OPM offers training to agencies involved in stimulus efforts
The Office of Personnel Management is reaching out to federal agencies to help them staff up quickly and use human capital strategies to implement the requirements of the massive stimulus package.
Angela Bailey, OPM's deputy associate director for talent and capacity policy, said on Friday that the agency has launched a stimulus support initiative to help agencies tailor specific workforce strategies to their individual needs and apply governmentwide tools and special hiring flexibilities to meet the requirements of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. As part of that effort, OPM hosted a forum on March 3 for agencies involved in meeting the law's requirements.
"What we want to do is assist [the agencies] in being able to quickly staff up, but to do it in a smart way that is cognizant of the fact that we are still operating under the merit principles and veterans' preference," Bailey said.
OPM's stimulus support initiative follows a three-pronged approach, the first of which is alerting federal agencies to the available flexibilities to hire employees faster, Bailey said. For example, agencies can use an excepted service authority to hire veterans who are 30 percent or more disabled, or the Veterans Recruitment Appointment Program to hire veterans temporarily to positions up to the General Schedule 11 level without issuing a vacancy announcement. Also, while most agencies likely are recruiting mid-level to senior-level employees, she said, they can use flexibilities like the Federal Career Intern Program and the Student Career Experience Program to hire employees for entry-level jobs.
Bailey said OPM also alerted forum participants that other flexibilities -- such as direct-hire authority, which allows agencies to bring on individuals without using formal ranking and rating procedures, and dual compensation waivers, which permit agencies to rehire federal annuitants -- must be approved by OPM and only in cases where an agency has a critical hiring need.
"We owe the American public something better than simply throwing out the rules," Bailey said. "We had the merit system in place when we got through the Great Depression; we had veterans' preference during World War II. The federal government is quite capable of reacting to crisis with its current rules and regulations."
Bailey said the second part of its approach is assisting agencies with workforce planning and the tools necessary to meet the stimulus requirements. This involves identifying critical jobs, and then tailoring a recruiting and hiring strategy to attract individuals with the appropriate expertise, she said.
The third aspect involves notifying agencies of a reimbursable service OPM provides, where federal employees and contractors work alongside agency human resource staff to help with job fairs, training and other HR services. "We can supplement their workforces if that's what they need in order to help them staff up to meet the Recovery Act," Bailey said.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on March 5 recommended that OPM give federal agencies blanket fast-track hiring authorities, such as direct-hire authority and dual compensation waivers, to implement the stimulus package. An OPM spokesman said on Friday that the agency has not received a formal request from Congress to provide those authorities.
Still, Bailey said it's up to Congress to pass legislation that would provide agencies with the blanket authority to rehire federal annuitants, a proposal OPM has long pushed for to help meet critical staffing shortages as many federal workers retire. Currently, salaries for re-employed annuitants are reduced by the amount of their pensions. OPM must approve the authority for agencies only with critical hiring needs, and those restrictions often force many retirees to work for federal contractors, where they can earn their full annuity and salary.
Bailey also expressed concern that providing blanket fast-track hiring authorities would limit federal agencies' recruiting and hiring strategies. "What happens is that everyone fixates on direct-hire authority or dual compensation waivers, but that does a disservice because you throw out everything else that might possibly assist [agencies] better," she said.
For example, Bailey said, providing such authority could prevent agencies from tackling the true problem in federal hiring -- the lengthy application process and a lack of communication with applicants.
"We have examples of where we have given agencies all kinds of authorities, but they're still unable to hire people," she said. "You can't more quickly hire nobody."