Hiring reform shows progress, OPM chief says

The bulk of federal jobs now are filled using resumes and cover letters and no longer require knowledge, skills and abilities statements, the government's human resources chief said on Wednesday.

Ninety-six percent of job announcements no longer require KSA essays, while 91 percent of positions are filled based on resumes and cover letters -- both figures up from 39 percent in 2009, said Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry during a leadership briefing at the National Press Club sponsored by Government Executive Media Group. The government also has reduced hiring time for new employees from 130 days to 105 days, Berry said. Robert Buggs, chief human capital officer at the Education Department, who also attended the briefing, said the average hiring time at his department is down to 65 days (OPM's governmentwide target is 80 days).

Watch video of the event

OPM launched a federal hiring reform initiative in May 2010, based on a directive from President Obama to hire faster and smarter. Reforms included eliminating the lengthy KSA essays in favor of resumes and cover letters, and posting information about open positions in plain language.

Berry said on Wednesday that 86 percent of job announcements now are written more clearly and concisely, and 66 percent are five or fewer pages long. During a conference on federal financial management last week in Washington, another OPM official said agencies still need to better streamline their job announcements. Nancy Kichak, OPM's associate director for employee services, said there is a disconnect between agencies' desire to eliminate KSAs and the habit of writing long and complicated descriptions of job vacancies. "We don't want to hear it [via KSAs], but we're certainly willing to say it ourselves," she told an audience during a conference at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.

"There are still too many frustrated applicants and hiring managers out there," Berry said during his remarks Wednesday at the National Press Club.

Berry also said the agency soon will unveil draft regulations outlining a new federal internship program. The program, known as Pathways, is an overhaul of the current process of bringing students and recent graduates into government service. In December 2010, Obama issued an executive order that established three pathways for young talent to enter the federal workplace, in addition to scrapping the controversial Federal Career Internship Program.

The OPM chief said by focusing on attracting a more diverse federal workforce -- including veterans, people with disabilities and students -- he hopes to get to that "sweet spot" where government hiring really takes off.

Asked whether current proposals to reduce federal pay and benefits now under consideration would affect the government's ability to attract and retain employees, Berry said: "I think we need to be very careful as we approach and discuss these ideas." He acknowledged the need to reduce the federal deficit, but said it cannot be done without "shared sacrifice" -- the administration's well-worn phrase on the topic. "Everyone else has got to pony up. We cannot solve this problem only through federal employees," said Berry.

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