By Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock.com

Federal Agencies Are Increasingly Avoiding Normal Hiring Procedures to Bring On New Staff Quickly

Policymakers should resolve a conflict in how direct hiring is being used, reviewing agency says.

Federal agencies are using special, quicker mechanisms to hire a growing proportion of their workforces, leaving in question processes embedded in civil service laws to ensure fairness and equity in the government onboarding process.  

Agencies in 2018 used direct hiring authority for 27% of all new employees onboarded through a competitive process, up from about 5% just 10 years earlier, the Merit Systems Protection Board said in a report released Monday. Congress authorized the special mechanism in 2002 for positions with critical needs or severe shortages. It allows agencies receiving approval from the Office of Personnel Management to skip the typically required formal rating of applicants and use of veterans’ preference. 

Typically, agencies request direct hiring authority for certain positions from OPM, but the HR agency can also issue governmentwide preapproval for specific job categories. Preapproval is currently in effect for cybersecurity, STEM, medical, IT, Iraqi reconstruction and veterinary medical officer positions. Agencies onboarded nearly 30,000 employees using direct hiring in fiscal 2018, the most recent data MSPB had available, a 460% increase from a decade prior.  

“This rapid growth is a clear indicator of frustration with the results of current competitive service hiring procedures,” MSPB wrote in the report.  

The average time-to-hire in the federal government was 106 days as of fiscal 2017, having increased for five consecutive years. 

The Defense Department used direct hire authorities the most of any federal agency, followed by the departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security. Nursing was the most common occupation for which agencies used the mechanism in five years of the most recent data, followed by IT management. The authorities tended to be used most often for higher-grade positions. 

In addition to speedier hiring, federal human resources personnel said advantages of the initiative include more targeted recruiting, more satisfied employees and at least comparable results in terms of race, gender and ethnicity. A key difference between regular and direct hiring is a diminished emphasis on the hiring of former military personnel, who typically receive preference in the recruiting process. Veterans made up just 22% of direct hires between fiscal years 2014 and 2018, compared to 50% of all other competitive hires. 

MSPB noted a fundamental conflict in the use of direct hiring, namely whether agencies should use it to get better candidates or merely more applicants in the door quickly. According to OPM guidance, agencies are supposed to make selections of anyone who meets a minimum level of qualification based on the order in which the applications were received, rather than who is the most qualified. 

“There are indications,” MSPB noted, “that agencies may be going beyond that intent by expanding recruitment, implementing additional assessments, and doing more to draw distinctions among applicants.”

Hiring managers reported satisfaction with direct hiring because it is allowing them to circumvent normal hiring restrictions to hire better-qualified candidates, rather than simply using the authority to hire workers more quickly. OPM officials told MSPB, however, that direct hiring should only be used in “emergency or extraordinary circumstances” so dire that the agency needs to hire any qualified candidate “as quickly as they are identified.” 

“This suggests that OPM and hiring officials may have a different understanding of the role direct hire should play in hiring decisions,” MSPB said. 

The agency said federal policymakers need to answer a question about the future of the authority: Should direct hiring be used to find higher quality candidates, rather than just more of them? Absent further direction, agencies will likely continue to replace normal hiring procedures baked into civil service laws with the quicker alternative. Without specific and intentional review, direct hiring could “proliferate and replace merit-based hiring processes, such as competitive examining, with little forethought or planning,” MSPB said. 

Good government groups, such as the Partnership for Public Service and the National Academy of Public Administration, have long bemoaned the lengthy federal hiring process and called for making it easier for agencies to employ direct hiring. 

The means by which agencies can use authorities to hire more quickly are rapidly increasing. Several agencies have received special direct hiring authorities outside the normal OPM process, including the Defense Department’s 20 different mechanisms just in the last decade. Only about 40% of recent direct hires were brought on through the governmentwide, OPM-approved option, with the rest resulting from more specialized, congressionally approved authorities.

While more HR offices reported a familiarity with and planning around direct hiring, MSPB called on OPM to deliver “more consistent communication and messaging” to help agencies understand the benefits and purpose of the mechanism.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.