Special rates are salaries that are paid in occupations and in locations that are deemed highly competitive and difficult for the government to recruit and retain employees. Most special rate positions are in engineering, computer-related and other technical fields, although there is no restriction by type of occupation.
Also, in some cases special rate pay is paid to all occupations in a remote location, or in positions with difficult or dangerous working conditions. Special rate adjustments generally amount to several percent of salary.
Pay increases for special rate employees are determined by annual studies by employing agencies and the Office of Personnel Management. Generally speaking, special rate employees get the annual across-the-board component of a general schedule pay raise. They also get either their special rate adjustment or the locality component of the GS raise, whichever is higher (but not both).
General schedule special rates
The minimum rate of a special rate range may exceed the maximum rate of the corresponding grade by as much as 30 percent. However, no special rate may exceed the rate for Executive Level IV. A special rate request must be submitted to OPM by department headquarters and must be coordinated with other federal agencies with employees in the same occupational group and geographic area. OPM annually invites agencies to propose new schedules or to increase, decrease or end existing ones, although changes typically are few.
Wage grade special rates
The special rate authority allows a lead agency, with the approval of OPM, to establish rates above the regular wage system wage schedule rates for an occupation or group of occupations experiencing or potentially experiencing recruitment or retention difficulties.
Special rates are established by occupation, grade, agency, and/or geographic location. These rates will be paid by all agencies having positions for which the rates are authorized. The special rate payable may not, at any time, be less than the unrestricted rate otherwise payable for such positions under the applicable regular wage schedule.
Note: Under 5 U.S.C. 5305, an employee’s entitlement to a special rate is eliminated if the employee is entitled to a higher rate of basic pay, such as a locality pay. In addition, certain grades or steps of a grade are deleted from special rate schedules where locality pay is higher at all the steps of the grade or at certain steps of the grade.