The authority, granted on Monday by the Office of Personnel Management, will permit the hiring of auditors at grade levels 11 through 15. In its request, Defense stated a need to immediately fill more than 100 of these positions in its Office of the Deputy Inspector General for Auditing.
Direct hire authority, designed to give agencies the ability to hire qualified candidates without the long wait characteristic of the federal hiring process, must be granted by OPM based on a severe shortage of candidates or a "critical need" to fill position in a timely manner.
Defense officials asked for the authority in order to meet the requirements of the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990, according to Ronald Sanders, associate director of strategic human resources policy at OPM. The law requires that "each financial statement prepared ... shall be audited in accordance with applicable generally accepted government auditing standards." The department's need for the authority to comply with a law "met the statutory and regulatory definition of critical need," Sanders said.
A spokesman for the Defense Department's Office of Inspector General said that the department had informed Congress in May that it had launched an effort to get an unqualified audit opinion on all of the department's fiscal year 2007 financial statements.
Part of this effort involves filling 300 positions over the next few years with qualified auditors. Defense has struggled to fill these positions, Sanders said, because applicants need extensive experience and often need to be lured from mid-career positions in the private sector.
"These are not entry-level auditing jobs, so you can't go to a college campus and recruit," Sanders said. "So they're going to be going head to head against many of the major accounting firms."
The Defense IG spokesman also cited this hurdle.
"The knowledge and experience needed by senior level personnel to manage audits of complex financial statements and a network of integrated systems can only be acquired through extensive specialized experience," the spokesman said.
OPM Director Kay Coles James said the Pentagon's use of the authority "is exactly what Congress intended when it authorized OPM to grant direct-hire authority."
OPM occasionally will review the department's need for the authority as well as ensure it is being used properly. The authority expires on June 30, 2006. If Defense officials anticipate a continued need, they must resubmit their request and justify the need for an extension.
Direct-hire authority is one of several flexibilities made available to agencies by Congress in 2002 in an effort to improve the federal hiring process. OPM and agencies have gone back and forth on why these hiring flexibilities have not been used to their full extent. OPM has blamed agencies for not using the hiring tools, while agencies contend that OPM has not given them sufficient guidance on how to use the various authorities.
Previously, the authority has been granted governmentwide for certain medical occupations, information technology managers and applicants with fluency in Middle Eastern languages. It has been granted nine times in agency-specific instances.