MSPB: Competitive hiring on the decline

Federal agencies are turning less often to the traditional competitive hiring process to fill white-collar positions, potentially hurting the government's ability to achieve a diverse workforce, according to a new report by the Merit Systems Protection Board.

The report, released last week, found that managers used competitive examining for 28 percent of hires in fiscal 2005. That figure never rose much higher than 50 percent during the previous decade, but 28 percent was the low mark. Competitive hiring had dropped to about 30 percent in fiscal 2002, driven largely by new hiring authorities at the Transportation Security Administration. But then it rose to around 40 percent in fiscal 2003 before the latest decline.

Thirty-six percent of new hires in fiscal 2005 were brought in using the three most common exceptions to competitive procedures: authorities under the 1998 Veterans Employment and Opportunity Act, the Veterans Reemployment Act and the Federal Career Intern Program. Another 36 percent were hired under other exceptions, such as the Presidential Management Fellows program and direct-hire authority.

"There is a role for these exceptions, but their extensive use may have implications for the future and agencies need to be aware of this when they create their recruitment strategies," MSPB Chairman Neil McPhie said.

MSPB also surveyed more than 4,000 supervisors of new hires to gauge how and why various hiring authorities were used. The responses indicated significant confusion. For example, 36 percent of supervisors involved in the hiring process did not recognize that they had accepted applications under a specific hiring authority, with the authorities used often being "a product of convenience or coincidence rather than the result of a thoughtful or deliberate choice to effectively use the most appropriate hiring authority," MSPB found.

Furthermore, confusion contributed to misunderstandings about the length of new hires' probationary periods, potentially hampering effective use of that time to evaluate new employees. Forty-three percent of supervisors involved in hiring also said they were not made aware of the training or assessment policies associated with specific hiring authorities.

MSPB found that supervisors who were involved in hiring decisions were more satisfied with the individual hired than those supervisors who were not. But 44 percent of supervisors indicated they were not involved in the hiring process.

John Crum, acting director of MSPB's Office of Policy and Evaluation, said in June that agencies should not give up on the traditional competitive process, because government needs the best people to meet its mission. But equally important, he said, is credibility to the public.

"We have a different standard than the average private sector company," he said. "If the public thinks we're targeting specific groups or hiring someone's cousin, that undermines our credibility and the perception of the work we perform."

MSPB recommended that agencies educate supervisors about special hiring authorities and involve them in recruitment and hiring decisions. The report encouraged agencies to develop well-rounded recruitment strategies so all segments of society are represented in the federal workforce.

"Extensive use of any authority that results in a disproportionate workforce should be balanced with other authorities to ensure that a pattern does not develop of hiring from only select groups," the report said.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, on Tuesday urged the Office of Personnel Management to do more to ensure that competitive hiring practices are reestablished as the norm, especially since 60 percent of the federal workforce becomes eligible to retire during the next decade.

"The federal government is supposed to be a model employer with hiring practices that focus solely on merit principles," she said, "but this report demonstrates that the foundation of the merit principles established more than 125 years ago that ended the patronage system is under siege."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.