Agencies Can Improve Hiring Practices on Their Own

They don't need to wait for legislation or support from OPM; they can make key improvements with just a few administrative changes, the Partnership for Public Service reports.

The Partnership for Public Service this week said that federal agencies don’t have to wait for legislation or new regulations from the Office of Personnel Management to implement improvements to how they attract and hire talent.

In a new report, A Time for Talent, published Thursday, the good government organization highlighted a number of steps federal agencies can make to hire better candidates more quickly and to make themselves more attractive to jobseekers.

The need for change is apparent—human capital management has been listed on the Government Accountability Office’s biannual High Risk List since 2001—and the Partnership wrote that correcting inadequate hiring practices has never been more urgent.

“The federal workforce is aging, with a wave of retirements threatening to further stretch staffing capabilities,” the report stated. “In June 2019, there were seven times more federal employees older than 50 than under 30 (44.8% vs. 6.3%), and roughly one-third of employees onboard at the beginning of fiscal 2019 will be eligible to retire by the end of fiscal 2023. The age disparity is even more striking among the mission-critical federal IT workforce, with 19 times more people over 50 than under 30.”

One key to improving hiring processes to ensure agencies are hiring the right people is to continually evaluate future personnel needs. Too often, the Partnership argued, agencies simply look to hire new employees when an existing worker leaves the federal service.

“Often, when someone leaves a job, an agency will backfill the vacant position without evaluating whether there is a need to do so,” the Partnership wrote. “[To] hire smarter, some agencies have developed workforce plans. These plans, which can range from a few months to several years, identify an organization’s priorities, spell out how many employees are in each type of role, how many are needed, and what skills the workforce must possess if the organization is to accomplish its goals.”

The report highlighted the efforts of the Bonneville Power Administration, a subcomponent of the Energy Department, where HR officials consulted with every work unit in the agency to learn what they do, how they operate and what resources and skills are required, and developed a one-year staffing plan to guide hiring decisions.

“BPA has evolved and become more mature in the way we identify our hiring needs,” HR Director Brian Carter told the Partnership. “We’ve moved away from the mindset that ‘somebody left, so now we have a vacancy, so now we have a hiring need.’ We’ve become more sophisticated than that.”

In cases where an agency determines that a particular position will need to be filled after its occupant leaves federal service, HR officials can reduce the time that position stays vacant using a model to forecast attrition and begin recruiting efforts ahead of time.

The Partnership also touted recent pilot programs that replace the traditional self-assessment model of federal hiring with collaborative process between HR officials and subject matter experts to design job postings and interview candidates to determine their competency levels. That program recently expanded with a June executive order instructing agencies to emphasize employees’ professional experience over educational attainment.

Another way to improve hiring is to enhance the experience for applicants. Given that it can take months for a candidate who has received a tentative job offer to complete the security clearance and background check processes, agencies must do more to encourage applicants to ride those processes out, rather than accept employment elsewhere.

“At the Department of Homeland Security, the hiring process for law enforcement and border protection positions can be arduous, with candidates required by law to take polygraph, medical, hearing and vision exams,” the Partnership wrote. “To help navigate the process, DHS assigns a staff person to each candidate. Staffers remind candidates to schedule their exams and complete their paperwork, offering to help if needed. The personal touch has paid big dividends, with significantly fewer candidates dropping out of the hiring process.”