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Merit Board Suggests Ways Agencies Can Hire 'Better,' Not Just 'Faster and Cheaper'

The Merit Systems Protections Board is lending its support to the Office of Personnel Management's hiring reform efforts.

The Merit Systems Protection Board on Monday offered its own advice to supplement a recent effort by the Office of Personnel Management to encourage agencies to rethink how they evaluate candidates for federal jobs.

Last month, OPM issued guidance to agencies highlighting a number of ways they can improve their hiring processes without legislation in Congress, including bringing subject matter experts into the process and ensuring that the advertised qualifications of a job posting more accurately line up to the competencies needed to be successful.

On Monday, the MSPB published a “Perspective” article entitled “Building on OPM’s Hiring Improvement Memo,” reinforcing some of the principles of OPM’s guidance, and providing a couple recommendations of its own.

“OPM’s recommendations will help move agencies in the right direction, but there are additional steps that agencies, OPM and Congress can take to ensure that agencies are able to hire the talent needed to deliver the federal government’s critical missions,” MSPB wrote. “To reform hiring, the federal government needs to go beyond the prior emphasis on faster and cheaper and concentrate on better.”

Although the agency applauded OPM’s recommendation to bring subject matter experts into the hiring process to assist human resources personnel, it noted that the initiative may take some time to come to fruition.

“For a long time, the HR community has been responsible for the tasks listed above, so it will take a culture change to ensure that [subject matter experts] and hiring officials are more involved in the process,” MSPB wrote. “HR will need to learn how to better partner with hiring organizations to exchange information and discuss options available for the hiring process. [Subject matter experts] and hiring officials will need to understand that their involvement is an important part of their own job responsibilities and will directly reflect on the quality of their workforce—particularly as jobs become more knowledge based and technical in nature.”

MSPB also reiterated OPM’s recommendation that agencies revisit the advertised qualifications for various job postings to ensure they more accurately line up with the competencies an employee must have to be successful. The agency noted that when a position has the wrong qualifications listed, it can lead to another frequently cited headache: the deluge of different hiring authorities.

“A key complaint hiring officials tend to have is that they are not getting a pool of qualified applicants on their certificates of eligibles,” MSPB wrote. “This frustration can lead hiring officials to request more hiring flexibilities or use more restrictive appointing authorities that limit fair and open competition.”

The report lauded OPM’s recommendation to expand the use of supplementary assessments of applicants like those offered through USA Hire, which can help ensure job candidates hold the core competencies needed for a position. MSPB recommended that Congress should step in to make these assessments more readily available to federal agencies.

“MSPB has been recommending for many years that Congress appropriate money for OPM to develop and administer assessments that agencies can use at little or no cost,” the report stated. “Given that USA Hire has already developed much of the content, this would be a good time for Congress to provide OPM the budget it needs to make these assessments more accessible to agencies so that they can hire the best workforce available.”