Administration to announce hiring overhaul Tuesday

The Obama administration on Tuesday will unveil a major overhaul of the federal hiring process, the Office of Personnel Management announced.

The hiring reform memorandum will ask agencies to do away with hand-graded knowledge, skills and abilities essays by Nov. 1, at least in the early stages of the hiring process, Jeri Buchholz, associate director for human resources operations and policy at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said during a federal jobs fair Saturday on the National Mall. The fair was part of Public Service Recognition Week.

OPM Director John Berry said during Government Executive's Excellence in Government conference in April that he was surprised by the number of KSA defenders who emerged while he was working to reform hiring, but added he was determined to eliminate the essays, which have been required along with résumés.

Critics have said KSAs are cumbersome and turn away talented private sector employees not well-versed in the language of the bureaucracy. But defenders argue these statements are useful for narrowing the applicant pool, which has been large in the current economic climate. For instance, at NRC, 22,000 people applied for 252 positions in 2009.

Under the new guidelines, recruiters will have to find other ways to evaluate applications. Some might devise their own multiple choice tests, while others could require specific writing samples. The hiring overhaul will bring more flexibility into the recruiting process.

"There will be no one way on how to apply for a government job. Every vacancy could require a different process," Buchholz said.

"The challenge moving forward is to apply hiring tools used by the private sector, but still work within a merit-based system," she added.

An exception would be made for agencies that have arrangements with trade unions that require KSAs. In addition, recruiters might solicit such essays from a smaller group of applicants once finalists have been identified, Buchholz said.

Berry and federal Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients will be joined by Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan during Tuesday's official announcement.

On Wednesday, OPM is hosting a closed-door meeting for human resources personnel that will further clarify new federal hiring practices.

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