Hoeven Continues to Press OPM for Cost-of-Living Adjustments for Federal Workers at Minot Air Force Base and in Western ND

Senator Called on OPM in March to Address Federal Staffing Challenges in Region, OPM Says Effort Underway

MINOT, N.D. – Senator John Hoeven today pressed Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director Katherine Archuleta to expedite work the office is doing with the Department of the Interior (DOI) to address cost-of-living challenges faced by federal workers at Minot Air Force Base (MAFB) and in western North Dakota. OPM is charged with recruiting and retaining a high-quality federal workforce.

The senator pointed out that the Air Force, U.S. Postal Service and state of North Dakota are making efforts to provide incentives to attract and retain workers in North Dakota, but OPM needs to address the needs of other federal departments serving in North Dakota.

“If we are going to keep high-caliber federal workers serving North Dakota, we will need to make it affordable for them and their families to live and work here,” Hoeven said. “OPM has assured me it is working with the Interior Department to evaluate ways to help attract and retain workers in western North Dakota. I am asking Interior to advocate for a Bakken region locality adjustment that will help all agency staff when it submits its special salary request to OPM , and I believe they are moving in that direction.”

Growth in the state’s energy sector has driven the cost of living in Minot from below the national average in 2003 to 6 percent above it in 2013, making it difficult to recruit and retain civilian workers at the Minot Air Force Base and at federal agencies operating in the Bakken region. The U.S. Park Service, law enforcement agencies, oil and gas licensing offices and other federal service providers are feeling the impact of higher costs, especially for housing.

Hoeven described steps the Air Force, state and U.S. Postal Service are taking to bring compensation more in line with the rising cost of living in Minot and Western North Dakota. The senator said these address the needs of only some of the agencies providing services in the state.

The Air Force has worked to address cost-of-living issues for personnel by raising the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) rates for service members. The average BAH rate has increased 76 percent. Compounding the challenge on the base, 51 percent of the civilian personnel are at or within five years of retirement age, so the issue of recruitment is going to become even more pressing in the future.

In a similar effort, the state of North Dakota has given state agencies the authority to use recruitment and retention bonuses to maintain necessary staffing levels. In the eight years prior to the oil boom, the state paid out $250,000 in retention bonuses. In the last eight years, however, it paid out more than $3.25 million in retention bonuses.

Likewise, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is responding to cost-of-living increases, as well. Earlier this year, Hoeven announced that the USPS has approved 9 to 20 percent increases to postal employees’ base pay to attract and retain carriers in Minot and the Bakken region.

Hoeven made the case for cost-of-living adjustments for affected federal employees in western North Dakota in a March letter to the Federal Salary Council, which does salary and market analysis and makes recommendations to OPM. Subsequently, OPM indicated that consideration is underway at DOI, which is currently working on a special rate request for the Bakken region.

In a letter of response OPM Acting Deputy Associate Director Brenda L. Roberts, acknowledged the “significant economic impact domestic energy production has had on western North Dakota” and said the office has flexibilities such as special salary rates and recruitment, retention and relocation incentive payments it could use to address the challenge. Roberts also said the Federal Salary Council would review market and salary data in Minot and western North Dakota to find programs that would help ensure that federal wages keep up with increases in cost-of-living.