OPM official cites ongoing concerns over use of hiring flexibilities

Strides on the personnel section of Bush’s reform agenda lauded, but other areas lag.

An Office of Personnel Management official on Wednesday applauded agencies' recent strides on the personnel section of President Bush's five-part government reform agenda, but said she remains concerned that agencies aren't taking full advantage of hiring flexibilities.

A number of agencies last quarter made the final adjustments necessary to push themselves up a notch on the human capital portion of the Bush administration scorecard that rates management accomplishments, said Doris Hausser, OPM's senior policy adviser to the director and chief human capital officer. Nine agencies, including OPM, edged up on the third quarter fiscal 2004 traffic-light style report card, marking the most dramatic improvement to date.

In a report released Monday, administration officials noted that agencies are making strides in rating employees based on performance, and on identifying imbalances in skills. OPM, charged with leading the human capital initiative, is "very proud of that record" and does not want to belittle agencies' significant accomplishments, Hausser said.

However, several concerns remain, she added, including agencies' poor record of using personnel flexibilities, which include the ability to hire on the spot, develop recruitment programs for college scholars and veterans, and offer incentives to attract talented candidates.

Currently, the human capital portion of the quarterly management scorecard doesn't directly assess whether agencies are using hiring flexibilities.

If OPM officials were to tighten the grading criteria, they would likely attempt to add a standard related to hiring practices, Hausser said. Agencies may be asked to measure hiring time, she said.

In the meantime, OPM is working to increase awareness of hiring options and is attempting to set a good example, Hausser said. Agencies need to realize that "because there are so many tools available, it isn't a matter of waiting [to hire]," she noted.

OPM "owns" the human capital management initiative, but the Office of Management and Budget oversees the president's five-part government reform agenda. Any change to the human capital grading standards would come about as a collaborative effort between OMB and OPM, said Chad Kolton, an administration spokesman.

"We're constantly looking at changing, modifying [and] clarifying the standards on all of the initiatives," Kolton said. He declined to comment on any specific changes in the works for the human capital portion of the agenda.

If any changes to the standards are imminent, OMB will make an announcement in the next couple weeks, he said.