OPM announces plan to improve federal hiring

The Office of Personnel Management is launching a series of initiatives aimed at expediting the federal hiring process, streamlining job announcements for entry-level positions and modifying selection methods for entry into the Senior Executive Service.

At a Thursday hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, Angela Bailey, deputy associate director for talent and capacity policy at OPM, announced a new approach to creating a more efficient and effective hiring process. By September 2008, she said, OPM will issue a governmentwide standard for hiring, along with a how-to guide for agencies that includes best practices, templates and scripts for communicating with applicants.

Bailey said OPM will start simplifying job announcements and designing templates that agencies can use when advertising for entry-level positions. The templates should reduce the size of job announcements and make pay and benefits information more clear, she said. For example, rather than listing the General Schedule pay level, the new job announcements will highlight the actual salary.

"There's a wide range of things we can do to market who we are and talk in much more plain language with regard to salary and what we're looking for," Bailey said.

OPM also will launch pilot projects to simplify the application process for Senior Executive Service candidates to attract seasoned employees whose résumés clearly demonstrate the extent of their experience and accomplishments.

Subcommittee members pointed out that Congress and the executive branch have been working for about eight years to improve the cumbersome and lengthy hiring process, yet despite such efforts, many federal agencies have made little headway. "The federal government has become the employer of the most persistent," said Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawaii, chairman of the subcommittee.

Modernizing the federal hiring process is considered a key priority for the government, which expects to see 60 percent of its workforce retire during the next decade.

James McDermott, human resources director at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, testified that his agency has been hiring during the past two years to address an influx of new work and offset expected losses of employees, mostly due to retirement. He said commitment and participation from top leadership at NRC was ultimately what led to a successful surge in recruiting.

"They identify the critical skill areas the NRC needs to target," he said. "They give presentations and work the booth at recruitment events. They participate personally in interviews and follow up contacts with prospects."

NRC has been considered a model for other agencies because of its efficient hiring processes and reputation as the "Best Place to Work" in the federal government. In fiscal 2007, NRC hired 441 employees for a net gain of 216, after factoring in retirements and attrition rates. In prior years, the agency had been able to hire only slightly more than 220 employees per fiscal year, McDermott said.

McDermott chalked up NRC's hiring success to four key factors: support and involvement from management, a strong mission, creative use of hiring tools and flexibilities and an attractive work-life culture.

Lawmakers noted that agencies already have tools to streamline hiring, as illustrated by NRC's success. The question, they said, is why federal agencies are failing to take advantage of the flexibilities and tools.

Max Stier, president of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, said hiring must not include only the participation of top leadership, but also hew to some form of accountability. "You will find examples that are terrific, like at the NRC," he said. "Unless it is transparent at all agencies, we won't know where the problems are, and agencies won't feel the shame."

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said that improving the process will require strong leadership from OPM, adding that she is encouraged by the improvements OPM is trying to make. But, she said, any changes should be based on input from all stakeholders, including federal labor unions.

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, proposed that OPM provide within the next few weeks a strategic plan to improve the hiring process. He said the subcommittee would continue to monitor the project to ensure an effective plan is put in place. "There is an urgency here, and this has to get done," he said. "It can't meander down the stream until it's too late."

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