Agencies having difficulty filling jobs and retaining employees in remote locations would get new hiring and pay flexibilities under legislation introduced in the Senate Wednesday.
The Flexible Hiring and Improving Recruitment, Retention, and Education Act, backed by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., would increase agencies’ direct hiring authority, approve special pay rates for hard-to-fill positions and allow agencies to take geographic challenges into account when offering relocation and retention bonuses.
In October 2015, Heitkamp spoke out at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee hearing on the difficulty federal agencies in North Dakota faced in recruiting and retaining critical workers who had the option of pursuing higher-paying jobs in the state’s oil sector.
“North Dakota and the country rely on an efficient, fully-functioning federal workforce – whether it’s Customs and Border Protection agents securing the border and our nation’s safety, or Bureau of Land Management employees permitting wells in the oil patch,” Heitkamp said Wednesday in introducing her measure. “But in parts of North Dakota that are isolated or where an economic boom has driven up the cost of living and pulled federal workers to more lucrative jobs in the private sector, federal agencies face challenges filling positions and retaining workers.”
CBP has struggled to staff up in recent years. Nationwide, Heitkamp noted, the job vacancy rate at its ports of entry is 4.5 percent, with 28 ports having a vacancy rate over 15 percent.
Earlier this year National Treasury Employees Union chief Tony Reardon testified before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that CBP employees “are forced to work overtime and asked to take assignments far from home because their agency is chronically understaffed and is struggling to accomplish its mission.”
Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, called Heitkamp’s measure “a significant step forward in fixing our broken federal hiring process. This meaningful legislation will improve recruitment and retention in places where unique events or the remoteness of the location impacts the ability of agencies to achieve their missions.”
The Office of Personnel Management has focused this year on improving hiring. In addition to announcing an overhaul of USAJobs, the federal job search site, OPM launched a campaign called Hiring Excellence to teach supervisors at agencies across government about the authorities and flexibilities available to help them hire more efficiently and effectively.
Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture, via Flickr