Diversity and student hiring next on OPM’s list

In recent months, the Office of Personnel Management rolled out a major hiring reform effort, which included eliminating knowledge, skills and abilities essays in favor of resumes and cover letters. But on Wednesday, Director John Berry showed little sign of resting.

Berry told participants at a Senior Executives Association conference that the next two "things to come" would focus on hiring students and improving diversity in government. Berry said OPM wants to build on current programs and successes and is looking into how to make it easier for students to get into government.

He also said he has a "major team" of 65 people leading a diversity effort. "My goal, my hope is they get to a place where, over the course of the summer or early fall, we will create a program to take to the president to recommend on how we can encourage diversity in the federal government and do better there," Berry said.

Berry said he will propose an aggressive three-tiered approach to veterans hiring. He will recommend that agencies where at least 15 percent of new hires are veterans build on the good work. Agencies in the mid-range of achievement will be asked to "row a little harder," he said.

But for agencies in the lowest tier of veterans hiring, Berry said, "we're going to set a goal for you that's really going to cause you to break a sweat. We're going to hold you accountable … and apply the metric next year."

In light of the high unemployment rates for soldiers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, Berry said federal agencies have a "moral responsibility" to hire more veterans.

He also addressed a number of concerns for senior executives, calling them the "pulse that keeps the government running."

Berry said he was very aware of concerns that salaries at the highest levels of the General Schedule have eclipsed those at the lowest levels of the Senior Executive Service, creating a potential disincentive for employees to make the jump.

"We're going to have to wrestle with this problem and deal with some separation … because over time that will dramatically affect recruitment" he said.

Berry noted, however, that pay issues are a particularly sensitive subject given the economy. One audience member praised him for defending federal employees in the face of media reports suggesting feds might be overpaid compared to their private sector counterparts.

Part of the challenge with those pay-related discussions, Berry said, is different groups have different metrics, and each wants to defend its metrics as most reliable. In response, he has asked the statisticians from OPM, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and "neutral parties" like the Administrative Conference of the United States and National Academy of Public Administration to try to develop a formula to compare federal and private sector pay that can be more universally accepted.

"If good people of good will come together and we're really genuine about this we ought to be able to craft a formula that has credibility everywhere," he said. "We're seeing if they can reach a common ground and figure out a way forward … because we do have a credibility problem right now."

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