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OPM Revises Hiring and Onboarding Policies Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Agencies have new authorities to hire emergency staff and bring on all new workers virtually.

The Trump administration is making new flexibilities available to federal agencies to onboard new hires during the current national emergency caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

When agencies bring on new employees, many have to go through a swearing in process. Now, the Office of Personnel Management is directing agencies to conduct virtual oaths of office. Employees can repeat the necessary phrases to designated personnel via Skype, FaceTime or other systems agreed to by the agency’s human resources office and chief information officer. Employees will then have to conduct an in-person swearing-in upon their offices reopening. 

Agencies should also engage in virtual onboarding processes, again consulting with HR and the CIO. All documents should be delivered and signed electronically, or returned with an image of the signed copy.  

Several agencies anticipate hiring additional employees specifically to fight the coronavirus outbreak. The Agriculture Department plans to boost temporary staff and overtime due to an increased demand for loans, while the Transportation Department reported it would boost staff hours. Customs and Border Protection asked for funding for a surge in employees at the Southwest border. The departments of Education and Health and Human Services are preparing to bring on contract workers if their own staff members become incapacitated due to contracting COVID-19.

In previous guidance, OPM authorized agencies to use Schedule A excepted hiring—rather than the normal, lengthier merit hiring process—to bring on additional staff needed to fight the coronavirus spread for up to two years. OPM reminded agencies they could not use the authority to fill regular vacancies unrelated to the emergency.

The Census Bureau, meanwhile, announced it would pause hiring for the decennial count currently underway until at least April 1. It eventually expects to hire more than the 500,000 temporary workers it initially planned to bring on, saying it anticipates more people will drop out of the process due to the outbreak. Census has delayed both the start of its in-person enumeration into May and its response deadline into August. Its initial mailings asking American residents to provide their household’s information online have already gone out.