Catherine Delahaye / Getty Images

The $1.5 Trillion Omnibus Spending Bill Features Enhanced Federal Workforce Reporting Requirements

In its legislation to keep the government open until Sept. 30, Congress has instructed federal agencies to report back on human capital issues and the future of work.

Annual appropriations legislation is often a vehicle for lawmakers to tweak policies impacting the federal workforce, and after six months of continuing resolutions and negotiations, the $1.5 trillion omnibus spending package headed to President Biden’s desk is no exception.

The bill, which Biden was expected to sign, includes funding increases for nearly every federal agency, including the Internal Revenue Service, which is set to receive its biggest funding increase in more than two decades, and the Office of Personnel Management. But with the extra money heading to the federal government’s HR agency comes some new requirements.

The measure requires OPM and the Office of Management and Budget to brief lawmakers within 90 days about the federal hiring process and how officials plan to make it faster. The hiring process has long been a sore point in federal human capital management, although a couple of recent initiatives have shown promise in alleviating the issue.

“Many, if not all, of the agencies funded in this bill have raised concerns about the hiring process,” lawmakers wrote in a statement accompanying the legislation. “Often, when agencies are finally able to offer employment to a qualified individual, it is too late, and the candidate has accepted other employment.”

OPM is in the midst of restructuring how it assesses applicants for some federal jobs, focusing more on on-the-job experience and skillsets as measured by agency subject matter experts, rather than educational attainment and self-reported proficiencies. The Chance to Compete Act, which is working its way through both the House and Senate, would codify those changes into law.

The spending measure also highlights the progress made by the Veterans Health Administration in “dramatically shortening” the time needed to hire new employees, and instructed OPM to report to Congress on what reforms the Veterans Affairs Department made during the pandemic and how they might be used at other agencies.

Congress also called on OPM to step up the employment of interns across the federal government over the next three years, as well as to improve the ability of agencies to convert interns into full-time career employees when they graduate from school. The agency must brief lawmakers within six months on the initiative and provide information about recruitment, onboarding, professional development and the cost of intern stipends, as well as how policies can be improved.

Lawmakers instructed OPM to develop a “government-wide human capital strategy” aimed at improving the recruitment and retention of employees in science, technology, engineering and math fields, something the federal government has struggled with in recent years in part due to stiff competition with the private sector.

“The strategy should include existing hiring authorities, recruitment and hiring practices, internships and fellowships, and the feasibility of streamlining or restructuring those authorities and pathways to improve recruitment and hiring of STEM talent,” the statement said. Lawmakers said OPM must produce a publicly available report on the strategy by March 2023.

And the HR agency is also tasked with adding a section to its annual report on telework across the federal government focused on best practices and lessons learned from agencies’ “maximum telework” posture over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as recommendations for how to employ remote work after employees return to traditional work sites following the pandemic.