Agencies have already been emphasizing skills and job experience more, but this bill would formalize the change.

Agencies have already been emphasizing skills and job experience more, but this bill would formalize the change. vicky_81 / Getty Images

Agencies Are Emphasizing Skills and Experience in Hiring. The House Has Voted to Make it Official.

The measure would bring civil service law in line with initiatives already underway to improve how the federal government recruits and hires new workers.

The House on Tuesday voted 422-2 to pass bipartisan legislation that would codify into law several recent changes to the federal hiring process to emphasize applicants’ job experience and skills over educational attainment.

Reps. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., Gerry Connolly, D-Va., James Comer, R-Ky., and Ro Khanna, D-Calif., are sponsors of the Chance to Compete Act (H.R. 159), which confirms that skills-based assessments administered by agency subject matter experts are acceptable job assessments in the competitive hiring process, and allows agencies to share the lists of applicants deemed qualified through that process. The bill previously passed the House last October, but the Senate failed to follow suit before the end of the congressional session last December.

The bill codifies recent changes made by the Trump and Biden administrations to move toward a hiring process that focuses more on evaluating applicants’ on-the-job experience and skills with subject matter experts, rather than setting minimum educational standards for positions and relying on applicants to self-assess their skillsets.

That old approach to federal hiring led to a long and often fruitless process, where hiring managers found that people already familiar with the process could simply self-report that they were qualified, making it difficult o discern which applicants, if any, could actually succeed in the job.

Moving to skills-based hiring, an outcropping from a successful pilot program conducted by the U.S. Digital Service, has been a rare topic that has received bipartisan backing in federal employment policy in recent years. Officials during the Trump administration first began the move to implement the policy on a wider scale, and President Biden’s Office of Personnel Management has continued the work to expand its use.

HR officials at federal agencies have given particularly glowing reviews to “shared certifications,” the process by which agencies can share the lists of employees they’ve assessed to be qualified for federal jobs.

“The HR specialist occupation was one of many that we were able to take advantage of to assist agencies in the implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure law and hiring,” said Anita Adkins, chief human capital officer at the Agriculture Department, at a meeting of the CHCO Council last December. “USDA said 'yes' to that initiative, along with eight other agencies that participated . . . USDA hired 39 HR specialists off of that single certificate, and we are just delighted with our hires and are excited to do it again.”

The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.