OPM Could Significantly Improve Hiring, But Will It?
The Competitive Service Act provides an opening to help agencies quickly find highly-qualified job candidates.
Passage of a new law does not guarantee realization of its intent. As Thomas Edison once cautioned, “Vision without execution is hallucination.” Earlier this month, Congress passed the 2015 Competitive Service Act, allowing agencies to hire each others’ eligible job candidates. It is a short law that aims to fix a long-puzzling prohibition that prevents an agency from hiring highly qualified candidates another agency has identified but declined to hire due to a surplus of suitable candidates.
The question is: Will the Office of Personnel Management move quickly to help agencies take advantage of the new law to find and recruit highly qualified new employees more efficiently? Or will it get bogged down over promulgating new regulations? I am hopeful OPM will move quickly, especially in the context of its new Hiring Excellence Campaign, which aims to help agencies recruit and hire highly qualified new employees in high-need areas.
The new law promises high returns, as I testified before Congress two years ago:
The proposal would make it easier for one agency to recruit for others. This authority would be useful, for example, if one agency successfully recruits more highly qualified candidates than it needs, say, in cybersecurity, and other agencies are allowed to hire from its roster. Cross-agency hiring authority would also allow recruitment specialization to develop in different agencies, which undoubtedly makes more sense than expecting every agency to build strong recruitment capacity in all the skill areas it needs.
Let me offer a few specific suggestions:
Issue an Interim Rule with Comment within 90 days. Don’t wait the whole year allowed in the new law to issue the implementing regulation. Issue an “interim rule with comment” within 90 days, revising the final rule by the one-year deadline after experience is gained. Interim final rules are allowed under the Administrative Procedures Act, I am assured by a former OIRA official. The interim rule would function as a proposed rule provided it complies with APA notice-and-comment provisions. OPM would then revise the rule based on comments it receives and the rulemaking record. OPM proposed this law to Congress in 2010, so presumably has already given some thought to its implementation. What better opportunity to use an interim rule with comment, especially since the rule primarily affects other parts of government?
Prepare and share boilerplate language for job postings. The new law requires that an original job posting note “that the resulting list of eligible candidates may be used by another appointing authority.” OPM should quickly put out suggested default language for agencies to incorporate into their job postings to allow hiring from their lists of eligible candidates.
It’s not just about writing a rule; implementation leadership is needed. OPM should borrow a page from a recent change in federal acquisition practice naming “category leaders,” a carefully selected team of dedicated government executives chosen to lead efforts to purchase more efficiently in the 10 largest areas of federal procurement. OPM, working with OMB’s Office of Performance and Personnel Management, should similarly identify and designate federal government “recruitment leaders” who are (or become) expert in finding, recruiting, and hiring highly qualified candidates in the federal government’s high-need occupations.
Create a means to connect agencies during the hiring process. The Congressional Budget Office expressed concern that the new law would not work unless an effective mechanism is established to share assessments and lessons learned among agencies. CBO is right, and OPM would be wrong not to assume the responsibility and take the initiative to create such a mechanism. It does not need to be complicated. Nor does it need to be expensive in the age of social media with the marginal cost of communication near zero.
High-quality public servants are essential to high-quality government. Congress is to be congratulated for moving this bill into law. The baton now passes to OPM. Let us hope it runs with the flexibilities afforded by this new law to boost its current efforts not just to improve the federal government’s ability to hire but also its execution of that ability.
Shelley H. Metzenbaum is the founding president of the Volcker Alliance. She is former associate director for performance and personnel management at the Office of Management and Budget, where she was responsible for setting and implementing the Obama administration’s approach to improving the performance of federal programs.