"We have the opportunity to streamline [hiring], to up our game so we won't be behind the curve," said Ron Sanders, former chief human capital officer at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and currently a senior executive adviser with the consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton. "Now is the time to position ourselves for that swinging pendulum so when the game gets tougher we're up to it."
President Obama in May issued a memorandum requiring changes to the federal hiring system, including eliminating knowledge, skills and abilities statements and giving hiring managers more responsibility. Agencies must fill positions more quickly and update candidates on the status of their application, and managers must be more involved in workforce planning and recruiting and interviewing candidates.
According to the memo, agencies must roll out new hiring procedures and submit improvement plans to the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget by Nov. 1. Tim McManus, vice president of education and outreach at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, said anecdotal evidence suggests agencies are making good progress, but complete change won't happen with the flip of a switch on that date.
"Everyone understands that to really reform the hiring process, 180 days represents just the first milestone of many," Sanders said. "We're talking about changing the mind-set."
Federal officials have said one key to improving the process is to get hiring managers more involved, something Sanders noted also will take time and a cultural shift. A recent report from the Partnership found 46 percent of 68 CHCOs surveyed thought their human resources staffs lacked the skills necessary to implement new federal hiring practices.
"We need to make it a priority, managers need to make it a priority," said Jeff Pon, former CHCO at the Energy Department and now a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton. "There's often talk that HR and hiring are not mission critical, but it's very important for us to realize we need to make it a priority." Focusing on mechanisms and tools is important, but government tends to lose sight of the value of manager engagement in the hiring process, he added.
Sanders said not all agencies will meet hiring reform objectives by Nov. 1, so OPM, OMB and the Chief Human Capital Officers Council must focus on pushing progress and rewarding those that do hit their targets. "It's important for OPM and OMB to keep the pressure on," he said. "The attention span of government is short. There's every risk that after 180 days, attention will shift to something else."
According to McManus, continued collaboration and support from OPM and OMB, as well as frequent engagement from senior agency leaders, are crucial to keeping the momentum going on reform initiatives.
"Government's been down this road before," he said. "We need to make sure this time it sticks. We're not simply saying you have to do this or else. It's really painting a much broader perspective for why we need to get this right."