A look at federal hiring reform, 20 months on

As federal agencies struggle to adapt hiring procedures in a changing world, there is more pressure than ever to make the application process as efficient as possible.

In a memo recently issued on the Chief Human Capital Officers Council's website, Office of Personnel Management Deputy Associate Director Angela Bailey outlined the reform initiatives various federal agencies have taken following President Obama's May 2010 order to streamline the government's hiring process. Government Executive reached out to the agencies mentioned in the memo to determine how successful their reform efforts have been. A summary of some of the responses can be found below.

One key measure of success has been how long it takes an agency to hire a candidate. Time to hire is an easy statistic to analyze and agencies look good when it drops. But there should be a different mind-set toward evaluating hiring reform, according to Tim McManus, vice president for education and outreach at the Partnership for Public Service.

"How are we engaging in actually trying to reach the best?" he asked, adding that hiring managers outside of human resources departments need to become more involved in the process.

McManus criticized larger agencies, saying they "tend not to be extremely proactive in their recruitment or outreach efforts." He pointed to a "post and pray" mentality perpetuated by the agencies, whereby human resources will simply post an open job position on USAJobs.gov and hope the right candidate finds it.

"If you need specific types of skills, you have to fish where the fish are," McManus said, noting that such a shift in hiring mentality doesn't necessarily have to cost money. He also explained that agencies often will not reassess their personnel needs after an employee leaves to determine whether that position should be filled.

McManus reasserted the importance of hiring reform even in the face of widespread federal downsizing and hiring freezes, however, saying, "when agencies are restricted or constricted in the number of people they can hire, they need to make sure they are hiring the best candidates."

Agency responses:

Defense Department

As a result of promoting hiring reform to a high-priority performance goal, Defense has seen a 31 percent drop in reported time to hire between 2009 and 2011, from 155 days to 107. This period was shortened even further, to 91 days, in the last quarter of 2011. Defense standardized its time to hire measurement practices in order to monitor multiple hiring timelines, according to Lt. Cmdr. Kate Meadows, Defense spokeswoman.

"Prior to implementing hiring reform, measurement of all hiring practices was inconsistent and lacked critical input from individual components and servicing agencies," Meadows wrote to Government Executive, adding that she expected the positive trend to continue into 2012.

Homeland Security Department According to Homeland Security spokesman Larry Orluskie, the department initiated a five-point notification process for job applicants in October 2010. The process, which was designed to provide better communication to job seekers, guides the applicant through steps including meeting the minimum qualifications and being referred to the hiring official.

He said the department "left it up to our components to determine how the five points of communication are accomplished."

Homeland Security has no statistics relating to the success of the notification system, according to Orluskie.

Transportation Security Administration

The Transportation Security Administration, a division of the Homeland Security Department, implemented a "candidate dashboard" for prospective applicants in 2010. These dashboards, according to TSA spokesman William Jones, reduce help desk calls and keep candidates abreast of their current application status.

TSA separately stated that there has been no change in the number of candidates withdrawing their applications since the dashboard's implementation, even though it allows them to do so at any time.

Office of Personnel Management

In March, OPM implemented a virtual dashboard to allow hiring managers to track vacancies within the department. Developed in-house by an IT specialist, the dashboard, which cost the agency a few hundred dollars for the software, already is seeing positive effects.

"At the time the dashboard we released last March, our time to hire averaged 101 days; and currently, we are at 86 days," Bailey told Government Executive. "While we cannot attribute all of the reduction to the rollout of the dashboard, it has definitely had a positive impact on giving hiring managers and leadership direct access to data that lets them know how they are doing."

Energy Department

Energy has implemented an online dashboard tracking job vacancies for hiring managers and human resources staff. A spokeswoman, who requested anonymity but would not give a reason, confirmed that the system, which allows hiring staff to identify delays and bottleneck trends more easily, has led to a 43 percent decrease in average time to hire for the department, from 174 calendar days in fiscal 2009 to 99 in fiscal 2011.

The department also has implemented review panels, where members can rate potential candidates separately and discuss them before the hiring manager makes a decision.

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