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OPM Director Highlights ‘Call to Service’ to Hire Thousands to Implement Infrastructure Law

The federal government is hiring more than 8,000 people in the coming months, and officials will use that experience to fuel broader hiring process reforms.

Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja on Tuesday highlighted a “call to service” to encourage people to apply for the more than 8,000 jobs authorized by the bipartisan infrastructure law signed by President Biden last year.

Since the president’s landmark law was passed, OPM has issued direct hire authority to a variety of agencies to help them onboard new employees quickly, and in February, Ahuja announced the creation of a Schedule A hiring authority to bring on climate scientists, engineers and clean water engineers, among other posts. That authority allows agencies to hire employees to one-year terms, with the option to renew their employment for an additional year.

Ahuja told Government Executive in an interview that the current hiring surge is an opportunity for people to be a part of the largest infrastructure investment in the United States since the Eisenhower administration.

“We’ve been doing a big push for the last couple of weeks, really, to promote the work we’re doing around the bipartisan infrastructure law, and the number of jobs we need to fill to implement this historic investment that’s going to build lots of new roads, bridges, and fix the ones that have been crumbling, investments in ports, ensuring we have clean water throughout our country, expanding broadband [internet] access, and a very ambitious clean energy program,” she said. “There’s really exciting work underway.”

Ahuja said that OPM has been working with agencies since before the infrastructure bill was signed into law to engage in strategic workforce planning so that they could move quickly once it was in place to hire administrative staff like HR specialists to support the hiring that’s needed to implement the law. OPM also coordinated governmentwide job announcements so that multiple agencies could hire from the same pool of qualified candidates.

“We were emphasizing planning, planning, planning, planning on the front end, and then also what we could do to leverage resources across agencies,” she said. “There were government-wide job announcements, so that everyone could work off of a similar ‘cert,’ and we did that for HR specialists in particular, who were really the front end folks we needed in order to [then] hire more people, so it kind of worked in that order. We did various direct hire authorities, one focused on bipartisan infrastructure law jobs and others more specific to agencies if they had asked for it or required it, so those were ways we were really trying to support agencies in different ways to expedite the hiring.”

OPM hopes that the use of temporary appointments like the Schedule A hiring authority will help attract a new generation of people interested in joining the federal government for their careers, as well as people who aren’t interested in sticking around for decades, but want to serve a shorter stint in public service.

“Another way we’ve been talking about this is that these are jobs where there’s a real pathway to more long-term opportunities,” Ahuja said. “Or, if you hadn’t thought about being in government, but you’d like to take a tour of duty, that gives the agency the opportunity to bring people in quickly to stand up a program or a certain set of skills with the idea that it’s a very specific period of time to be able to do the various stages of whatever program they’re implementing.”

In addition to the additional flexibility that temporary appointments provides agencies, Ahuja said the government will continue to hammer home the idea that federal employment offers both strong pay and benefits and mission-oriented work. And agencies have redoubled their efforts to expand their recruitment pools via partnerships with colleges and trade associations.

“We talk a lot about how more than 80% of federal jobs are outside of Washington, D.C., and that’s trending int eh jobs we’re filling for the BIL,” she said. “So there’s an opportunity to get these jobs, bring in a local perspective, be working in your community, and then also embracing some of the telework and remote work flexibilities we’ve all grown accustomed to during this time . . . And we’re not just hanging back on that: we’ve really upped our recruitment and our engagement with trade associations and recruitment with early career talent and folks coming out of colleges and universities.”

Ahuja said her agency is also using this hiring surge as a way to learn more avenues to improve the federal hiring process on a permanent basis. She highlighted how government-wide job announcements with “shared certs” dovetail with the administration’s ongoing work to revamp candidate assessments, although she noted that some impediments to speedy federal hiring, like Congress’ frequent flirtations with government shutdowns and only passing full-year appropriations legislation months into a fiscal year, are out of agencies’ hands.

“There’s a mix of what we can do collectively, there’s a bit around the planning piece of it, and I think more than anything that’s kind of inherent in this, since we’ve had such leadership attention on this effort [to implement the infrastructure law], I think everyone’s been involved,” she said. “Normally, when you think about hiring, it’s kind of in one segment of the agency, but if you want to be able to deliver on the things that are important to the American people that we’ve been asked to do, it really requires kind of a wholesale effort within an agency . . . Especially for OPM, we’ve seen this as a real model for us, standing up these Tiger teams and using every facet of the agency, from oversight to policy to Human Resources Solutions to say, ‘Lets tap all these parts of the agency in order to support agencies.’”