Could OPM's Latest Hiring Initiative Actually Make a Difference?

The agency wants to fix the "broken relationship" between front-line supervisors and HR professionals.

Once again, the Office of Personnel Management thinks it has found the cure for what ails federal hiring.

For its recently launched Hiring Excellence campaign, OPM is traveling across the country to work with agency supervisors to teach them how to hire more efficiently and effectively. The divide between human resources professionals and hiring managers has grown too wide, OPM officials told reporters Tuesday, and federal supervisors no longer even know what options they have available to them.

Mangers and HR specialists have a “broken relationship” in the federal government, said Kim Holden, OPM’s deputy associate director for employee services.

Less than two years ago, then-OPM Director Katherine Archuleta launched the Recruitment, Engagement, Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) initiative to overhaul the federal hiring process. The new campaign -- launched earlier this year in collaboration with the Office of Management and Budget and the Presidential Personnel Office -- embraces the same “core principles,” Archuleta’s successor, acting Director Beth Cobert, said Tuesday, adding it was built on feedback OPM has received from agencies across government.

Cobert acknowledged the federal government’s enduring problems with hiring, blaming budget uncertainty and the nature of the world “changing fast.”

“We are trying to play catch-up the way everyone else has,” Cobert said. Funding challenges left hiring issues on the backburner, she added: “Those muscles, when you don’t exercise them, it becomes a problem.”

Hiring Excellence will focus on collaboration between hiring managers and HR staff, raising awareness of hiring authorities, increasing the “range of assessments” agencies can use to expedite hiring, mining USAJOBS -- the federal hiring website -- for data to inform outreach and recruitment and improving applicants’ experience with the site.

OPM has held day-long training sessions for more than 300 participants. The agency plans to host events in 33 cities this year and into fiscal 2017. The training will evolve based on feedback from the already completed sessions.

Holden cited the increase in applications arriving for every federal job coupled with shrinking HR staffs to process them as one factor contributing to the chasm between the specialists and hiring managers. Whereas agencies may have formerly received a few dozen applications per vacancy, Holden said, they are now receiving thousands.

Raymond Limon, director of the Interior Department's Human Resource Office, said the two groups of workers have competing priorities. He noted his success in bridging the divide by reminding supervisors that recruiting top talent is part of what they signed up for.

“When they come into alignment, that’s when the magic happens,” Limon said.

He also highlighted the changes to USAJOBS as a step in the right direction. OPM has built tools to allow agencies to dive into applicant data, to see from where people are applying and when they drop out of the process. Mining resumes for information on potential candidates allows agencies to proactively reach out to individuals who meet certain skillsets or are entitled to certain hiring authorities.

Limon said the new tools would allow the federal government to engage in headhunting similar to the private sector. “To me, that’s the game changer.”

Cobert said OPM still has a long way to go to improve USAJOBS to an acceptable level.

The site is “a work in progress,” the acting director said. “We recognize we have a ways to go.”

As OPM said in February when it rolled out its front-facing USAJOBS changes, Cobert said the agency is working on creating a better user profile and a tool that matches applicants to vacancies based on their skills.

Overall, Limon said, the Hiring Excellence campaign will help agencies by decentralizing the way they fill jobs.

“To think in Washington, D.C.,” he said, “I could issue one policy and think that the proper hiring is going to take place in Minot, North Dakota, it’s not going to work out.”

Correction: This story initially misidentified the Interior Department official who spoke at the event. The story has been corrected.