract, even if the employee's new residence is not yet available for any reason. Only in rare circumstances when it is mutually agreed upon by the District Director, Regional Food and Drug Director and the Director, Division of Management Operations and must be more advantageous to the Agency will consideration be given to granting an extension to temporary quarters once there is no longer a mortgage. Extensions of storage of household goods should also be discontinued beyond such time deemed reasonable and sufficient for the employee to accomplish the relocation of the goods to a place of residence at the new duty station.
Note: Generally, use of the home purchase contract may be authorized only after the employee has marketed his/her home for 60 days. Requests for approval or exception must be made in writing to the Director, Division of Management Operations, and must be accompanied by a recommendation for approval from the gaining District or Office Director (or equivalent). Due to funding limitations, approval for use of the home purchase contract may only be made for homes valued at $330,000 or less.
- Requests by an employee for extensions of temporary quarters beyond sixty days and/or storage of household goods beyond 90 days must be accompanied by a recommendation from the gaining District or Office Director (or equivalent), and approved by the Director, Division of Management Operations, or designee. The request should meet these policy criteria and clearly state the need and rationale for the extension, and should be made in a timely manner so as to minimize inconvenience to the employee should the request be denied.
Extensions beyond 60 days (temporary quarters) and 90 days (storage of household goods) should be the exception rather than the rule and clearly supported. If the policies and strategies outlined above are followed, the best interests of all parties can be met.
Temporary quarters beyond 60 days will be approved for lodging only.
- The gaining regional permanent change of station coordinator (RPCSC) will maintain frequent contact with the relocating employee to ensure that the travel order authorizations and cost estimates are current and accurate.
ORA needs to reduce the amount of money spent on employee transfers, while at the same time providing adequate opportunities for career development, promotions, and resident post staffing. All parties need to work closely together when an employee relocation is necessary in order to minimize cost, disruption to the program and financial hardship for the employee.
Each transfer may have unique circumstances and require special consideration by approving officials. It is ORA’s intent that transferring employees be treated fairly and equitably. This will require that requests for benefit extensions be well justified by the employee and objectively considered and evaluated by management prior to recommendation and/or approval.
All ORA managers conducting interviews for positions which may involve a change in duty station should clearly communicate to the candidates that discretionary relocation expenses, e.g., temporary quarters, storage of household goods extensions, and use of the home buyout contract will be conservatively allocated and based on documented need. Candidates should be instructed not to assume that funding for extensions will be approved and to keep management informed of their relative status at frequent intervals.
Questions on this policy should be directed to the Division of Management Operations/ORA on 301-443-3350.