In 2009, when the Senior Executives Association did its survey of GS-14s and -15s about their interest in aspiring to senior executive positions, the threat of geographic reassignments was cited as one of the major detractors. (The survey report, “Taking the Helm,” can be downloaded at www.seniorexecs.org.)
While the Senior Executive Service was created with the idea of mobility among its members, the reality of geographic reassignment varies from agency to agency. For example, the IRS expects all of its senior executives to be subject to geographic reassignments, and for the most part they are. In some agencies, senior executives are never geographically relocated. Other variables are whether the moves are voluntary, directed for legitimate business reasons, or used as a hammer to force the resignation or retirement of a senior executive who is not in a position to move and whom the agency is trying to force out.
Recognizing that senior executives are vulnerable to unwanted reassignments, particularly late in their careers, the Senior Executives Association lobbied for, and Congress enacted, a statute that provides a benefit to senior executives that is designed to lessen the harshness of a geographic reassignment. The law is referred to as “last move home” and permits a senior executive to be relocated at government expense when he retires from government service. The benefit has some limitations.
First, relocation expenses are limited to transportation expenses of the individual, his or her immediate family and the shipment of household goods. Other types of relocation services, such as move management services or guaranteed home sales, are not available as part of the last move home benefit.
Second, to be eligible for last move home, the senior executive must be a career appointee in the Senior Executive Service and must, at the time of the reassignment, be eligible for optional or discontinued service retirement, or be within five years of eligibility for optional retirement.
Also, the senior executive must be eligible to receive an annuity when the separation from service occurs. If the senior executive dies in service, the last move home benefit is available to the senior executive’s surviving family members if, at the time of death, the senior executive qualifies for an annuity.
It does not matter how the geographic relocation is categorized. The last move home benefit is available to a senior executive who is geographically reassigned within the time limits outlined above.
Also, the last move home does not have to be back to the original location. It can be anywhere in the U.S., its territories or possessions.
These requirements mean, for example, a senior executive from Washington, D.C., can be reassigned to San Francisco at age 50 with 20 years of service (this meets discontinued service requirements), can work until age 60 (an age at which a full annuity under the Federal Employees Retirement System could be received), and then can be relocated at government expense to Honolulu. The only requirement is the place where household goods are shipped — up to 18,000 pounds — be the executive’s new residence.
A retiree is not required to be eligible for a full annuity — just an annuity — to receive last move home upon separation from service. Civil Service Retirement System employees who leave before age 55 are subject to a 2 percent per year reduction in penalty for each year under 55. FERS employees can retire before reaching full retirement eligibility with a reduction in their annuities for each year under age 62. This reduced annuity does not negate last move home eligibility, so long as the annuity is available on separation.
The practical impact of the last move home benefit has been that agencies are more careful before ordering a reassignment for punitive reasons or for forcing a resignation or early retirement. The availability of the last move home benefit means a future, large expense for an agency. It is an obligation that should only be made for legitimate business reasons.
The frequency of capricious reassignments has declined. That, and the availability of the last move home benefit, should provide some comfort and encouragement for the GS-14 or GS-15 who sees the increased mobility of the SES as a detraction to applying for SES opportunities.
Bill Bransford is managing partner of Shaw Bransford & Roth PC.
Disclaimer: Ask a Lawyer publishes information on this website for informational purposes only. Information on this website is intended – but not promised, guaranteed, or warranted – to reflect correct, complete and current developments. In addition, the contents of the website do not constitute legal advice and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the attorney. Information from this website is not intended to be used as a substitute for specific legal advice, nor should you consider it as such. You should not act, or refrain from acting, based on information on this website without seeking specific legal advice about your particular circumstances. No attorney-client relationship between you and Ask a Lawyer’s author is created by the transmission of information to or from this site.