Federal agency heads would be able to offer employees bonuses of up to 100 percent of their annual salaries as an incentive to join or stay in the federal work force under legislation the House passed Wednesday.

The measure, aimed at helping the government recruit and retain highly qualified people who might otherwise join the private sector, passed on a voice vote and now returns to the Senate (search) for a final vote before going to the president.

It limits recruitment, relocation and retention bonuses to 25 percent of an annual basic pay in most cases but allows for up to 100 percent for employees who meet a "critical agency need" and agree to work for the government for a specified period. Political appointees are not eligible for the bonuses.

Among other incentives offered in the bill, it gives compensatory time off for time spent in travel on official business and counts time spent as a military academy cadet or midshipman in calculating civil service retirement rates.

Rep. Tom Davis, (search) R-Va., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee (search), said the bill was "a momentous step toward effectively reforming the federal civil service system."