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OPM’s Goals for the Next 18 Months: Hire, Hire, Hire

The federal government’s human resources agency released a new strategic plan this week aimed at transforming the agency into a leader in governmental human capital management.

The Office of Personnel Management this week released its long-awaited five-year strategic plan, outlining how the agency plans to transform into a forward-looking leader on federal human resources policy, but its most immediate priority is a simple one: hire people.

OPM’s fiscal 2022-2026 strategic plan released Monday in many ways mirrors the recommendations offered by the National Academy of Public Administration in its report on the future of the agency, short of those that would require congressional action. Last fall, OPM signaled it would head in this direction when it announced it agreed with the vast majority of the NAPA report’s recommendations.

“Moving forward, OPM will continue to serve as a strategic partner to other agencies, oriented toward collaboration, innovation and solutions, embracing data and evidence-informed policies and practices,” wrote OPM Director Kiran Ahuja in the strategic plan’s introduction. “Our efforts will help advance the administration’s key priorities on climate change, racial equity, health care, COVID-19, immigration and restoring America’s global standing. Through our fiscal 2022-2026 strategic plan, OPM sets an ambitious path forward to elevate and honor service to America by leading federal agencies and the workforce in people management policies and programs.”

The plan sets up four broad goals for the next half decade, each with a number of more specific “objectives” that can be measured more granularly. Those four goals are: make the federal government a model employer; transform OPM into a leader in human capital management; create a “human-centered customer experience” focused on agencies’ workforce needs rather than rote compliance; and provide “innovative and data-driven” tools to help agencies meet their missions.

But, with many federal agencies gearing up for hiring sprees, either as a result of the bipartisan infrastructure act or as part of the Biden administration’s broad plans to staff up nearly every federal agency as outlined in its fiscal 2023 budget proposal, OPM’s top job over the next 18 months is to facilitate that. The agency has already begun work to overhaul the hiring process, rolling out a new assessment system with subject matter experts to more accurately measure job applicants’ skillsets and make it easier for hiring managers to select qualified candidates, and is expected to roll out a process for agencies to share lists of qualified candidates with each other next fiscal year.

The strategic plan issues a number of hiring objectives, with hard numbers upon which to judge these efforts. By the end of fiscal 2023, OPM aims to help increase the number of military spouses employed by federal agencies by 5%, the number of employees with disabilities by 5%, and early career employees—including interns and recent graduates—by 10%. OPM also set a target for the federal government to hire 75% of its planned surge hiring as part of the implementation of the infrastructure law.

Within the next 18 months, OPM wants to improve hiring managers’ use of data to approach recruitment of federal workers, and to help agencies improve how they track diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility issues, with a goal of creating centralized “DEIA dashboards” at 75% of “target agencies.” And OPM previewed the launch of a new online tool to make it easier for federal employees to choose an insurance carrier through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

In the long term, the strategic plan calls on OPM to focus more on governmentwide policy and coordination with chief human capital officers throughout the federal government. And, crucially, it calls for an end to transaction-based compliance, “shifting more low-risk delegations of authorities to agencies.”