OPM: Agencies not taking advantage of hiring flexibilities

Federal agencies are using few of the tools given to them to improve the federal hiring process, according to an Office of Personnel Management report released Friday.

The report found that despite OPM's encouragement, agencies are not using recently granted hiring tools and flexibilities to their fullest extent. These tools include abilities such as on-the-spot hiring, recruitment programs for college scholars and veterans, and incentives for talented recruits. The report summarized the results of a mid-May survey that asked agencies to describe their use of available hiring flexibilities.

Marta Brito Perez, OPM's associate director of human capital leadership and merit system accountability, detailed the report's conclusions during a reporters briefing Friday. Agencies may receive additional flexibilities under the Federal Workforce Flexibility Act of 2003 (S.129), which is making its way through Congress. But Perez said talking about additional flexibilities "begs the question: What else do you need if what you have, you're not using?"

There is clearly a demand for new federal hires, but there is also a supply of talented applicants with a desire to work for the federal government, said Doris Hausser, OPM senior policy adviser to the director and chief human capital officer. "We just need to connect supply to demand," she said.

The report highlights the steps OPM has taken to try to facilitate this last step. Hausser said, however, that the agencies are responsible for actually implementing the suggestions and training from OPM: "Not to say we don't have a role, but a lot of that is under their control."

One of the more perplexing flexibilities is category rating, which replaces the traditional "rule of three" procedure with a process that allows managers to review more résumés of qualified applicants. Instead of human resources personnel arbitrarily choosing three résumés from among the best to pass on to hiring management, they pass on the most qualified applicants for review. Managers can then pick the best candidates to interview.

Despite their intense demand for this flexibility, 87 percent of the large agencies have filled fewer than six positions using category rating. OPM Director Kay Coles James has provided guidance on the system through memorandums and has held training sessions. OPM plans to continue using the same methods to encourage and educate agencies.

OPM also learned through the survey that many agencies did not track how long it took them to hire new employees. In addition, the agencies cited internal issues as problems in accelerating the hiring process. The "selecting-official-barrier" was identified as the most important hiring barrier, showing that delays often take place on the desks of hiring managers.

However, OPM Deputy Director of Communications and Public Liaison Susan Bryant said it was agencies' human resources departments' responsibility for keeping applicants updated on the status of their application. "HR shops have to get their act together and make sure candidates don't lose interest," Bryant said. Long delays and lack of response from agencies has been a common complaint among applicants, who often turn to private-sector positions when they have not heard back from the government.

OPM will hold a symposium on hiring issues for agency chief human capital officers on June 29. Perez said the symposium would provide an opportunity for in-depth discussion of the survey and help the chief human capital officers address agency-specific needs and concerns.

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