OPM will launch branding campaign, test lab to recruit new hires

The Office of Personnel Management is conducting an aggressive branding campaign and launching a testing facility for new technologies and flexible working arrangements to recruit talented workers, Director John Berry said on Monday.

Berry told attendees at Government Executive's Excellence in Government conference in Washington that he has assembled what he called a "cool team" to work on branding federal service. Led by Matthew Collier, special assistant to the director and a business graduate of Stanford University, the team is interviewing 100 people from all political persuasions and walks of life to gather information on public attitudes toward government and federal employees.

After these interviews, OPM will hire a marketing firm to incorporate that process into a more traditional branding approach to "bring the cool to life and repolish public service," Berry said.

"We can do a lot better; branding is a science," he said.

The federal government has a lot to leverage in building its brand, Berry noted. He said he uses his own experience to help college students and other prospective feds understand the opportunities a government job can provide.

"I am just an average kid. I am the first generation in my family to go to college.… I have stood on the North Pole, I have stood at the South Pole, I have been on every continent, up the Amazon and down the Nile, and all of that through federal service," Berry said. "It is an amazing place that allows you to do good for people."

OPM also is working to combat both the myth and reality of a government slow to adopt new technologies. The agency is establishing an innovation lab in the basement of its Washington headquarters to test technologies, unique workspace configurations and other flexible workplace tools. The lab, which Berry expects to launch this summer, will study options for employees outside the traditional desk, chair and cubicle model.

"A lot of people like working standing up; some people might not want a chair at all," Berry said. "Give them what they want, is what my view is. We don't have to have to buy one cookie cutter for every federal employee. Let's test as much flexibility and let people buy what they want to buy and create their own work environment."

Berry said he also is making progress on the hiring reform front, working individually with agencies to negotiate a suitable solution. He said he has been surprised by the level of support for much-maligned elements of the process, such as statements of knowledge, skills and abilities.

"If you had told me a year ago that there would be defenders of the KSA essays… but sure enough, the closer we got to actually doing this, the KSA defenders came out of the woodwork," Berry said.

OPM has been working to get hiring reform signed off on by the agencies since December, and Berry said they are now in the final review phase. He is hopeful that a final reform plan -- including a shift from KSAs to a resume-based system -- will land on President Obama's desk soon.

This shift would allow government to take advantage of the well-oiled process the private sector has developed to evaluate resumes.

"The private sector has spent billions developing assessments and how to evaluate talent of resumes," Berry said. "The government hasn't been able to access or use this stuff because we've been in our own bubble world. When we move to resumes, we'll be able to access this stuff off the shelf that, with minor modifications, will fit into the federal system."

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