OPM, agencies urged to cooperate to speed hiring

Collaboration between the Office of Personnel Management and agencies' chief human capital officers is vital to improving the federal hiring process, according to a General Accounting Office official.

An OPM report issued Friday cited agencies' rare use of new personnel flexibilities, such as category rating and direct hire authority, as the cause for slow progress. However, a new GAO survey of chief human capital officers reported that a lack of OPM guidance is one of the biggest barriers.

Whether flaws in the federal hiring process continue due to a lack of agency implementation or a lack of OPM training, only improved communication between the top personnel officers and OPM will solve the problems, according to Chris Mihm, managing director of strategic issues at GAO.

"This isn't an issue where we need to point fingers," Mihm said. "There is plenty for everyone to do."

Marcia Marsh, the vice president for agency partnerships at the Partnership for Public Service, stressed the need for agencies to take the initiative and use the flexibilities. "They say they're waiting for guidance from OPM, but then why aren't managers and leaders banging on the table and calling up Director James and asking to have a conversation about how to use them?" Marsh asked.

Mihm sees the Chief Human Capital Officer Council as a possible forum for discussing barriers and solutions.

"The beauty of the CHCO council is that it can be a real partner in identifying needed improvements, the course that can be taken and coming up with solutions," Mihm said. "There's an incredible opportunity here."

Chad Bungard, deputy staff director and senior counsel for the House Government Reform subcommittee on civil service and agency organization, said that Chairwoman Jo Ann Davis, R-Va., is committed to fixing the process and getting past the blame game. On Monday, the panel held a hearing on the issue.

"You have the GAO report saying that OPM is not giving agencies guidelines, and OPM is putting it out on the agencies," Bungard said. "So we're going to have a follow-up hearing with GAO and OPM and agencies on the panel. We're going to do it, and we're going to do it soon."

OPM Deputy Director Dan Blair believes that his agency has sufficiently guided other departments in implementing hiring flexibilities.

"We've briefed, instructed, and informed the CHCOs since their inaugural meeting," he said. "We can offer everything in the world, but agencies need to have the wherewithal to take advantage of it. We can't do it for them."

The date of the follow-up hearing has not been determined. A Chief Human Capital Officer Academy meeting next week will also address hiring flexibilities.

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