OPM pushes on-the-spot hiring

But one expert on the subject says direct hiring authority should be used only in limited situations.

The government's top personnel official is pushing agencies to do more on-the-spot hiring, but at least one expert says that tool is only one of many that agencies should rely on to improve hiring efforts.

In an interview this week, Office of Personnel Management director Kay Coles James praised the CIA for its success in using direct hiring capability at a recent job fair in New York City. James lauded CIA personnel officials for making 11 conditional employment offers at the fair.

The agency "actually came to the fair prepared to hire," James said.

A senior official at the Partnership for Public Service, a Washington advocacy group, cautioned, however, that direct hiring is only a small part of the solution to the government's personnel problems.

"Direct hiring is a tool. It's one of many out there," said John Palguta, vice president for policy and research at the Partnership. "But is having direct hire authority going to fix what's broken about the federal hiring process? No, not entirely. It's going to take more."

On Tuesday, James said she was pushing agencies to use a variety of hiring flexibilities, but she placed specific emphasis on direct hiring. She said that future federal job fairs might require agency recruiters to come equipped with 10 jobs that they are prepared to offer to qualified candidates.

In an interview this week with Government Executive, Palguta emphasized that he is "a fan of the direct hire authority." But he made clear that direct hiring is appropriate only when agencies are competing in a tight labor market for personnel with specific skills.

In recent weeks, OPM officials have accused agencies of not taking advantage of existing personnel flexibilities. For their part, chief human capital officers complained that OPM has not provided sufficient guidelines on various hiring authorities.

In recent interviews and reports, senior OPM officials have placed particular emphasis on direct hiring authority. Palguta said such authority has been helpful in the past, but he cautioned federal personnel officials against adopting it too broadly. He noted that direct hiring is not a common practice in the private sector. Instead, effective corporate recruiters maintain strong ties to universities and often know the best graduates before they leave school. For mid-level or senior hires, companies research their candidates and put them through rounds of interviews.

"Good private-sector companies invest a lot of time and effort in their hiring," Palguta said. When a high-quality private corporation offers someone a job, "it's not because they met them that day and took a liking to them."

"The task of finding good people, well matched to your needs, is not simple," Palguta said. "It should not be taking months to bring someone on board. But it should not be instantaneous."