Office of Personnel Management headquarters in Washington.

Office of Personnel Management headquarters in Washington. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Federal HR Officials: Get Rid of Most Hiring Authorities

Officials at the Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs departments said having too many avenues for hiring a federal employee causes paralysis at agencies.

Human resources professionals at the Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs departments said this week that the many hiring authorities available to federal agencies hinders agencies’ ability to attract new employees.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing Tuesday to discuss ways to improve the federal hiring process. Angela Bailey, chief human capital officer for the Homeland Security Department, said a good place to start would be to ax the vast majority of special hiring authorities currently available to agencies.

“No new hiring authorities: we don’t need anymore,” she said. “Even with veteran hiring and veterans preference, even for them there are three or four different ways to hire a veteran, and not all are treated the same way within the hiring process . . . My ask would be that we stop all this nonsense, boil it down, and give me a veteran hiring authority and a hiring authority to hire everyone else. That would take six to eight weeks immediately off the beginning of the hiring process.”

Daniel Sitterly, VA assistant secretary for human resources and administration, argued that for jobs in high-demand fields, agencies need a new system for classifying employees, similar to Title 38, which governs VA medical personnel.

“As we look at cybersecurity [positions], we’re working with a classification system that’s 70 years old and is basically just a proxy for pay and allowances,” Sitterly said. “Under Title 38, we hire a person . . . according to the specialization they have, the education, experience and talent they have. But under Title 5, we hire to a position. It’s very difficult to recruit for cybersecurity and other shortage fields when using the pay structure we have.”

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., was generally supportive of the ideas, but noted that there are many challenges in implementing major changes to the hiring and classification systems, primarily ensuring guard rails exist to make sure the hiring process is fair and merit-based. Even minor changes to allow hiring at job events or military bases could be fraught.

“Your challenge is [under a new system], does everyone have a competitive shot?” Lankford said. “Are certain groups going to get more of an opportunity to get in? You talked about recruiting on college campuses or engaging active duty military, but every place you go, some group will say yes, but did my group have an opportunity to engage with this?”

Sitterly said that although the Office of Personnel Management has been slow to address the issue of strategic human capital management, the agency is finally in a position to make evidence-based policy decisions to improve the hiring process and inform whether proposals meet the government’s hiring and fairness needs.

“OPM is doing a good job today of collecting data, and they haven’t had that ability to make evidence-based decisions in a long time,” he said. “Once you look at the data, you can bring it back to your colleagues [in Congress], and they can be the sponsor of a new consolidated authority, if that’s what they want to do. But we simply cannot continue to have the complexities in pay and the personnel system that we have. Every time we add a new [hiring authority], I feel like an HR specialist needs to have graduated from law school in order to implement it.”