Agencies granted faster hiring authority for cybersecurity, medical employees

Agencies can hire cybersecurity specialists and medical personnel without going through standard government job competitions, the Office of Personnel Management announced on Friday.

Office of Personnel Management Director Kay Coles James on Friday granted direct hire authority for those occupations because agency officials have said they have trouble getting good people quickly for such slots. James used the direct hiring authority created in the 2002 Homeland Security Act (H.R. 5005) to approve the swift governmentwide hiring of information technology specialists, doctors, nurses and pharmacists. James also used the authority to grant hiring flexibility to the Securities and Exchange Commission to hire accountants, economists and securities compliance examiners directly until June 20, 2005.

"I am not waiting to be asked in those situations where the shortages and critical needs are well known and a direct-hire authority can make a real difference," said James. Prior to the Homeland Security Act, agencies had to ask OPM for special hiring authority to fill critical positions. Agencies can still ask for special authority, but now OPM can also grant that power whenever OPM officials see a critical hiring need for specific jobs.

SEC officials have said that they need about 800 accountants, compliance examiners and economists in the next several months to handle more than 2,200 investigations following financial scandals at Enron Corp., WorldCom Inc. and other companies. Shortages of medical personnel have been "a long-standing problem" at many federal agencies, according to an OPM statement. And growing cybersecurity concerns have increased the demand for information technology specialists in the federal government.

Under normal government hiring procedures, an agency must publicize a job and then rate and rank candidates using a structured assessment process. Such hiring procedures can take months to complete. Under direct hire authority, agency managers could, theoretically, place an ad in the newspaper and hire the first person who responds. Veterans preference does not have to be considered under direct hire authority.

In addition to direct hiring authority, the Homeland Security Act gave agencies across government several new personnel flexibilities, including categorical ranking and broader authority to offer some employees the opportunity to retire early.

The Federal Register published interim rules on the new personnel flexibilities on June 13.

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