OMB releases hiring reform, budget guidelines

Agencies must report to the administration within the next six months on efforts to simplify the federal hiring process and reduce spending.

Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag told agencies in a Thursday memo to fast-track federal management reforms, including those related to hiring, and to use the budget process to target potential savings.

"The federal hiring process needs to be reformed," Orszag wrote, criticizing agency efforts to implement the end-to-end hiring roadmap announced by the Office of Personnel Management in September 2008, which directed agencies to reduce hiring time to 80 days. "To date, there has been sporadic effort, at best, applied to making this initial first step in our overall hiring reform a reality."

Orszag said he and OPM Director John Berry expected agencies to accomplish four specific goals within the next six months, and set a Dec. 15 deadline for them to report on their efforts. First, agencies must use the roadmap guidelines associated with the end-to-end hiring process to create an outline of their hiring processes. Agencies also are required to revise the job descriptions for the 10 most common positions they hire for and rewrite them in plain language; put in place plans to inform candidates through USAJobs about the status of their applications throughout the entire hiring process; and demonstrate that they have involved hiring managers in every step of the process.

Berry previously said hiring reforms were among his top priorities, and assigned a team at his agency to examine ways to simplify federal hiring.

Some of Berry and Orszag's proposals reflect provisions in legislation introduced in March by Sens. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and George Voinovich, R-Ohio. That bill would require agencies to use plain language in job descriptions and to evaluate the results of their hiring efforts. But that legislation goes further than the administration's directive, and would eliminate Knowledge, Skills and Abilities statements from government job applications in favor of cover letters and resumes, and create an OPM databank of candidates who would like to be considered for a variety of federal positions.

Max Stier, president of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, praised the administration's efforts.

"The biggest barrier to attracting top talent into government is the federal hiring process," Stier said. "It's too slow, too opaque, plagued by jargon and hindered by antiquity. Too often, it doesn't connect the right candidate with the right job."

Orszag also told agency heads that in no case should their overall fiscal 2011 budget request exceed the discretionary total provided for their agency for that year. Additionally, agencies must demonstrate in their fiscal 2011 budget submissions, due Sept. 14, how they would meet the goal of freezing the fiscal 2010 request for their agency and reduce by 5 percent the fiscal 2011 level prescribed in the fiscal 2010 budget.

Regardless of their agency's discretionary funding target, Orszag directed all leaders to identify at least five significant terminations, reductions and savings that cut costs below fiscal 2010 budget levels and to include analysis and evidence showing why those reductions are necessary.

In addition to rolling out budget mandates, Orszag described in brief the administration's performance goals. To prepare for "regular reviews of the progress agencies are making to improve performance in priority areas," Orszag asked agency leaders to identify a limited number of high-priority goals and begin to define the strategies for achieving them. The OMB director pointed out that these performance goals should have high direct value to the public or reflect a key agency mission; they should not be focused on internal agency management or other administrative priorities.

Orszag also plans to use the budget process to advance another set of the administration's priorities, health and work-life balance programs. As part of their fiscal 2011 budget submissions, agencies will be required to provide an inventory of their wellness programs, ranging from cafeteria offerings to the state of health clinics, and programs to expand on-site gyms, offer healthier food and use competitions to promote wellness. Orszag said those ideas would be used to determine a set of best practices for employee wellness programs.