Order seeks to place less emphasis on applicants with college degrees.
President Trump on Friday signed an executive order to overhaul requirements federal agencies use when evaluating job candidates, seeking to downplay the importance of college degrees.
The order requires agencies to increase the use of skill assessments and interviews with subject matter experts to determine an applicant's qualifications, rather than simply looking at educational achievements. Degree requirements will not go away entirely, and certain positions—such as those in medical, legal and certain technical fields—will still require advanced degrees. The goal of the order, Trump administration officials said on Friday, is to create a broader pool of potential federal employees and a more equitable hiring process.
The executive order will “modernize recruitment and hiring in the federal government to look for specific skills and knowledge, rather than asking for college degrees and years of experience alone,” said Ivanka Trump, adviser to the president. “This will ensure that we’re able to hire based on talent and expand the universe of qualified candidates.”
Michael Rigas, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, said his agency has already developed assessments for a number of federal positions, and the order will enable the administration to expand their use. Skills assessments can be conducted online for applicants to demonstrate their knowledge relevant to a position. He added subject matter expert reviews will replace self-certifications in which applicants simply check a box to indicate they have a requisite skill.
Applicants without college degrees are at a “major disadvantage in the federal hiring process,” Rigas said. While some fields require such degrees, he added, their “necessity is far less clear in many other areas.” The framework that created the requirements is decades old, he said, “but federal hiring has been largely unchanged.” Rigas, who also works in the White House as the Office of Management and Budget’s acting deputy director for management, suggested that agencies sometimes look at a college degree with no relevance to the position for which they are hiring as an indication of a candidate's qualifications and that the new system would be “more merit based.”
President Trump at a signing ceremony on Friday called the order a "bold action" that would replace the "very outdated" degree-based hiring.
"We want that skill to be there," the president said. "We want it based on merit. We looked at merit for a long time and we were able to get that done, but today’s signing is a very, very important one."
The White House previewed the executive order earlier this year in its fiscal 2021 budget proposal.
“The administration intends to eliminate degree requirements for federal jobs when not inherently necessary to perform the duties of a position, and to identify other instances where degrees are used as a poor proxy for specific competencies sought in job candidates,” the budget stated. “Over-reliance on degrees can be a barrier to entry into federal service, and it can also prevent current civil servants who possess relevant skills, training or experience from transitioning into emerging fields within the federal sector.”
A senior administration official who asked not to be named said OPM will work with agencies in the coming months to implement the order, but the bulk of the work would fall on individual agencies. With certain exceptions, existing federal statute prohibits OPM and other agencies from prescribing a minimum educational achievement for federal positions, with certain exceptions for scientific, technical and specific jobs.
Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, said the order followed Congress providing paid family leave for federal employees in recent steps to improve conditions for the federal workforce.
“This executive order is really another example of us as the nation’s largest employer, the federal government, leading by example to recruit and retain the best and the brightest,” she said.
Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, called the order a strong idea, saying there was “absolutely value in pushing for capability over a formal degree.” He noted cybersecurity and other in-demand jobs in government often require applicants without such a degree. Stier cautioned, however, the order will require buy-in from agency leaders to generate successful outcomes.
“It depends on how agencies actually implement this. You can have a more diverse and frankly better qualified workforce by removing requirements that are fundamentally not associated with actual jobs,” he said. "The implementation is really the critical element.”
This story has been updated with additional comment.
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